The English poet, William Wordsworth, defined poetry as “a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” I feel similarly about running, with the difference being that my thoughts take origin from pain in my left knee. Tranquil once again following the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, I want to address why architects, more than anyone else, should run. This is especially true for those who, like myself, are not quite yet registered, but on their way.
Running is like life: we set goals and then we go about achieving them. The pride I feel when I finish a run allows me to study harder and design with increased rigor. Also, we all know that running releases lots of endorphins, which benefit both body and mind, facilitating the creative process and counteracting the negative effects of a sedentary life. I want to believe that architects care enough about beauty, and are sufficiently vain about their own condition, that they would try to stay in good shape.
Here is another thought: Different means of transportation create different spatial perceptions. Although our minds crave diversity and entertainment, driving in a car creates limited opportunities for fresh experiences because, after all, we are supposed to focus on the road. But a walk or a run allows for a good look around. Walking might be less entertaining than running because it takes more time to see the scenery. However, we don’t want to be picky here. If you prefer, just walk, and keep your eyes open and your mind alert.
There are different kinds of running architects. One kind is the Archeologist. Archeologists follow the same path every time and focus on the tiny features of the built and unbuilt environment. Run after run, their fun comes from exploring a route in detail. They appreciate the traces time leaves both on buildings and on nature: Time passes for both. If we repeat the same route many times, we can learn a lot about its details. A recommended variation on the typical course is to invert the direction. I confess I am an Archeologist myself and have learned even more about my route by running it in reverse. Murals on the south side of a building are visible only when heading in that direction!
Another kind of runner is the Explorer. Archeologists and Explorers are rarely compatible. (Always verify potential training partners preferences before you train with them!) Explorers choose different routes every time. They prefer to learn a little bit about everything. They seek variety. Explorers have a strong understanding of the overall composition of places, and of the relationship between the built environment and the natural elements, but perhaps they miss some of the details along the way. Lastly, Explorers prefer to run in hills, so again: watch out!
Midway between Archeologists and Explorers are the Ecologists. For Ecologists, running becomes a way to enjoy nature. By running through either urban or natural paths, they experience a great variety of projects, planting techniques, and civil engineering decisions. This is a great way for them to collect ‘samples’ for future projects. It should be noted that although Ecologists will run in the city, they prefer to run in the wild.
The opposite of the Ecologist is the Urbanist. Urbanists focus almost entirely on the built environment. They love to observe the changing city and its people. If you run with them, they comment on new buildings under construction and old ones being torn down. They pay close attention to the people and their moods, which can often be reflected in the look of their neighborhoods. My belief is that architects should begin to embrace diversity by running in places they would rarely visit otherwise. We all have much to learn.
While studying for my Structural Systems exams, I was taking mental notes of structures and construction methods on my path; this might put me in the category of the Engineers. Usually searching for a solution on their projects, Engineers appreciate “the way things work.” In a city like Pittsburgh, we have structural masterpieces, including our bridges. Sometimes, in order to admire the beauty of statics, an apparently precarious gas station deck is enough. If you don’t feel safe around it, you can always run away.
It is important for architects to get out of their offices and connect with the community. For many architects, running can provide a valuable first step toward that goal. You experience the city anew during a run. In the end, it doesn’t matter what type of running architect you are. Getting out there on the road, especially if you proceed slowly and take the time to look around, can really put you in a thoughtful mood and reconnect you to the environment. Running stops the world for a while and gives you precious time to think.