MY WORK IS MY PRAYER: A BRIEF LIFE STORY
by Matthew Smith
[First of a new series of posts sharing my work, thoughts, and beliefs. I will expand upon them in the future.]
My name is Matthew Smith. I am an architect, small business owner, and a family man. Working from a home office, my wife and three sons are at the heart of everything that I do. My company Dream.Design.Build. specializes in the design of custom wooden yurts homes. I have drawn construction plans for well over 100 original such round houses all over the United States and into Canada; and, keeping up my rectilinear bona fides, I just completed a design for an oceanfront house in Costa Rica.
I arrived at designing and building wooden yurt houses as both a rejection of a technocratic architecture profession that I increasingly felt alienated from, and as a move towards organic principles that more closely aligned with my heart and soul.
Even as a child of a large Catholic household, I would elevate my eyes during Sunday mass to the vaulted church ceiling and, while marveling at illuminations filtering through stained glass windows, wonder to myself why houses couldn’t be more like this. As for my own early 1900’s childhood home, I learned carpentry and renovation skills as a matter of necessity, due to the impact of seven children on the old plaster, lathe and oak flooring. With my father being blind, much of the maintenance work at home fell to me—dad could code computer programs in braille, but it was my mother who taught me to swing a hammer at a ripe young age. I was fortunate to attend public school in New Jersey at a time when wood shop and architectural hand drafting were still being taught, and so it was clear from early in life what I wanted to be when I grew up—an architect.
What wasn’t so clear was that the path would be anything but straight. Guided instead by intermittent crises, a burning intuition, and the ephemeral proportions of Phi and Pi, my journey would involve quitting college in 1994, and flying into the wind on the back of a 1982 Kawasaki motorcycle with the dream of taking my architecture studies on the road. I was introduced to the Prairie School architects
by my uncle, a Chicago historian. I was swept up by Mardi Gras after rolling into New Orleans the night I turned 21. I found sandbag dome houses in the Mojave Desert, strawbale houses in Colorado, geodesic domes in California, and round barns in Pennsylvania Dutch country. I also discovered remnants of the LSD culture of the 60s that was so counter to the conservative culture of my upbringing, for better and for worse.
A life changing year later—with the great American landscape revealed to me–my gears shifted from Zen to the art of community organizing in urban NJ. By this time an avowed atheist and leftist activist, I spent the next decade framing houses during the day, and attending political meetings at night. I eventually did complete my architecture degree (Cum Laude) at NJIT in Newark, NJ in 2003, while working on various local political and anti-war campaigns during the shock of 9/11 and the build-up to Gulf War II. I was
also involved with grassroots urban renewal efforts through Newark’s Lincoln/Park Coast Cultural District Project. Video footage that I captured of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s historic 1998 city council campaign (including a street address by poet Maya Angelou) became a significant part of the 2020 film Why Is We Americans?
Ever restless, I moved to Seattle in 2004 to start a family and, at last, a career in architecture. For several years I worked for a variety of notable Seattle architects, never truly finding my place in stiff office settings. My compulsion to fix things got the better of me and before long I was adding onto the small family house while also serving on the board of ADPSR, spearheading the response of this national organization of conscientious architects to Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. The accumulated strain led to a major health crisis, and my best laid plans would soon be derailed by divorce and the real estate crash. By 2008, I found myself starting over again with some tools in the back of a van and looking after my 2 little boys in a new apartment on weekends.
What seemed to be the bottom was the beginning of a new lease on life, happily remarrying and moving out to the woods on WA’s Olympic Peninsula. I heard about wooden yurts through a neighbor, and to my delight found out about a Washington company manufacturing prefabricated house kits. So, while my re-assembled family lived in a renovated 1958 trailer for three long years, I designed and built my second family home and my very first round house. Drawing on all of my talents, this was the beginning of a brand-new career path—one I could never have imagined but only dreamed of.
Thus, Dream.Design.Build. was born of the fire of authentic
experience and a passionate pursuit of beauty and integrity.
My activist days are long behind me—the Left’s acquiescence to recent state mandated experimental procedures being the final nail in the coffin of a certain idealism. And atheism is decidedly unable to explain this enigma we call life—an emaciated, not-to-be trusted scientism still clinging to its one free miracle. I look back now at that boy in church pews gazing upwards at soaring structures and continue to wonder.
I now know that sacred buildings elevate the spirit precisely because they resonate with divine natural order. I now know that higher consciousness produces higher architecture, and likewise that good buildings inspire good human beings. I lament the state of our built environment, filled with lifeless, disposable cubes designed to the specifications of zoning codes and quarterly markets, while a decadent society searches in vain for meaning. Still, I take solace in the indomitably of the soul, and aspire to align my creative work with that gentle voice—a healing vibration perhaps—gesturing ever upwards.
Matthew Smith, Seattle -September 22, 2022
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This post was originally published on from Randy Rowe and can viewed here: https://newagora.ca/my-work-is-my-prayer-a-brief-life-story-by-matt-smith/