My brother Rouke is a real jazz cat. As a guitarist, he not only plays the hell out of his axe, he looks and acts and dresses and eats and talks like a jazz cat. His guitars look jazz-catty. He drives a vintage “Cattylac.” He has always been my hero of “the cool.”
By now, most of our faithful Side Yard followers are well aware of my protracted quest for this sense of hip legitimacy as an architect. Along the way, I’ve written about looking cool, acting cool, talking cool, living cool, cool houses, cool kids with cool toys, cool music and even cool glasses. And as long and hard as I have labored at it, I always seem to be a half-step short of this urban ideal.
One thing I have realized along the way is that architects are inherently prudish. Deep down we’ve all wanted to be artists, musicians and urban activists, but we didn’t have the emotional cajones. In some ways, we are all trapped in our psychological cardigan sweaters and pleated khaki Dockers. We may be one step ahead of the general culture in taste, but it’s not in our nature to be setting the pace. We think we’re so cool wearing blue jeans with suit jackets, but software designers set this trend in the ’90s.
So this winter, I decided to shake things up and do the very un-architectural thing and jump into a style trend while it was still in its weird and edgy stage. I grew a mustache! A great, big, long one that slides down past the sides of my mouth. This is a ’70s porn-star mustache!
Over my career, I feel like I have manifested my profession’s ambivalent relationship to hairstyles in my own facial constructs. Two things have been constant for me: 1. I have a restless face, so I am constantly changing up what gets shaved and what stays and 2. I don’t want to go too far out on a limb. Yeah, in the ’70s I had the same mustache, plus long hair, sideburns and oversized plastic glasses. But as much as I might have wanted to, I just couldn’t do anything as far-out as Ziggy Stardust.
In the ’80s, I went a bit wild and grew a rat tail but often kept it hidden under my pastel-colored shirt collar for fear I was just way too un-yuppie. I eventually cut it off and mailed it to my sister. I also took many cues from Don Johnson and Miami Vice, continually experimenting with maintaining that perfect three-day growth...everyday. With the technology we had in those days, it was harder than it looked.
I’m pretty sure I was the first architect in Seattle to grow the ever-so-popular-in-our- profession goatee beard in the early ’90s, but this was only after I saw Brad Pitt with one. (Rick Zieve might have beaten me, but he’s stuck in a beard rut.) In this decade, I also made the worst hair decision of my life and grew a fairly large and unmanageable mullet. What was I thinking?! Again, all of this was within the confines of the approval of my style-sheepish architect peers.
As the twenty-first century arrived, I remember how proud I was to enter it with a soul patch, but again, Brad Pitt already had one, so it was still pretty safe. However, as with my goatee, I believe I was the one who introduced the Seattle design community to this peculiar swatch of facial hair; now, half the architecture community over 40 has one. It should really be called the muzak patch.
(On a side note, how does a designer determine how big his soul patch should be? Does the bigger the patch mean the bigger the soul? Or is it a compensation thing? You don’t want to go too big because it may appear like an oversized truck, gold chain or crotch rocket. And if you go too small, is it because you are really into detail and precision? Or is it because you are indecisive?)
I’ve often wondered why many of the established architects in Seattle haven’t experimented more with their beards. Take Tom Kundig for instance (he does have that characteristic longish hair). Come on, Tom, I challenge you to a sideburn competition!
Like so many architects I know, I want to be relevant and progressive, but I don’t want to be loud-mouthed about it. I would rather mail my soul patch to my mother than find out people think I look too eccentric. When it comes to my facial-hair style, I have relied on everyone from Tom Selleck and Johnny Depp to Dirk Nowitzki, Bruce Springsteen and Pat Morita for direction. All pretty edgy mainstream.
But this time is different. I’m not waiting for some celebrity or graphic artist to affirm me—I’m going to lead. I don’t care if people think I’m having a mid-life crisis or if one of our commercial real estate clients thinks I’m Dale Chihuly. Heck, maybe I’ll be the Ron Jeremy of architects! Now that’s badass.