I refuse to believe that buildings are inanimate objects, mere commodities to be invested in, traded and demolished to make a profit. To me, buildings are as alive as the people who inhabit them. The way we design and build them dictates how much of this "Life Force" they will embody, nourish their inhabitants with and sustain with the passing of time. It has been well proven through scientific evidence and communal wisdom that our built environment has a direct, visceral response to our mood, thoughts, productivity and actions. Today, I felt this first hand.
Walking down 16th street in the afternoon with my wife, we stumbled upon the open doors of the Mexican Embassy, a beautiful civic building that embraces the street and stands with much dignity, thanks to its beautiful proportions and clean architecture. Walking under its grand portico, we seemed to be leaving the outside world of noise and urbanity behind us, entering a new world through its beautiful doors, cast in iron by the hands of a talented craftsman. Once inside, we were engulfed with a place teeming with this Life Force. Soft light flowed in through tall windows draped with delicate curtains. Strong, beautiful columns carved from a smooth limestone supported the ornate ceilings, laden with intricate patterns & details, each room presenting a new vignette of beautiful craftsmanship, good design and whole, natural materials. The walls of the central stair hall were painted in enormous murals, telling the stories of Mexico's ancient history, its evolution as a country and its relations with the United States. Allegory was plentiful both in the building itself and the various art pieces exhibited in the gallery spaces on various floors. Materials directly from the earth such as wood, stone, brick and rugs gave a glowing warmth and sense of comfort to even first time visitors like myself. Passing through each room, one could almost visualize the lives of people who had inhabited these spaces, lived and worked there, engaged in discussions, listened to lectures and attending parties into the morning hours. One did not need to read a historical narrative to know all these facts, the building itself stood as a witness to these events, and communicated these to visitors through its walls, floors, ceilings and furniture.
In the grand hall on the second floor, an ensemble of musicians was playing Mexican folk songs and leading visitors through some simple steps of the traditional tap dancing. The music started as a mellow tune and slowly rose in sound and intensity. Approaching the crescendo, the tapping of our feet on the old wooden floors was deafening. Dancing in unison, the people and the building became one large instrument, celebrating music, culture and the life force that connected us all. It was a moment of "Wholeness". Leaving the building, it was beginning to sprinkle outside. I could not help but wonder how the rain itself was falling on all things equally, and how we are more connected to our natural and built environment than we often care to acknowledge.