The Conventional “… consentingly conforming or adhering to accepted standards, in accordance with social stereotypes, cultures or traditions. “
” If a man is born in an English city, to African parents born on a Caribbean Island, what is he? “
” What would conventional society call me, Black ?”
There are many expectations for me growing up as a man who’s parents’ recent history stems from the Caribbean. Growing up in Birmingham,UK , my community identify ourselves as ‘Black’. In English, my “mother tongue”, as with other European languages, this word draws up negative images and connotations to all things it’s associated with, including people.
I never thought about it when I was younger, I didn’t see a problem with calling myself Black, but then a few experiences lead me to questioning what does it actually mean, in fact, what do words mean in general.
It did not mean reading a few dictionaries and a thesauruses until I was satisfied with all the meanings and variations they outlined. It meant studying etymology, metaphysics, writing-scripts .
I was born in Birmingham and my first language is English but I often feel that it’s insufficient for me. . The English language holds too many histories ,assumptions and attitudes, and as plentiful as it is in the numerous variations of expressions committed in adjectives, verb and nouns, I felt limited.
For me, ” Words are the frame to history’s conventions.”
Branding “…the personified images & descriptive characteristics associated to a particular identity…”
I spent the majority of my childhood to adolescence unknowingly developing a personal brand.
It was not an easy decision but after a year of deliberating, in 2010 I decided to study architecture at Birmingham School of Architecture. Despite my father’s advise to study get an apprenticeship, despite my aptitude in music, and despite me having never designed a building before other than in The Sims video game, being an architect seemed to signify all I wanted to become.
In my head, architecture was a vernacular system which incorporated, engineering, technology, landscaping and ecological habitat building, developed through a harmonic understanding of sociology, health & well being. I wanted to design cities, and redefine social systems. The possibilities seemed limitless, in my mind.
MADE (an organization dedicated to improving the quality of our towns, cities and villages) & CABE’s ( who was the government’s advisor on architecture,urban design and public space from 1999 to 2011) 2010 urban design summer school is what helped me make up my mind and introduced to me the idea of experiencing the world through travel, when I won a competition set by AA Architecture school in London, a sponsor of the event.
The competition was to design a piece of portable architecture. I created a moving music venue, pitched my idea at the finals based in London and won! Within 2 weeks, I flew out to visit the Shanghai architectural expo 2010, whilst attending a Architecture summer school worth £1000 and work with RMJM, an architecture firm based in the center of the city.
I loved it and would recommend anyone interested in simply exploring the world to visit the architectural expos that occur around the world. They are a great opportunity to meet people and be inspired by design in general. ” …I used to think that only a person who doesn’t know their purpose travels, but after this experience I was opened up to how exciting it was to get lost in life”.
Unfortunately I had to leave that experience and China behind to start University and once I began, I quickly realized that architecture was not as I had once pictured. The vision of a practical, sophisticated and philosophical pedagogy that I thought I would meet with open arms was obscured behind a defined syllabus and ambiguous lecturers.
There was plenty of philosophy, but practicality was hard to be seen, and all that confidence from prior experiences made me turn rebel.
Why did the world (the lecturers) push for what was predefined, and expected in a educational process that has not evolved for the past 100 years, ,when technology and social living has been rapidly evolving without hesitation? Why was there an imposing feeling that there was an expectation for me and others around me to conform?
I quickly started debates and even became known for starting a petition to introduce what I believed to be more interesting and practical elements to the syllabus.
I ended up in the Head of schools office. What an anticlimax ? I thought I was going to start a revolution, but then realized it was me who was the problem, and in a twisted way discovered the importance of that raw image I had created. I had created an image for architecture that did not exist here, but I could create it anywhere.
In essence , defining architecture as simply designing buildings seemed limiting, but that was perfect as it inspired me to break those limits.
The Sustainability Paradox ” We yearn for what we are, and what we are we express…”
Being myself was important and still is. It sounds simple but, I think we forget it sometimes. I care more now about my experience, and how I have the power to create my own experience however,between that time and now, I felt very responsible for the world around me.
I needed to keep up with that image I set for myself. I had to be the best ‘Black’ man I could be, the most unique ‘Architect’ , ‘The deepest thinker’, and I had a responsibility to the world to be that so that i could create what I believed to be a better world.
The truth is all of these words I associated with myself were no better being redefined by me.I was branding myself, but I wasn’t being myself. Part of my personal branding was designing sustainable architectural systems, but what did that mean?
Sustainability, as with ‘Black’ and many other words, is often thought of as a concrete thing; branded and confined by the advertised affirmations presented in the media.They teach us to pull our heart strings towards developing views ,attitudes and actions towards caring for environment, or waste generation.
These factors are important but the delivery of the message does not encompass the full spectrum of what the word could, and does mean to some.
We can find appreciation in the history words hold, and the conventions we once set. There was a time when what we created was perfect. In Birmingham we believed the Ring Roads to be future proof using the most ” modern & efficient materials ” of the day, but now we look at them as old obstructive structures, which creates division and encourages the bane of pollution, the motorcar. The roads no longer fit our idea of sustainability.
Technology changes, as quick as ideas change, and what I have learned is that words change their meaning too. Some do argue that technology is moving us further away from ourselves,but from my experience we as humans as with all organisms search for balance and equilibrium within ourselves. These processes are reflected in nature as with science, like the nuclear decay expressed in half-lifes as an atom returns to it’s original state.
I realised that we are not the words or the conventions, we are instead the inventors, participants and observers of what is a process of development and growth. We may get caught up in the turbulence of the flight and become blind to it, but can the blind imagine colour?
As I’ve grown and continue to grow ,I ask myself this same question attempting to push my thinking ‘til I feel I can truthfully see the world freely.
This is not about generating numerous and ambiguous responses to life’s questions. In turn, it is a matter of living within a realistic present, by living true to what I am ,what you are or want to be, undefined and unrefined.
That rawness is important to me, and is something I want to encourage share and be around. That is why I Jam.