The Ecstatic Adventure
Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World
Chapter 16 The Designs Were More Free
by HENRIK BULL
HENRIK BULL is a professional architect who participated in the creativity study of the Menlo Park International Foundation for Advanced Study. "My experience during the session," he wrote in a letter, "was an unbelievable increase in the ability to concentrate and make decisions. It was impossible to procrastinate. Cobwebs, blocks and binds disappeared, anything was possible, but I was working on real and rather tight problems. The designs were more free, but probably more from the standpoint of removing blocks in the consideration of what the client might accept. Three designs were outlined in the three hours. All were accepted by the clients."
The increased freedom and ease of design are not merely a subjective impression; they definitely translate into concretely acceptable solutions.
"The two houses that are referred to are now complete, and I feel are very successful. They are more free than my usual work, but not completely untypical. The clients would be horrified if they knew the history of the conceptual design.... Every person should have the experience to see what potential lies within himself.
"There is definitely an enhancement of the ability to visualize, but my experience was that I became a better Henrik Bull and was not converted to an instant Gaudí."
If many more architects and designers start availing themselves of this new tool, the buildings of the future are going to assume extensively freer and more open forms.
UNTIL HEARING JOHN KAPEL's description of his experiences under psychedelic drugs, I knew practically nothing about them. I had never read any articles or books, or participated in any discussions on the subject.
I was fascinated by his description and responded with enthusiasm when he suggested that there might be an opening in the next week for me.
I had felt for a long time that my life was plagued with necessary, but relatively unimportant, detail work that was interfering with my creative work. The detail work was competing with the design work, and both were suffering. Beyond that, I felt that my design efforts were often repeating old ideas and should be more free in spirit. From John Kapel's description of his psychedelic experiences, I hoped that they might bring about some real change in my attitudes. This certainly happened beyond my wildest hopes.
The morning session is difficult to describeas any dream is. Ordinary dreams are often difficult to remember. in this case my memory is vivid, but everyday words cannot convey fantastic thoughts.
My first impression was of the extreme clarity and beauty of the music. The instruments were not only stereophonic, but also existed at a particular point in space. This point would even move about in some cases. I had never heard music in this manner before. Soprano voices (which I had never before enjoyed) became fantastically beautiful.
Soon visions began to appear, not unrelated to ordinary dream patterns. There seemed to be a constant changing of varicolored and handsome fabrics of all kinds.
Next, the visions became more abstract and occupied the whole head. I was observing the scenes, but was conscious that there were no eyes, no ears and no brain.
The head soon became the universe, infinitely expansible or contractible. The visions continued uninterrupted and were influenced in content by the music. This universe was sustained by that which was below, and that which was below had been my body. There had been fingers and toes on that body, and I felt it might be interesting to find out if I could communicate with these elements. I tried to move a finger; it touched another finger, and I felt it. Therefore I had fingers still. Having proved that, there was no necessity to find out about toes. This was my last contact with my former body.
From that point on there was no vision or thought which related to the real world.
There were no absolutes.
There were no specifics.
There were no dimensions.
There were no mistakes.
There were no people.
Do not ask questions!
This is truly a wonderful world of infinitely variable colors, forms, music. (The last had come from the other world, but improved.)
When the music stopped and we were told to get up, I really thought the whole morning had been very funny and I laughed out loud for quite a while. I had been anxious that I might be nasty to anyone who would shut off such a fine world. The world was still fine but different.
Time did not have any real meaning, and the morning session could have taken ten minutes or several days.
Lunch did not appeal to me at all, and I kept wondering why anyone would want to foul their mouths with food.
We next went through a series of tests similar to those we had taken the previous week. I did not feel any sense of urgency in the tests, nor did I feel particularly sharp about them. In the imbedded-figure tests (which I had enjoyed the last time), I indulged myself in enjoying the complexity of the color patterns, trying alternate solutions and proving to myself the solution before tracing it out. This seemed to take forever, but was often only two or three seconds. I was told that my performance was better. I still did not enjoy the "creativity" test, and felt as awkward as the first time.
I was looking forward to the opportunity to attempt some of the professional creative problems which we had been told to bring. There were four of these, ranging from an extremely complex state college building with a program of eighty-two pages to a rather simple vacation house.
My first decision was which problem to attack. I decided immediately to avoid the complex problem, because even though I felt very sharp, I knew it would be impossible to come to a conclusion or even to make considerable progress in three hours. This proved to be a wise decision.
The simplest problem (but possibly the one with the most potential interest) was attacked first. Almost immediately several relationships that had escaped my attention became apparent, and a solution to the spatial relationships followed soon after. I avoided looking at a watch throughout the session, but I would guess that twenty minutes elapsed. Normally, I would stew and fret for weeks before coming to such a solution. Not to be misleading, on a simple problem the period at the end which is truly productive is often quite short under normal circumstances, but in any case a matter of hours.
My next dilemma was whether or not to continue developing the design and make an effective drawing of it. I realized that I was thinking better and would draw better than usual. My decision was that if I drew better than normal, I still would not be drawing well, and should stick to those things I was good at. I have never had much trouble developing a consistent design after the initial conception.
I decided to stay on this level of conceptual thinking and only make shorthand notes to myself to follow up later. This was a most important decision.
I did not know whether or not I would remember the unanswered questions later, and sorely resented the time it took to make notes to myself. My band did not move any faster than usual and I became very impatient with it. I even resented the time it took to reach for a sharp pencil. My position was half-sitting, half-kneeling on the floor leaning over the drawing board. Quite literally, I had only a bead to think and a hand to make sketches and notes. The body was (again) unimportant. When the session was over and I got up, it was really quite painful because of the awkward position I had been in for three hours.
The first problem completed, I felt very exhilarated, and could not wait to get on to the next.
This problem was basically a site problem, locating a number of condominium houses on a very beautiful piece of property. The decisions came very quickly and I outlined a solution which pleased me in a very short time. In passing, I investigated the economic yield to my client for several similar solutions and decided on what I felt was the best one. Why not do a typical floor plan for one of the units? This too was accomplished without the usual number of false starts.
At this point I said to myself, "It would not be fair to Barney not to give his house one more try." This client had been very difficult, but also challenging. I had presented him several different preliminary schemes. All had various faults in his mind, but he would not give me any specific complaints. The only scheme which excited him was also too much money. But he did not lose faith in mewhich is quite unusual.
This time my approach to the problem was unrelated to all previous attempts, and I looked at the challenging site in a new way. I really believe the solution that resulted in a few minutes is better than any of those which preceded it. This is a job which has taken several hundred hours of time, and represents a great money loss for the office. Why had I never seen this solution before?
I should emphasize that the solution could have happened before. It belongs to the same family as my other work. The only real difference was that the solution which I felt right about appeared in almost no time at all.
About this time we were told there would only be a few more minutes. Having disposed of the other problems, I decided to take a fresh but superficial look at the state college problem. I made some quick notes and calculations, which resulted in a rough sketch for a different approach to the ground floor. When I showed this to my partner and to the men in the office the next morning, they were very enthusiastic. Despite this, it was generally agreed that the new approach was too complicated to solve completely before a rather pressing deadline. We also agreed that it would be worth looking into later to see if it was in fact a better solution.
During the rest of the evening I felt very stimulated, something like being slightly high on alcohol. This was sustained for several hours. I was staying at John Kapel's house and enjoyed comparing impressions of our experiences with him. After the Kapels went to bed, I listened to their records until about 4 A.M. The visions of the morning session were missing, but the clarity of the music was the same.
The day had started at six in the morning and ended twenty-two hours later. It was probably the shortest and most enjoyable day in my life.
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