In the previous issue of Texas Architect, outgoing TxA President Audrey Maxwell, AIA, compared her role to that of a runner in a relay race. In a bit of editorial coincidence, as I was editing that issue of the magazine, I was in the final stages of training for a race myself.
But I was not training for a relay; I was training for a marathon.
In the early days of the pandemic, when gyms and most everything else were still closed, my wife and I started running to continue exercising while escaping the claustrophobic confines of our home. Neither of us ever considered ourselves “runners,” but after finding a training schedule online, we gradually worked up to a 5K and then a 10K. In April of 2021, our training and vaccination schedules coincided such that we were able to run the Austin Half Marathon. At the end of those 13.1 (deceptively hilly) miles, my wife was — or more specifically, my wife’s knees were — done. But I felt like I could keep going. A full marathon seemed like the next logical step.
Although I may have felt that my path to running 26.2 miles was unique, a middle-aged man suddenly deciding to run a marathon has become a bit of a cliché. Like growing one’s hair long or buying a convertible sports car (one of these in which I also indulged during the pandemic), it was a way to prove that I still possessed youthful vigor despite my advancing years. And so, on December 5, 2021, I donned running shorts and ran my first and probably only marathon. I won’t go into any detail about the experience (this is, after all, Texas Architect and not “Texas Runner”), other than to say that I finished and I am still alive. I mention all this not to toot the proverbial horn but because I do think the experience has some larger relevance to the practice of architecture.
Stay with me, here.
As with most creative acts, design is a long and arduous process. While architects certainly play an important role in the success of any given project, they are but one player in a larger symphony that includes clients and contractors, consultants and code enforcers. Although it may be easy to criticize the aesthetics of a finished project, many factors sit firmly and frustratingly outside the architect’s control. The glossy photos that appear in a magazine such as this may illustrate the end results, but they cannot alone tell the full stories of the years of hard work — the toils, the tears, the aspirations, and the assignations — that go into every part of the built environment.
In other words, architecture is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And just as a long run is fueled by sports drinks and energy gels, an architectural project must be sustained as well. The fuel that powers architecture is money.
Even though architecture is both an art and a business, it can still be awkward for architects to discuss the large role that capital and developers play in the creation of the built environment. Yes, we may be thinking of the greater public good as we’re envisioning a world that does not yet exist, but someone must ultimately pay for that world. It’s an awkward reality that’s worth addressing, which is exactly what we’ve set out to do in this issue.
Another awkward reality worth addressing is the fact that the editor of this magazine looks really good in running shorts.