A new book by Andy Field reminds Karl Singporewala of the vital importance of in-person interactions
Encounterism is not a book about architecture, it is a book is about everyday joy; which for me acutely manifests itself in the everyday joy of being an architect.
I thought it appropriate to write a review in Building Design because this book will speak to anyone who gets lost in the detail; anyone who collaborates as a team; anyone who participates in public consultation; anyone who has had the courage to walk up to someone they don’t know; anyone who has experienced love; and anyone who believes in the serendipitous beauty of the world and connections the universe makes.
It is therefore no surprise that the author, Andy Field, is performance artist that specialises in human interaction.
It is worth declaring that I had a single ‘in person’ encounter with Field in April 2022, which pretty much changed my life. This may sound very dramatic, but the reason it is worth mentioning is the project we worked on and the questions he asked me turned into my own personal rabbit-hole of life.
My task was supposedly simple. As a 40 year old, I had to work with 10 year olds to help them visualise what their (and my) home town would look like in 30 years time. A time in the future when they would be the age I am now.
This brought into question my own hopes/dreams thus far – what they were when I was 10 years old – and it put a time-frame on the next 30 year cycle-of-life. Andy Field – along with his partner Beckie Darlington – have an international programme of projects which is really helping forge the next generation of architects, planners, urban designers and flaneurs, by asking them what they want from their cities.
Field’s book takes you on a journey through his own everyday ‘encounters’ which have shaped his life. However, in doing this, as you read the pages, you imagine your own experiences in similar situations; and thus the first reading of the book really becomes about your own memories and encounters.
This is why I fell into the trap of describing my own encounter with Field above. I’m a positive/optimistic/enthusiastic person, but Field’s words take this to another level by mixing it with childlike wonder – that feeling of experiencing something for the first time.
To be clear, Field is not writing as some man-child, he is however an adult who hasn’t been worn down by the repetition and responsibilities of adulthood.
Field is also about to turn 40 years old, and the reason that age is important, is that he is of the last generation that grew up in the pre-internet age of everything, all at once. The age group is important, as it serves as a bridge between old and new.
It allows him to reminisce on the original joys and behaviour patterns of past decades (and millenia) and mix them with the new post-internet, post-pandemic age we live in.
For example, in just a few sentences, he is able to plot the course of the rise of video calling over the last three years (and its now universal practice), by also reminding us that this isn’t some new technology or even a new idea – Jules Verne first described video calls in 1885.
Even The Jetsons used it to communicate in 1962, and Field gives you this information while mixing it with his own experiences of long-distance love, land-line telephone calls and catharsis.
The book is littered with chunks of information and psychology which feel more like anecdotes at a dinner party, as opposed to academic prose. However, it is worth noting that both dinner parties and academic research feature in the book!
Other key take-aways which have lingered in my mind in the weeks since first reading the book include:
- Why ordering pizza for your team during a ‘big-push’ helps break down barriers.
- What defines a pilgrim, and why architects make ‘pilgrimages’ to buildings all the time.
- Why unprogrammed public parks are vital to civilisation, society, democracy - both historically and in our future.
- Why auditoriums, theatres, cinemas (and the act of being-in-person) goes beyond the spatial and visual; and can even be chemical – ‘literally breathing each other in’.
Urban life really does require human interaction, Field explores this with child-like passion, and helps remind us that remote-desktoping your life is not life at all. As human-beings with over 14 unique senses, just remember that Zoom/Teams only caters to two of those senses.
When you work on buildings together, these projects can take years to complete. We must not lose sight of working with people we love working with… Therefore, meet in person, share those experiences, get hungry together, get hot/cold together, share in each other’s pains, radiate, share in joy, confidence, awkwardness, nervousness, and everything else that defines what it is to exist on this planet – together.