The perfect, crucial moment: the fleeting rightness of time and place that creates the opportune atmosphere for action, words, or movement; a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action.
I remember at the age of 5, loving the roar of the engines and breathing the smoke from a burnout at a racing drag strip. My father used to take me to the drag strip on Saturday mornings during racing season and I have loved automobiles ever since. A few years ago I met a fellow enthusiast, a professional go-kart racer who dreams of racing Formula 1 cars. Through many conversations he has re-kindled my childhood love of cars and, from it, sparked a passion for the speed and sophistication exemplified in high-performance automobiles.
Society moves rapidly; technology is available at everyone’s fingertips, styles and trends evolve monthly, and there never seems to be enough time in the day. Perhaps all of this is a direct result of the subconscious human desire for progressiveness, or the gradual and continual betterment of society. This desire, ironically, intensifies as progress is made; it has an addictive nature. Henry George takes an interesting stance on this philosophy in his book Progress and Poverty. “So this view now dominates thought: The struggle for existence, in proportion to its intensity, spurs people to new efforts and inventions. The capacity for improvement is established by hereditary transmission, and spread as the most improved (i.e., best adapted) individuals survive to propagate... Yet, we have reached a point where progress seems to be natural to us. We look forward confidently to greater achievements.”* Henry George focuses his writing toward the progress of civilizations and economics as a whole. He seems to imply that society must work collaboratively toward supreme equality on all accounts in order to continue achieving infinite progress. George also mentions that humans - presumably from all cultures - additionally reach for independence as individuals. He concludes that this paradox sparks conflict within the human race and consequently entertains a cycle of progression and regression that recurs throughout history. “But, without soaring to the stars, if we simply look around the world, we are confronted with an undeniable fact — stagnant civilizations.”**
The same stagnancy introduced in Henry George’s philosophy can be seen within the built environment. Architects, engineers and business folk all have a tendency to remain independent from one another, halting true progress. A more collaborative approach to the everyday design problems faced by architects could introduce new opportunities for the spatial experience within architecture.
Automobiles constantly adapt and improve, aiming to always be the best, most-efficient versions of themselves. While most people do not (at least primarily) think about the efficiency of an automobile and its systems, they do know that driving, especially a high-performance automobile, always keeps them coming back for more. The major components in most automobiles are similar, and likewise with many architectural styles. There is a gap, however, between the two; architecture is not always the best version of itself, and it does not generally light the same emotional fire within a user that driving a high-performance automobile does. The question then becomes: how can architecture begin to take cues from high-performance automobiles with respect to the experience of high technology and the sensation of speed and independence? How can the built environment be more like a high-performance automobile to, ultimately, improve the human quality of life?
* George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. Edited by Rob Drake. New York City, New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 2006. 266.
** George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. Edited by Rob Drake. New York City, New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 2006. 267.