#379: Back to School

Lush green vegetable garden rows, graffitied warehouses, cotton-candy blue and pink sky.
Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit, MI

I’ve written to you a few times here about the architect Christopher Alexander, who passed away in March this year. One of his early books, A Timeless Way of Building, was kicking around in my head when I first moved back to Detroit, and I’ve thought much over the last few years about its successor, A Pattern Language, as I’ve been working on both the house and new book.

Along the way, I also discovered that a group of Alexander’s colleagues and former students had started Building Beauty, a post-grad architecture seminar in Italy devoted to continuing his teachings, and to giving folks with degrees in architecture and urban planning hands-on experience in craft and construction (which, counterintuitive to a non-architect like myself, is something that tends not to get taught in architecture school).

Maybe in another life, I’d thought at the time.

Fast-forward to this summer: I somehow landed on the Building Beauty website again, and discovered that due to pandemic, they’d moved the program online. And opened applications to anyone with a liberal arts degree. The 2022-3 program would run from September thru May, perfectly fitted to the gap I had between when the new novel was done and when it would come out.

I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe in signals.

I emailed for more information, on the spot. I was in luck: a virtual open house was happening the next day (signal). I attended the open house, then had one-on-one conversations with former students and faculty, including a couple folks who run an optional, parallel seminar on Beautiful Software (hi, Dan!) I applied and was accepted into the program. Classes start in one week.

I’ve taken several short, self-study online courses, but this will be the first time I’ve been in a rigorous academic environment since 2005. I’ve never been so excited for school. I picked up the Nature of Order books that serve as the theoretical spine for the course, and I’ve already been reading well ahead.

So for the next months, this ever-changing letter will transform again, into a learning journal of sorts—even moreso than usual. It’ll be a way for me to review and synthesize the things I’ve learned that week, pose questions, draw connections, and show off work on class projects.

We students were asked to send in a few lines about our hopes and goals for the course, and here’s what I wrote:

To hone my sense of beauty and deep time. To learn, in community, slower and more sustainable ways of building and making. To create spaces—both real and in my writing—that spark the soul.

I’ll be skipping next week’s letter to prepare for the start of the first semester.

And with international air travel having opened back up, there’s a chance of an in-person second semester in Sorrento, Italy ...