Sabina conjures the image of the master-builder repeatedly in our conversation, in ways that make it clear that she is alluding not so much to any historical figure or figures, but rather to a myth -- a thoughtfully constructed image of a more responsive and responsible designer, a notion of absolute control over every aspect of a project, a preoccupation with seeing something through from beginning to end (however hazily those endpoints happen to be defined). Obviously, this is not a fetish in a vacuum -- the question is: what does the character of the master-builder have to offer to a context defined by divisions of labor and specialization?
One of the answers offered here, is the bridging of the distance between designer, builder, and user. By reducing these distances, the design-builder is able to address some of the responsibilities of architects that have lately been underemphasized. These responsibilities include designing in an environmentally sustainable way, being sensitive to the private and social needs and expectations of the users of these spaces, and being thoughtful and understanding of the challenges faced by those in construction who will be realizing the architect's vision.
While the concept of the master-builder is somewhat romanticized, the process of design-building an artist-in-residency studio in Humboldt County remains, by its nature, grounded. By generalizing the notion of design-build to other fields, through film for example, Sabina makes accessible not just a particular process but also the ownership of a wider scope of design-knowledge, reminding us that we are all design-builders. In the film, we see master-builders who are decidedly not larger than life, dealing with the physicality of the project – among them a shelter built by hand. It is here that we see the actualization of the assertion that it's in the building that a design is tested, and that the designer, "[learns] by building it." By experiencing firsthand the trial and error of construction, the designer's vision is improved.
It’s the film that helps me relate my own, non-construction experience to the ethic of design-build. After all, I have never built a shelter of any sort (save the occasional pillow-fort), but I do make breakfast. But I don’t think I had ever focused on the physicality of that task before seeing the film. The repeated close-ups of hands working – with vegetables, with film, with wood – serve as reminders of what Sabina the designer is attempting, to put hands to ideas. And the desire to do that is what places her outside the current tradition of architecture. This desire, though, is also what brings her closer to the tradition she conjures of the master-builder.
(House of Cards: Chardin & Eames)