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Inception’s Dream of the Architect

"The Dream of the Architect" by Thomas Cole

After seeing the movie “Inception” last night, I’m convinced of one thing. Christopher Nolan, the writer and director, MUST be married to an architect. Or, he has been married to an architect in the past. Or, one or several of his close friends are architects. Or, perhaps he studied architecture at some point. Somewhere, somehow, the man is intimately familiar with the behavioral quirks of the architectural set.

I ought to know. I’m married to an architect myself. One of my closest friends is an architect, and her husband is also an architect. Much of our extended friendship circle is made up of architects. If you look at many of my friends on Facebook, they’re architects. I’m surrounded by an almost constant stream of banter about buildings and starchitects and roof details and the perfect doo-dad to prop up the thing-a-ma-jig that sits behind a cabinet that no one will ever see.

Architects like to draw – on everything, but especially on napkins and scraps of paper while they’re eating. They all do this with relish, like eating is the ritual that incites creativity. When DiCaprio did it in the movie – a pivotal, serious scene – I started laughing out loud, something that no one else in the theater (and it was FULL of architects) thought was funny.

What’s worse about this tendency for drawing on things is that every scrap – even if they’ve blown their noses on part of it; especially if it’s wadded up so tightly that it would be humanly impossible to press it flat again – every shred represents the INCEPTION of a design that may be useful SOMEDAY. Therefore, none of these things that look like rubbish to the non-architect can ever be thrown away.

I’ve also learned that architects design buildings for everyone else, but their own houses are usually unfinished projects, leaving them in a perpetual bliss of design mode. They see what a modernist miracle of perfection it’s going to be one day, when it’s done. But, it will never be done.

Nothing demonstrated these behaviors more clearly for me than the architect husband and wife dream of the perfect world in the movie. I laughed all the way to the car dissecting that place, where the two of them, entirely alone, constructed a mammoth city of their dreams, a modernist miracle of insane proportions that was built all the way into the sea. Without having to deal with deadlines, clients, construction administration, contractors, subcontractors and so on, they lived for over fifty years in what must be every architect’s dream of how they would practice and live if money were no object. They would just exist in the orgiastic bliss of designing and designing and designing.

Knowing and loving architects adds an entirely different dimension to the pleasure of watching “Inception.” Obviously, I adore them, because I’ve chosen to surround myself with them at every turn. Just don’t laugh out loud in the serious architectural moments in the movie. Call me, and we can laugh together instead.

28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lou mello #

    Very funny, I can just picture Michael with his wads of napkins, notes and scraps of paper. Thanks for sharing.

    July 17, 2010
    • They’re ALL like this, though, Lou. Sam Herin in your Rotary Club will verify every single bit of this behavior. 🙂

      July 17, 2010
  2. michael maher #

    Yes, we are the heroes of the world’s we construct, but alas the world is far better at destruction and tearing down the dreams that we create, even if only in our minds.

    July 17, 2010
    • So, are the architects defending their self-created domain in this painting, or are they fighting amongst themselves to destroy buildings that offend their sensibilities?

      July 17, 2010
  3. Robert #

    I don’t see ANYTHING funny about architects being trapped in a world of our own making! It’s like Churchill said: we make a world, that world makes us… only in the case of architects, we never finish making a world that can never be quite perfect enough, which, in turn, never finishes making us in return. It is an infinite loop of no return, return, return, return, re-

    July 17, 2010
    • Somehow, that point got made in the movie. At least for me. Ultimately, the architects flee their dream world by killing themselves to return to reality…….

      July 17, 2010
    • michael maher #

      …and never quite achieving that elusive perfection.

      July 17, 2010
  4. Alas, the drive to perfection inhabits the minds of poets as well. Probably all creatives. We are constantly trying to achieve it. Now, I’ll have to see the movie.

    July 17, 2010
    • See it at the Hippodrome when you go. It’s an epic feast.

      July 17, 2010
  5. A. Guess #

    Even though what I design is far from perfect – I still love the thrill of it becoming reality. Unless it is a project in our house of course! It sounds like another movie that is going to make it harder to explain to clients what we REALLY do.

