The persistent WHY?

The Holiday Season is fast approaching, and Little Guy has been anxiously waiting for every morning when he gets to open another door on his LEGO advent calendar.  He’s also been asking if it’s Christmas yet…every day…and every day we tell him that when all of the doors are open, THEN it will be Christmas.

“Well then come on, let’s open all of them.”

Makes sense.  I mean, I did just give him a direct cause & effect scenario, and logic based on what I said would tell you that the fastest way to get to Christmas would be to just get on with it and open the doors already!  I told him that’s not how it works.


Here’s the fork in the road.  As a three year old, Little Guy asks “Why?” approximately 4,000 times a day.  I answer all of his questions until around 3,600 when the answer starts to become “because that’s the way it is.” or something like “pineapple head” so he knows the difference between a real answer and me just trying to get past the question and move on with our lives.  Obviously you can’t just open all of the advent calendar doors, because when Christmas doesn’t immediately appear, there’s going to be a lot more “Why”s to answer.

“Dad, my truck won’t stay on top of my LEGO tower.”  He’s trying to balance a 24″ long truck on top of a 4″ stack of LEGOs.  I tell him that’s silly and that the truck is too heavy, the LEGOs are too small, and that’s just never going to work.  “But Why?  I want it to work.”

I’ve run into countless difficult scenarios in my career.  I see challenges every day at my firm Studio m Architecture + Design.  Limited area on a building site dictates the shape and size of a new structure.  An impossible amount of the Client’s desired spaces just won’t fit into the amount of square footage that they are about to lease for the next 5 years.  The ridiculous budget number available for a residential project is unreasonable and so tight that you can’t do anything with it.  Never once have I told any of these people that what they are trying to do is “silly”.  OK, maybe I said that to the guy trying to build a 3,500 square foot house for $100,000, but he really was being silly.

Often, in the design process, I ask myself. . . “Why?”  I’m frustrated.  Things aren’t working.  I don’t think I am going to come up with a solution that works. . . . why?  Isolate the problem.  Identify the issue.  Solve the one piece that’s causing the roadblock, and the problem starts to solve itself.  Find the better way, and the “WHY” goes away.

The LEGO structure was retrofitted with a second tower, a wider base, and top platform for the enormous truck to rest on.  It wasn’t failing because the idea of the truck on top of the tower was ‘silly’, it was failing because we hadn’t explored a better way to do it yet.  Not only did we solve the problem, but we found satisfaction in knowing we came up with the solution that worked.

There can’t be 4,000 life lessons in response to the continuous stream of “why”s that exist every day.  When Little Guy asks why he has to go to bed. . . . “pineapple head” is sometimes a better answer than trying to collectively brainstorm about the optimal sleep cycle routine and why right now might not be the best time after all.  However, I think it’s up to me to realize that sometimes there is much more behind a “why”, and maybe the best answer isn’t always “because that’s the way it is.”  In that respect, I kind of hope the WHY never ends.


Architecture/Design Products:


Cardboard and blankets work just fine, but we’ve noticed that Little Guy is getting more demanding with his fortbuilding requirements.  Build Abouts look like a pretty interesting modular product that might be perfect for indoor Winter playtime.

Check out:
Build Abouts

  (creator of advent calendar shown above)


Pretend Architecture

Not the land of make-believe

This month’s theme is “Building” at my son’s preschool.  They are building with blocks, deciding what does and doesn’t work as a building material, and creating “all sorts of buildings” according to Little Guy.  I also have a project in the framing stage that just happens to be about a minute from the school.  So, after I collect him from his day, we swing by the job site and, depending on what is going on, we stop by and check on things.

“It’s like a real house.”  This may very well be some of the most complimentary Architectural critique that I’ve ever received.  I certainly hope my clients feel the same way!  But there was much more behind the seemingly obvious observation.  It is, in fact, a real house…or at least on its way to being one.  “What do you mean?”,  I asked him.  He told me that “First it was just words.  Then it was on your papers and it was just pretend.  Now it’s just like a real house that we are in.”

Yes.  Yes it is.

We proceeded to make our way in and around the newly framed walls that just barely define the different spaces on the first floor.  I showed him the kitchen and explained where the sink would be.  “This is where the oven goes.  Over here will be the fridge.”  “That sure is a big kitchen, huh, Dad?”  Down the hallway, into the bathroom where he asked where the sink would go and proceeded to “pssshhhhhhh, wash his hands.”  “What will this be?  Is this a window?  Do you have to jump out the front door? (the grade outside hasn’t been finalized yet).”  It was truly amazing and extremely fulfilling to answer his questions about what exactly was going on in the skeleton of space we made our way thru.

“I like it.”, he let me know when we got back in the car, and I’m sure I smiled ear to ear.  “Dad, where does everyone sleep?”  We had not been able to visit the 3 bedrooms upstairs because…well, they didn’t exist yet!  He said he can’t wait until the stairs get built.

It was, indeed, “just pretend” at one point.  The design process does start with “just words” when the initial flood of ideas, the wants and needs of the client, all come out.  There’s budget and timing and there’s sometimes things that people know they want, and know they can’t afford.  There’s managing expectations, determining the level of my involvement in the process, and of course, making sure that the most important people (the ones paying for and living in the house, of course) remain connected and engaged during the process.  And we haven’t even started yet.

Little Guy and I review drawings together.  We look at “pretend” spaces and attempt to identify them.  “What kind of room might this be?  It has a big table in it with lots of chairs.  This is a door.  This is a window.”  We test questions like “Why can’t the cars park on the roof?  Why should the playroom be on the opposite end of the house from Dad’s office? (some answers are more obvious to me than they are to him…)”  I like to think that he is absorbing all of this, and I’m sure he is, but at the moment, it’s just us having fun talking about what I do; showing him how spaces can be designed beforehand, and aren’t just the result of someone nailing a bunch of boards together.

This, of course, can apply to any number of things we encounter in our daily life.  Things can be designed.  We can design them.  I hope to instill in him the idea that we don’t have to just accept things for what they are.  We can think about how we want things to be. . . and make it that way, or at least experiment a little bit and make stuff up for the fun of it.  It’s something that happens in the Architectural profession all of the time.  We have ideas competitions, or hypothetical design solutions for non-existent projects.  It sharpens the pencil, sharpens the mind, and maybe results in some ideas we may not have thought of otherwise.  Sounds exactly like something we should be doing with our Children!


Architecture/Design Products:


The LEGO Architecture book came out last year.  It’s a story and visual guide to the LEGO Architecture products that I’ve highlighted in the past.  Another product that may be more for Dad than for Little Guy, but as he gets older. . . we’ll see!

Check out:
LEGO Architecture book
LEGO Architecture Series