The window is open a mere 4 inches, but the wind and cold it lets in is more than enough to make you take notice that you're in London during wintertime. The room is above a pub. The pub is in a trendy section of Marleybone. Outside the window, a mere 2 feet high by 2 across, people walk amongst cobblestone streets, giving off the same noises of traffic as they have for centuries in this City.
I'm not in the habit of thinking about architecture and zoning, but London makes me think of architecture and zoning and I can't stop. The houses and the buildings are 3-4 stories tall, which is drastically different from houses and buildings that are 8-9 stories tall, or even 6-7 stories tall. Buildings and homes that are 3-4 stories tall is the perfect height for a City like this one. Anything below that height is flimsy. Anything above that height is imposing. 3-4 stories assures that you are not engulfed by steel and glass but rather securely surrounded by brick. Brick makes me feel good. Brick is a material that is not in any way supposed to make you think something is bigger than it is, like glass or exposed beams. Brick doesn't transform itself or act like something is not. Brick is confident in itself, knowing it could withstanding anything. I imagine brick buildings proud of themselves. Not comparing themselves to other, bigger brick buildings, but instead, understanding the simple job is to keep out the cold and to ensure the foundation stands, no matter what.
Invariably, whenever I am in London and I look at the brick buildings, all essentially the same size and height, I look up and think of all of the bombs the Germans dropped on those buildings. The blitz and the stiff upper lip and the tunnels the people had to live in for months on end, while the brick buildings did their very best (it's in their nature) to absorb the bombs and to show resilience by their not collapsing and to give the people confidence that they too were brick and would survive this. I did not expect to enjoy London as much as I did when I first visited London as that cliche American who visits their older, more mature cousin. But each visit to London makes me want to visit London again and walk among the brick buildings and wide open parks at night. And the more I do, the more I become fascinated with the simple, effective way you can build a brick building and it can last two hundred years and look the same as it did when the bricklayer finished the job.
On the plane ride home, I think of brick buildings and why we moved away from them. I think of the parallels between the way we build with the way we learn, and what we value. Lawyers, for instance, now invariably pretend to be modern glass buildings. We join forces with other lawyers to make sure we appear a certain way, attracting others to visit us and compliment us and how big we are. We use verbal cues and sleight of hand to promise protection and we believe that glass and steel are the future and anyone who doesn't is old fashioned and doesn't understand how buildings work or what their job is. We increase the number of floors, unsatisfied until we press against clouds. Bigger is better. On our indeterminate climb, somewhere along the way, we forget to ask "what's it for?" Is this what the client needs? To keep building? Are we better protecting them, or are we simply growing and building to grow and build? In the midst of this, brick still stands and it still protects and it doesn't crowd you and it let's sunshine in and you don't feel intimated when you walk amongst it. Small, sturdy brick buildings do their job and nothing more. They do not promise things that they cannot deliver and they do not care about their height or being the strongest brick building. They know, implicitly, that they are strong, and so they need not communicate it because you will know it without them saying a word.
Our profession would do itself many favors if we simply focused on being brick buildings, rather than expending all of our energies to convince ourselves and the world how tall and tough and resilient we are, when in fact we're the farthest thing from brick around.