If Dance immortalizes, then Architecture is a mere figment of the imagination

We saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform last night at UNCs Memorial Hall. They opened with Go in Grace (2008) featuring Sweet Honey in the Rock and closed with their signature, Revelations (1960). By the middle of Suite Otis (1971) however, I was already struck by my own revelation, that if Dance immortalizes, then Architecture is a mere figment of the imagination.

Contrast this to one perfect spring afternoon recently while chatting with a neighbor out collecting his mail. He is a homebuilder originally from Northern California, knows I am an architect. Knows the kinds of fees his CA architects were fetching. And after a handful of projects in NC, he must also know how under-valued our services are around here. I mention this brief encounter mainly to share the sincere encouragement he offered about making a living in this region, when he said in a manner reminiscent of Rocky’s trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith): “You got talent kid, a talent to die for…” He was inferring that if I am an Architect, then I must be able to draw, and that I’ve got, you know, design sense. Sense enough at least to whip up a handful of custom residential home designs and call it a portfolio and break into the lucrative custom home market. How edifying is that!

Well needless to say, neither experience (the absolute prowess of Alvin Ailey’s legacy or the flattery of my dear neighbor’s wisdom) gave me much peace about my place in the profession, my contributions to society by way of my god-given ‘talent’.

It seems the perfect commission might be the kind of building with a program like Dance, like the Ailey School by Iu + Bibliowicz Architects. Where the Architect, if only for that moment in a lifetime, has the privilege to participate vicariously in genius. Yet the reality of that experience may be less edifying than that.

Really, Otis Redding came to life in the performance of Suite Otis, and the spirit of Alvin Ailey really is re-embodied with every performance of Revelations like oral histories passed down, generation to generation, permanently endowed  and immortalized by our perpetual patronage and appreciation. There is no edifice on earth that can outlast that kind of endeavor of the human spirit. Perhaps there is where I find myself saying that Architecture itself is at its best a mere figment of the imagination.