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Manifesto Part 1


by Jason Shannon


When I walk into Grand Central Station, I get a feeling of contentment and a sense of rightness.  The space is cavernous, made of stone with beautiful details and a feeling of history of both the people that have moved through here in the past, and the people that will experience this in the future.  Maybe it is best summed up as timeless.  This is how buildings and spaces should make you feel.  After all the generations of humanity that lived and struggled, we have come far and made this space, and it was worth it.   If I can be part of creating buildings and spaces that make people feel this way, I will be happy.  


Unfortunately, most spaces aren’t satisfying in this way.  When I walk down a normal city street near my home in Jersey City, I feel unease and disappointment that this is acceptable to so many.  There is so much dirt and disuse, buildings erected with the lowest cost in mind, and no sense of purpose.  I believe that humanity can create great things, but this is often not apparent in everyday life.  Most buildings and spaces are so disappointing, I feel depressed at what we have made with all our efforts.  Before all this, there were forests and open fields of grass.  Did we make it better?  


I love nature because it is pure.  There is no waste, or ugliness, only balance and beauty.  Maybe the best compliment a building could get is that it made the natural environment better.  The architect Louis Kahn once said, “The sun never new how great it was until it struck the side of the building”. That means the building made the site better.  It took advantage of the sun to create light and shadow, to highlight materials and textures, to create a beautiful moment.  


Maybe all this says, I am unsatisfied with the normal. What would our culture be like without Einstein, Mozart, Picasso, or Tarantino and Beyonce?  If we took away the few exceptional people and the remainder was the everyday and normal, society would exist, but why?


I believe it is the potential of life that give us hope.  The desire for greatness, whatever your specific ambition, that gives us the drive to get through all the crap of life to fight for what we want.  I know there are people that live in real poverty and don’t have a home.  There are some great minds working toward finding affordable shelters to help these people.  I think that is commendable, but not my passion.  I understand the idea of the rising tide lifting all, but what about the exceptional pulling us up?  Without the exceptional, what would drive us?


My passion is to try and make exceptional spaces and buildings.  Whatever the type, the goal is to create a space that inspires, that illustrates what is possible after all the growth our society has endured.  This means, to create the different.  Being part of the path forward, is not copying the past.  As architecture is a team of people working together, this requires people to hire an architect with the mindset of wanting something different.  Mostly making something different means, letting go of rules that defined the styles of the past and opening up to the possibilities of what could be.  This mission doesn’t require only those that are rich to succeed, more important is a person with an open mind.  The house Paola and I designed in the Catskills cost $330,000 and I think is an exceptional space.  There are many houses in the USA that are built for that cost or higher, but most houses fall far short of the exceptional.  


Architecture isn’t a job for me.  I didn’t say, well that is something I can do from 9-5, make some money, and then go relax.  When I was 4, I said I wanted to be an architect, and that has never changed.  When working on a design, I have a hard time sleeping because I can’t turn my brain off.  When I am working at my computer designing something, eating food seems like a waste of time.  But that feeling of purpose only happens when trying to design something special.  I could make more money making traditional spaces but my passion would die.  So this writing is a declaration of who I am, like it or not.  


Architects aren’t all the same, so at least you know more about me.  Paola is the other partner at J_spy, and she doesn’t agree with everything I say, probably no more than any wife agrees with everything her husband says.  So together, Paola and I strike a balance that helps us reach our goals.  I plan on working in architecture for another 40 years or so, hopefully we will get to work with some of you out there that share our goals for the exceptional. 

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