Saturday, March 23, 2013

BEING LOCAL

The advertisement in The Shetland Times of 30 November 2012, was headed 'DA KILN Restaurant,' and told about a special deal. Strangely, there was no mention of the location of this restaurant, so a telephone call was made to ask the question.

"Da Kiln."

"Hello. There was no mention of the location of the restaurant in your advertisement in The Shetland Times. Can you please tell me where Da Kiln Restaurant is?"

"It's a cafe next to Da Kiln Bar."

"Where is the bar?"

"In Scalloway."

Not wanting to continue with the next question that might only get a similar, clipped response requiring ever more follow-up questions to achieve the desired result, I thanked the voice and hung up.

Surely I could find this bar in little Scalloway?


Scalloway, Shetland


It was clear that this person had no understanding of the circumstance of one's not knowing where this cafe/bar might be. Any question seeking some clarification on this location appeared strange, unnecessary. This must have been why no address was given in the newspaper too. It was just irrelevant. Local knowledge knew what it knew. There was no need for any further statement.




It reminded me of the time at a petrol station in country New South Wales in Australia. We had stopped for fuel. A young man came over to serve the petrol, an unusual occasion in our self-service world. As he was filling the tank, I thought I should chat to him. Sacks of potatoes were piled beside the browser with a price scribbled on a nearby card.

"Are these potatoes local?" I asked.

"No," he answered, "they're from over there."

He raised his arm and pointed to the other side of the road.

How local can one get?




The barman at Da Kiln seemed to hold a similar scale of operation and context, and an inability comprehend space and place beyond the local need not to have to explain such things.


Scalloway


This reminds me of the time a young boy was playing on the scaffold we were working on while cleaning slates. He gabbled on and on, unstoppable. He started talking about his visits to his grandfather's place in England. To show some interest in his constant chat, the question was asked:

"Where about in England does your grandfather live?"

"Near Tescos," was the response.




The barman at Da Kiln might have appreciated this answer, but it meant very little to me.

Not only is a broad understanding of relationships needed to be able to explain directions and locations precisely, but one also needs to think beyond things local. Envisaging things local in so limited a scope only makes one unable to understand the needs of others. Everything becomes parochially introverted. The stranger and his needs are just never understood.



On the larger scale of cultures and religions, it is this lazy and careless limitation in understanding that causes so much strife. It is not only polite to show some interest in another being, it is also essential to get a true understanding and appreciation of others if we are going to live together co-operatively and peacefully. The place to begin this strategy is at home - ironically locally, intimately. It requires the ability to respond appropriately. It is our responsibility.

Empathy - it is a quality that architects must have, and a subject that should to become a part of the architectural debate, because buildings, too, need to understand people: how they 'speak to them.' Too many buldings today are 'local' like the barman, indulging in their own interests, blind to the needs of others.The question is: what must we do to imporve the empathy of buildings?

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