I have worked almost every day since I was fifteen. First as a janitor for a daycare service at my father’s church. I cleaned toys, vacuumed around dirty clothes and augured more than one toilet. This job motivated me to work harder, aim higher and earn more money. I paid my way through undergraduate school working as a Customer Service Representative at Blockbuster. I’ve been yelled at for someone keeping a movie for two weeks and having a $4.23 late charge on their account. I’ve restocked VHS tapes and DVD’s to the point that I lost my fingerprints. I’ve even been held up in a robbery (with a bread knife, which look much more wicked than they actually are). And yes, I vacuumed that same store for four years around cardboard cutouts of Jack Sparrow and Optimus Prime.
This job helped pay for school and invigorated my desire to better myself and aim high. My first architectural job was one year before the recession. I drew toilet elevations and janitor closets but didn’t touch a vacuum once. In 2009, myself and 103 of my colleagues were let go in a mass sacking. I felt betrayed, sabotaged and furious but that day and the next three months I learned that greed and pride were the driving forces during the toughest economy in thirty years. The rich and powerful maintained their titles while the middle class and those trying to make something of themselves struggled to find a job. It also revived my need to prove my worth, earn my keep and make something of myself even when it felt like everyone else was pushing against me. Moreover, I learned that my house was in desperate need of vacuuming.
William Morris wrote Useful Work versus Useless Toil in 1885, focusing on effort and pride. It was about the good and bad of laborious work and how it motivates citizens to strive for better, work for something worthwhile and identify the earners from the takers. And in the eye of ethics, Morris views the rich, the aristocratic, as the villains of our communities. “We all know they consume a great deal while they produce nothing.” The rich steal and shakedown it’s community while strong-holding their income as incentive to work harder. Yet reading further, he identifies each class as the burden to the next class down. Each group offers more struggles to the next, all hoping to provide a better life in the hopes of growth and progress. And this is where William Morris teaches us the rules of Nature. “Wealth is what Nature gives us and what a reasonable man can make out of the gifts of Nature for his reasonable use.” We must strive for the happiness through real, honest, hard work. There is pride in earning your keep, hope in a quality product and pleasure knowing you’ve created something functional. This narrative is not calling out the class-robbers themselves but telling the nineteenth century how to eradicate it. “When class-robbery is abolished, every man will reap the fruits of his labour, every man will have due rest.” This is there very definition of socialism. It solves the tyranny of commercialism through an equal mindset and honest, uniform work, pay, responsibility.
Unfortunately, this belief in mass equality has proven rout with corruption and vitriol. The human condition, as honest and pure as one would strive to be, can not ignore the desire to better oneself over someone else’s. The challenge of evolving faster and smarter than the next person is what our brains have always been conditioned to do. Andrea Palladio was a sixteenth century architect who stubbornly would never adjust his designs to fit its site, “If a design is really good, one could argue, it is good for any site.”  He was a true Platonist who believed in the material product as a reflection of a perfect prototype, “The more closely the building reflects this original prototype, the better it is.” This commitment to design was for the betterment of Palladio’s understanding of form and proportion but possibly to the detriment of the site, city and patrons. He felt his work was more important to understand design theory than the success or purpose of the end products use. His self-indulgence, while possibly brilliant, defeated the very purpose of our occupation. Even written in "The Ethical Function of Architecture", “Evangelical modernists promised to heal the rift between beauty and reason, form and function: once more, architecture was to be of a piece. Such hopes are difficult to dismiss.”  This text was driven by the moral challenges and failures of certain styles of architecture believed to benefit a community over another at a specific point in time.
We are driven by our own superiority, to better our society yet relegated to prove our correctness over another. We are all inquisitive and, in that fact, we are all selfish in the need to prove one’s own worth. It’s what drives capitalism and promotes growth, change and progress. Understanding reality is a fundamental part of the 21st century. It incorporates greed, ruthless pragmatism and force to provide safety and familiarity we all know as home. It’s not perfect, but ethically, its what we’ve always known and stand for. Our constant conflict with the powerful is what keeps this mass experiment of the United States running true and honest. No different than religion, the constant questioning of faith is what drives people to the church for answers. We challenge ethics and beauty and meaning because we are human. Curiosity is what differentiates our brains from any other living thing on Earth. It may not always favor ones own ambitions, but that is life. We are driven by the right and wrong of our own minds and while it seems that things aren’t going our way, we must push through and persevere. It’s the most human thing we have the opportunity to do. In looking over the past year I challenge you to recognize the sacrifices you’ve endured to improve your life and what in the coming new year you strive to achieve for the betterment of yourself and community.
PS – Dyson’s are on sale this week.
Morris, W. (1885) “Useful Work versus Useless Toil”
Mitrovic, B. (2011) “Philosophy for Architects”. Princeton Architectural Press
Harries, K. (1998) “The Ethical Function of Architecture” MIT Press