Adobe and the Essential Plotinus
Somewhere I read that when the pilot who first broke the sound barrier, Chuck Jaeger, was asked why he could fly so well, he suggested that it might be because he was an engineer before he was a pilot. By understanding thoroughly the design and construction of his aircraft, he could control his vehicle better than anyone else. He knew the characteristics, the sequence of development and the subsequent capabilities of each system in his plane. Because of this, he could more fully understand the importance of the information provided on his instrument panel and could therefore deploy the controls in a highly effective manner.
I love that answer and believe that the principle he elaborated applies to almost any circumstance in any endeavor. It certainly applies to the world of construction. The best contractors I know have far-ranging interests that at first glance may not seem applicable to their chosen field. One of the best has a Ph.D in English; one is a graduate of St. John's College (which hasn't yet developed a concentration in vocational education); one is a licensed architect who abandoned design to pursue a better understanding of materials; yet another was a mechanical engineer; one taught school for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and so on.
There is not much difficulty associating the vocation with the avocation in some of these cases, the mechanical engineer and the architect, for example. But a Johnnie as an accomplished contractor? How does Plotinus play into a fine plastering job? The answer to that, I really don't know, but I have watched him use Euclidian principles in the field. And the guy who taught at Zuni for the BIA? No doubt money had something to do with the change, but that does not clarify what makes him so damn good as a builder.
I can note a few commonalities: All of these contractors have remained small, usually working only one project at a time; none advertise; each personally oversees his jobs; and significantly I think, they all gravitated towards earthen architecture early in their building careers. What a cool phenomenon. How do you account for it?
The answer, I think, may be as simple as Chuck Jaeger's admonition to understand not just the How, but the Why. The Why is always bigger than the accretion of parts in a complex system; it encompasses the whole sequence of events, the history of those parts leading to their present configuration. Jaeger knew and understood the developmental sequence of the components that let him make history.
I have frequently used this space to advance the understanding of earthen architecture for folks who own, want to own, want to sell or want to broker an adobe home. The theme (which I often obfuscate with anecdote) is to look at buildings as systems, to see how the house relates to the site, the plaster to the walls, the paint to the wood, and importantly, the regional history that imbues the individual building, whether it is new construction or old, with its significance. The context.
Around here, it is earthen buildings that most clearly relate the history, the culture and the epic of place. My obfuscating analogy to Chuck Jaeger's understanding of the broader aspects of engineering as they related to his aircraft help explicate the Plotinus Effect; how the willing exposure to broad interests and varied experiences distills to make a better contractor.