I’ve always likened being an Architect to that of being a Chef. In fact, a few years back the CNN Money did an article called “Big Jobs That Pay Badly” and the number two job with that honor was being a Architect. The Number Three was, you guessed it, being a Chef. Being a Archeologist secured the number one position but that said, Archeologists do get to travel to exotic places and are able to get a pretty kick ass tan in the great outdoors.
The similarities of being an Architect or Chef don’t stop at a “big job” title, long hours and pennies for a salary. Chefs like Architects are in seen as soothsayers in an age-old enigmatic occupation at the crossroads of the practical and the ethereal. We are perceived of being visionaries blessed with a god given gift of coaxing beauty out of everyday banal items like flour and concrete.
I’ve always believed what makes a good Architect are he same qualities that make a good Chef. The first, foremost and most obvious is creativity as food and buildings would really mean nothing if both were approached with the intent to simply sustain. But as I mentioned, this is obvious (this is why we get paid the big bucks right?...right).
The thing that I really believe separate great Architects and Chefs from the mediocre ones is a complete understanding of the materials that are used in their craft. A Chef that knows the flavors of certain spices and foods and understands what combination works best together is like an Architect that knows how certain materials come together in the most efficient, cost effective, and aesthetically pleasing manner. If one has a comprehensive and complete understanding of the materials of their trades, being creative becomes natural. I’ve watched my wife, who is amazing in the kitchen, whip up an amazing gourmet meal with day old rice, an egg, scraps of vegetables and some left over Indian food...best meal ever.
My point in all this, like the rest of my blogs, brings me back to China. Architecture and Pastries suck ass in China and I attribute it all to everything that I previously just wrote about; a lack of an understanding of the materials that they are working with. I write this, however, with one big fat caveat and that is Chinese Food (non baked goods) in Mainland China are amazing. I mean truly amazing but I guess after 5000 years of roasting a duck or making dumplings you have to get it right at some point. My qualm is with Chinese pastries and baked goods. It’s a lot like the architecture here. It looks great (that’s subjective), very ostentatious, lots of flash but absolute crap.
The Breads and Cakes here are airy and dry and taste like cardboard. Knowing what has happened the past few years I would be surprised if cardboard was a main ingredient. Other pastries are just as bad or even worse and don’t get me started about anything with icing or frosting. It tastes like someone melted wax candles added synthetic sugar and food coloring and plopped it over a warm cardboard box.
The Construction of Chinese buildings is just as bad. My first year and a half I did construction administration for the headquarters campus for an International company. What I saw on site blew my mind. Construction workers hanging fire sprinkler heads with used plastic bags, left over bathroom tile and cardboard scraps to shim up $1000 dollar German light fixtures, fire hydrants that were buried in the sidewalk that the fire dept couldn’t access them, the list is endless.
Like their cakes, Chinese architecture aims to please the opening day photo shoot. Once that’s done, all you’re left with is airy cardboard cakes and buildings. That said, the Chefs and Architects in China actually do make money.