At dawn, with a cup of green tea in hand, Steven Holl sets out his watercolors and a spiral-bound journal. He has followed this routine for more than twenty years, having learned to value the creative spark that comes prior to the day's unfolding energy.
What he paints varies on his mood and the tenor of the day; perhaps a formal study or a light study may appear. Often, these early morning creative stretches "mark the beginning concepts for a building," the architect says.
Holl has drawn and painted as long as he can remember; his mother still has several paintings done during early elementary school. In addition to the watercolor journal, he also maintains a journal in which he notes his "impressions of spaces and places, ideas, concepts, criticisms, reflections." He carries these with him at all times, relying on them for inspiration especially during his frequent travels. Begun in Rome in 1970 when he studied there, Holl says, "the journals have allowed a continuous process, a dialog with ideas, quotes and spontaneous captured intuitive thoughts."
By way of the journals' continuity, he cites his book Questions of Perception: A Phenomenology of Architecture. Written in 1993, Holl explored how "sense perceptions are a crucial measure of architecture." The topic has not loosened its hold on him, however, as a June 2004 journal entry demonstrates: "I marked a Zen Buddhist ordering of perception in six categories: eye consciousness, ear consciousness, olfactory consciousness, tongue consciousness, body consciousness, and mind consciousness."
Although Holl's thirty-five-person design office relies on the "fastest and highest resolution computer drawings to develop [a] project," he maintains that the initial drawings—the fusion of brain, mind, and hand—are essential to the process. Regarding the significance of drawing, he refers to Louis Sullivan's concept of the "seed-germ," and says, "Like the soul or initial spirit of a project, its presence at the beginning is crucial."
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