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The spirit of geologists and architects

Erik Flesch
By Erik Flesch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday April 3, 2003

There are men and women who love their work, whose lives have purpose and joy, and whose productive achievement is the fountainhead of Western civilization. They refuse to give up their lives to fate or chance, or to let the traditions, prejudices and demands of others dictate their direction. They work for their own pleasure, accepting money as their material reward, and the values they create bring life-giving benefits to countless others. Who are these romantic individuals?

They are everyone from businessmen and scientists to retail sales clerks and mechanics the competent ones who enjoy carrying the responsibilities of the world; the value-creators who at some point in their life decided to accept the reality of their own free will and act. But I believe that there are two kinds of professionals in particular, little-known and under-appreciated these days, who are among the most romantic and fundamentally important of them all: geologists and architects. Their work results not only in the materials and structures we need to subsist, but also that which our spirit requires according to man's very nature as the rational animal, as Aristotle phrased it.

For their part, geologists begin with a unique view of the universe. Their

science, in its modern incarnation, is based on the principle that Earth is not static, but dynamically changing composed of tectonic plates the size of continents that move and interact with one another. Their medium is rock, formed and deformed over time scales of millions of years.

To deal with the nature of their material, geologists expertly employ a sophisticated tool that most other sciences still eschew: inductive reasoning. Induction allows anybody to integrate the evidence of their senses (empirical data) using logic very meticulously to come to a conclusion about something that may be impossible to perceive first hand. For example, induction led geologist J. David Lowell to discover more copper than anyone else in history, including pioneering the San Manuel mine's Kalamazoo deposit, using only his understanding of the chemistry of ore bodies and the way rock is fractured and displaced along faults by regional forces.

The practical applications of geologists' expertise are, in the words of structural geologist and UA Provost George Davis, "broad-ranging and powerful." Geologists and their colleagues are the noble adventurers who sniff out the water, crude oil, metals, gems, industrial minerals, architectural stone and gravel that our life-, liberty- and pursuit-of-happiness-oriented culture can exploit for use in everything from our houses, roads, generators, engines and power lines to plastics, computers, medicines, cosmetics, SUVs and lovers' wedding rings. They're even called in to help remediate polluted land.

And who transforms the products of Earth's resources into the spaces that determine the way we live and work? The architect. Architects glorify the ideas of creative men and women who have a goal to achieve, by building them in wood and masonry. "I know that architecture is life; or at least it is life itself taking form, and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived," wrote American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Architects translate a morality and a vision for society into physical reality. For example, Communist Russia exported en masse to sympathetic regimes from the Balkans to Baghdad their Soviet architects' massive, symmetrical, concrete monoliths ornamented with bathroom tiles, designed to house crowds of their citizen workers. Meanwhile, American architects applied Louis Sullivan's principle of form follows function to the elegant, efficient skyscraper, and founded the decentralized city on the "not-so-big house," designed for average-income families' pursuit of individual freedom.

"The architect must be the most comprehensive of all the masters," Wright wrote, weaving together issues of site, structure, furnishing and decoration. The greatest modern architects, who are few and far between, understand the nature and potential of modern materials like concrete, steel and glass and can engineer interior spaces characterized by open space and light, free of the oppressive, boxed-in feeling of Old World structures.

Too many students I know hate their majors and dread their futures; they view work as a demoralizing ritual that saps their lives of meaning. But in a capitalist society such as ours that champions individual happiness in its founding principles, such a cynical view is a pity. For our own sake, we've got to rediscover and revalidate that joyous, romantic spirit and start vigorously extracting and building our dreams just as geologists and architects do.

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