I’m concerned about what I have forgotten. I can’t remember what I have forgotten, except for those occasions when I experience something completely new Then my memory is jogged and I have for a fleeting moment an open window into my past. I then remember some small piece of what I had forgotten and inspiration is born! Our experiences create a landscape within our memories and new experiences cause us to reinvent those memories through the warp of time and the new experience. As a designer, it is important to harness both the power of our memory and the catalyst of new experiences.
I think socially we develop cultural memory and today we are establishing new cultural memories. Every culture has a landscape and if this landscape is thought of as a collection of memories we can then use it as the foundation of future experience.
In the same way, a physical landscape can be viewed as the remnants of processes or “geological” memories. These memories are sometimes hidden under layers of sediment that settle above earlier events. By scratching the surface we begin to reveal the history below.
In this way I think it is important to scratch our own mental landscape to reveal that which is forgotten. Within a collaborative we have the added advantage of witnessing the mental landscapes of those who we work with. Our dwelling therefore represents not so much a paradigm of for design in a specific landscape, or the act of momentary settlement, but the constant shifting of thought and memory that plays such an important role in the creation of new ideas and experiences.
I was seven years old when I stepped off the platform at the Ladysmith train station and onto a train bound for Johannesburg. I had just kissed goodbye my Goko, Gran and Grandad. A few minutes later the train began to rumble north, and we all began to cry.
Six months later I was shivering in Winkler, Manitoba. I was sad at times for the want of the red soil of our old farm under my feet, or playing in the shade of the Uncamba trees. But I was happy too because I could walk on water, frozen water. I had just made the profound discovery that the cold could bite the tips of your fingers, and ears, and that just because the sun was shining it didn’t mean the temperature was hot.
I think more than anything, I have learned to be comfortable with the idea that I am not native. That perhaps my fading memories from childhood evolve and play an important role in the structure of the lens through which I see the world.
I can barely remember the most important migration of my life. The fact that we left has impacted every aspect of my life. I am almost convinced that the few memories I have of that time are false. I have nothing to do with that place. But I still feel a strong connection to it and that has also shaped who I am. I think of that place in an ideal sort of way. Knowing about the connection I have & hearing stories about this place have inspired me as person & as a designer.
When reflecting upon settling and unsettling experiences whilst migrating, I am reminded of simple and yet somehow powerful memories. Being the last chosen for pick-up basketball games in the American inner city. Who is this white boy and what is he doing working construction in our neighborhood? Of trying to navigate the minibuses in Hong Kong without a lick of Cantonese and then being dropped off at McDonald’s rather than at my intended destination blocks down the road. Looking the wrong way whilst crossing the street in London and threatening to put UK social medicine to the test.
The biggest lessons I have learned as a migrant have been to accept my own naivety, to respect differing ways of living, and to consider other practices of thought. In many ways I incorporate the experiences of my personal migrations through nuances within my architecture in ways that I do not immediately recognize at the time of creation.
The funny thing is that I once felt “settled”, but since leaving the small rural setting in which I grew up I have never experienced the full sensation of being fully settled again. On occasion this may be uncomfortable, but at the same time I am now primed to continue on my journey of discovery, whether that be abroad or back in the place of my youth where I currently may be found.