You have to make it possible

In 1946, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built a glass and steel house, a prelude to the modern office glass skyscraper that he is most known for designing. A partial description of this house, called the Farnsworth House, written by historian Maritz Vandenburg, reads:

  • "All of the paraphernalia of traditional living--rooms, walls, doors, interior trim, loose furniture, pictures on walls, even personal possessions--have been virtually abolished in a puritanical vision of simplified, transcendental existence."

No one would actually (comfortably) live in a house like the Farnsworth House, but Mies was making an artistic statement. About man vs. nature, structure vs. space. About reducing things to their simplest form.

This made me think about how I (Geek #2) code.

Computer programming entails significant trial and error, even more so for self-taught coders like myself. Sometimes I'll copy a snippet of code and stick it in the middle of the code I'm building, just to see what it does. Then I start breaking it apart, taking away the stuff I don't need. As I get better, the code becomes more streamlined until that moment when I actually learn. At that point, I reduce it not by the number of lines of code but by process.

However, as much as I usually want to keep working at it to make it perfectly "clean", that's impossible - once it works it's time to move on. It's a matter of diminishing returns, and next week there will probably be something new that does it better anyway. The working life of the programmer is always unfulfilled, never opportunity to build a masterpiece.

What must it have been like for Mies to realize and execute his dream?

Perhaps the only true obstacle architects have is opportunity. Basically, if they have the vision and the means, they can build. The materials stay more or less the same - it's not like one day they are building a house out of brick and then the next day they have to use something bizarre they've never worked with, like Jell-O.

For software architects (and programmers, graphic designers, and all of us building things on the web) it's simply not as easy. The materials and tools are constantly evolving. The convergence is never reached, there is no Platonic ideal, there is only the Minimum Viable Product. It's the hardest thing for non-geeks to understand, that your best is always a trade-off between money + time + talent.

Sometimes it's amazing that anything gets built. And only a few break out and create something truly remarkable.

Mitchell Joachim is building houses out of mushrooms.

"These guys push the boundaries so that other buildings can be more interesting. You have to make it possible."

So says Geek #1. Words to code by.


Last built: Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 6:32 PM

By Betsy Kimak, Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 7:42 PM. Good for the environment.