    July 17, 2010
    • No, Alice. I think I’m the only one who made all of these architect connections because I know so many of them. At the base of it, all the movie said is that architects design people’s dreams. All of the underlying things that make you people so wonderful were things that I found, I think. An average viewer who didn’t know so many architects likely would not see it the same way.

      July 17, 2010
  6. angie keesee #

    i have no idea what you’re talking about……just don’t take my signpen.

    July 18, 2010
    • I WISH I had mentioned the love of pens in this post, Angie. I’m drowning in pens. 🙂

      July 18, 2010
  7. miguel roldan #

    Gracias Andra por incluir nuestra foto en tu blog. Lo sigo con frecuencia. Me parece muy inteligente y me encanta tu sentido del humor.
    Esperaremos a ver la pelicula para tener la imagen completa, pero para empezar, tu capacidad de asociar temas ya me parece un rastro de tu relación con arquitectos .
    Por ahora te cuento:
    Como has visto en nuestra foto, tanto Mercedes como yo aparecemos haciendo otras cosas que dibujando en servilletas. Te confieso que eso, lo hacemos con frecuencia, incluso a veces pidiendo el boligrafo dell camarero que esta tomando el pedido de las comidas de la mesa de al lado).
    Mercedes esta , como te decia, hablando por telefono y yo haciendo fotografias. Estos son otras dos acciones, junto con el dibujo, que los arquitectos practicamos asiduamente. Ya se que todos miramos y hablamos, pero los arquitectos lo hacen de una manera diferente. Tal vez por que lo que miran, casi instantaneamente especulan con cambiarlo o transformarlo. Es verdad que como miras, define lo que ves, y que las cosas que ves defines las cosas que no ves ,las cosas para las que estas ciego. La ceguera de los arquitectos es otro tema. Un ultimo comentario, como veras, yo me estoy haciendo la foto yo mismo. Esae es otro vicio-virtud de los arquitectos: la tenendencia de observarse ellos mismo. LLamalo vanidad, llamalo gansas de saber quien es uno.
    Vemos la pelicula y seguimos comentando. Perdon por el no-ingles. estoy seguro que habra por ahi algun arquitecxto que te ayudara.

    July 19, 2010
    • Miguel, thank you for writing such lovely words. I cheated and had Google Translator help me with them.

      I think one of the things I love about architects the most is the way that they help me see the world differently. I appreciate things I never even noticed before, and yes, I spend more time looking up.

      You and Mercedes compliment one another so well. I love following your work in Europe, and I hope I get to see you two in person very soon.

      July 19, 2010
  8. Harmony Romo #

    I thoroughly enjoyed your breakdown of the architect’s quirks. It makes me want to see the movie all over again!

    July 20, 2010
    • Ha! We DID see the movie all over again because the architect didn’t get enough the first time. (I was willing. It’s a great movie.)

      Thanks for commenting, Harmony. It was so good spending time with you last week.

      July 20, 2010
  9. Love the movie but as an architect the film barely scratches the edge of my imagination as a designer. I do find the aspect of “sampling” fascinating. I had a conversation with a fellow architect regarding what we thought of the film and also spoke about a few built project that remind us of the dream setting in the film:

    August 5, 2010
    • Hsiang, thanks for your comment here, and for the link to your podcast. Lots of architects are chatting on line about this issue, and these links always help. I’m not an architect, but my husband is, and I know so many of them. They all say the same thing you have about the movie and its design.

      August 5, 2010
  10. Your posts are too funny. I’m glad I saw this one – being a graphic designer, I have some of those architect-like quirks, but not all, so it’s fun to laugh about them 🙂

    November 18, 2010
    • This is my favorite post of all time, Sarah. I just love this one. I go back and read it several times a week, and I still laugh. If you click on the links in the post, it makes it even funnier. 🙂 Thanks for reading! I’m so glad I got to meet you at Taco Boy.

      November 18, 2010

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