When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming an architect. As the only child of overprotective parents struggling with their own identity crises, I lived in my head and have very little memory of the external world. I instead looked to books to fuel my childhood imagination. In that fantastical universe unbound by established rules, I became very good at constructing new and complex realities.
To my parents’ surprise, I graduated from high school and decided to forgo architecture school for a while. By that time, I had fallen in love with the idea of being an artist in New York City, and I had a hunch that architecture might be more interesting as a craft than an industry. When I eventually got my formal architecture training in graduate school, it confirmed that hunch. I realized that the discipline and practice of architecture itself might need a new architecture. (That’s a mouthful, I know.)
But my point is rather simple: the essence of architecture isn’t about the built environment. It’s about people and relationships. Architecture gives form to the ways we live, reflects the realities we construct and creates new spaces for pursuing human potential. To improve the world, we must push architecture beyond physical form. Seeing new possibilities, I spent a lot of time searching for ways to combine that broad interpretation of architecture from my childhood with my adult understanding of human interactions.
That’s easier said than done. When I chose not to pursue a career in architecture, the idealistic instinct in me didn’t turn into anything concrete. But I was fortunate to step into the internet boom and lead fascinating experiments with new ideas that were transforming culture. In the meantime, my extensive travels around the world enabled me to viscerally understand and appreciate the human condition in both its universality and diversity. As I became more and more sensitive to seeing the interdependencies between systems, my energy coalesced at the dynamic intersection of design, technology, media and entertainment, where I crafted elegant solutions to complex problems across multiple industries.
Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue all turned to me for leadership, and I delivered time and again, yet I felt a sense of loneliness and emptiness as I watched the world gravitate more and more toward mindless consumption. It was profoundly disturbing to recognize our contribution to an ill-conceived social and cultural architecture that would ultimately stand as the ruins of society’s collapse. With growing anxiety, I began to wonder how my talent and experience could take me back to my original dream of becoming a different kind of architect.
As I faced this professional quandary, trauma struck my personal life. I lost my husband to cancer. He died at 44, a brilliant man who still had so much to give to the world. My grief and despair took me down a winding path in search of meaning. Death poked me with questions that I couldn’t answer as I walked myself to complete exhaustion all over Manhattan, night after night, for almost six months.
Years of denial disguised as personal transformation followed this manic phase. I declared to the world that my conversation with death had brought me a new beginning filled with meaning and purpose. I believed my own story, quit my job and embarked on a journey to bring more creativity to social impact work. As a first step, I launched a social innovation company that made early stage investments in social entrepreneurs who valued learning more highly than metrics. Still, I continued to deny how much I was suffering, having convinced myself and everyone around me that I had successfully turned loss into inspiration.
The truth is, my mind may have healed, but my heart was still broken. Deep down, I knew I had a lot more work to do. Slowly, I began to observe and codify how I had lived and worked for the previous 20 years, struggling to balance my own imagination, narrative and embodiment. The architect in me moved to deconstruction in order to identify patterns. I explored how I had tried to integrate instinct, self-awareness, common sense, humility, generosity, curiosity and audacity into a cohesive and consistent way to engage the world. What emerged was a practice for making the invisible visible, the intangible tangible and the impossible possible.
Arriving at this clear vision and sophisticated approach for creating a more beautiful future, it dawned on me that I had indeed become a different kind of architect — a future architect. With the help of brilliant friends and colleagues, I have since been developing future architecture, a discipline that works with intangible forms to facilitate complex and emergent collaborations. As Buckminster Fuller brilliantly points out, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Future architecture is that new model for me. It provides a way to transcend our fractured culture as an act of love and liberation for humanity.
The next phase of human evolution is about collaboration not competition, but the belief that our survival still depends on being the fittest is fundamentally entrenched in our language and culture. Instead of being the fittest, we should think about how each of us fits into a complex and collective human endeavor to make the world more beautiful for more people. In this effort, we would be well served to let nature remind us of the inherent beauty of co-existence. Throughout my life, I have repeatedly returned to nature to seek comfort and a deeper connection to my inner self. Whether I am climbing a treacherous mountain, exploring the arctic wilderness or taking a simple stroll along a quiet beach, I always notice how in nature everything works in balance and collaboration. It’s awe inspiring to witness the power of such evolutionary harmony. As I dedicate myself to the activation, practice and refinement of future architecture, I hope the seeds I am now planting will take root and be fed by all those who, like me, seek to architect a kinder, more just, more inclusive and more connected world.