“Architecture is just one step of cycling materials from earth for our use.” Zander Chanin explained to me over breakfast at Brail’s, a Eugene food institution. Zander’s a recent graduate from University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and studied under Erin Moore from the design firm Float. “Her idea is that we borrow materials from the natural world. During the process of creating the built environment, materials are taken from their natural state, manipulated by man, and then they’re returned to their natural state.” How we manipulate materials influences how appropriately they return to nature.
Although Zander studied architecture, he doesn’t plan to become an architect in the traditional sense, “I love design as a way to actually change how things are, but I wonder how much architecture can actually change. Architecture has too many compromises.” Zander’s design work is centered on smaller scale projects: landscaping, furnishings, writing, and media. He built a set of mirror-backed birch cubes that are easy to move and reassemble. “We need to change the way people ‘read’ the world. It’s a more expedient way to make change.”
Zander backpacked in Japan for several months. “I felt completely liberated from stuff. I began to value things as potential art objects, particularly fragile things like paper.” Now Zander lives in Eugene with his girlfriend and works part-time for a moving company. “It’s amazing what people have and what they move. Junk that means so much to them.”
Sherri, Zander’s mother, elaborated, “The candlestick is meaningless when you’re not there. But when you’re present with it, it’s valuable.” Sherri moved back to Eugene from Denver a few years ago, in part to be near Zander, in part because her dad died and she inherited his house. “I need to sell my Dad’s house, but I can’t, yet. Every piece in it has to be touched, picked up, assessed.” Sherri’s dad’s home is alive with a man she revered. Once she lets it out of her hands, she knows from personal experience she will forfeit that connection. “I had a house in Denver, the one Zander grew up in. I sold it. The new owner bulldozed it to build a new home. Everything was gone, the physical vestige of memory, just like that.”
Sherri’s a reading teacher in nearby Springfield and works part-time at Home Depot. She enjoys the rewards of her teaching job, and the camaraderie of her retail work. “Home Depot is a great company. They assign you hours according to your availability and give benefits to part-timers. You’ve seen those commercials about Olympic athletes who work at Home Depot? That’s why athletes work there.”
When we sat to breakfast I had no idea where our conversation would flow. It turned into yet another spin on how we deal with stuff. Sherri sells things – big things – and is conflicted about how to deal with the things her father left behind. Zander spends his working hours moving other people’s stuff and explores how to make meaningful objects that are lighter, more fragile than traditional architecture. What we create and own are intimate extensions of our selves.
How will we live tomorrow?
“STEM needs to become STEAM – we need to add Art to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
“People are underemployed yet working so many hours. Let’s talk about reducing the 40-hour workweek. People would have more time to be creative. Can we work 20 or 25 hours a week and more time? We have enough resources, we just don’t share them.” – Sherri
“I think we are going towards greater awareness. Even in the past fifty years, we’ve changed our attitudes. When we damned the Columbia we thought it was a waste of the river to flow to the sea. Now, we question that. More awareness will get us far.” – Zander
“My belief is that when we die we all go back to the web of life. I get what happens to the body, but what about our consciousness? That’s what I wonder about.” – Sherri
“That’s a whole other breakfast.” – Zander