Born to Build
What do you feel you are born to do? Is it to Run?
In his popular bestseller, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall marshals evidence from anthropological studies, from a hidden tribe in Mexico and from an elite group of superathletes to argue that as a species we are indeed born to run, and that that adaptive behavior is precisely what allowed us to win the evolutionary race over other hominids like the Neanderthals. I loved the book, and as an avid runner gulped up its thesis.But is it true? The truth is, many people don’t run. Perhaps a far more universal quality of being human is building. I recently came across an article by architect John Connell that suggests just that: that building, made possible by the coming together of our big brains and opposable thumbs, is what we are born to do. We may have survived what wiped out Neanderthals by running, but we flourished as a species by building, and building in a uniquely human way. For Connell, it is not just a practical thing: he sees building as an irrevocably spiritual act, full of passion and significance. It is a very basic, perhaps the most basic manner of self-expression, and it expresses both who we are as individuals and what we want to be as a community, a nation, and a global citizenry.
The process of designing and building is such an opportunity for all who are involved in it. It is a unique opportunity to take stock of our hopes, our desires, and our values and to realize these. Connell speaks of an inalienable “natural right to design and build;” and when that right is exercised well, what is created is an object that allows us to see ourselves and feel ourselves to be part of a greater something. It gives us what the architectural theorist Christian Norberg-Schultz calls an existential foothold in reality, a place to stand in self-knowledge and strength. Design-building is a powerful antidote to the modern experience of isolation and displacement that has such force today.
The process of designing and building a house takes courage and is time consuming, no doubt. It is so much more involved than buying off the shelf. There are easier and less expensive ways of acquiring a home, for sure. But what drives some, including me, to embark on the process is the desire for a home that embodies and reflects the owner’s own creative impulses. Only such a home can meet the material, the intellectual and the spiritual needs of those living there. At Decumanus Green, we take great pride in ushering our clients through the design build Process.