Speaking of Dreams

Imagine a campus composed of three small, rectangular, three-story glass buildings, each facing a different direction and located some distance from the other two. Between them are well-manicured lawns with concrete walkways meandering through them. Near the buildings are clear pools and ponds, occasionally a simple fountain, occasionally a railless concrete arch bridge crossing a small artificial stream of clear water babbling over dark river rocks. Here and there are abstract sculptures with surfaces of brushed stainless steel, almost matching the trim on the buildings. Looking between and beyond the buildings, the grass ends in what appears to be desert, with blue mountains tiny but clear in the distance. The azure sky has wisps of clouds and the air is sparkling clear, making the sunlight on the concrete and sculptures just a little too bright for comfort. The air is warm but not hot, and there is a dry breeze.

Wandering around the campus, there are no people outside except for a knot of maybe five or six college-age men in Wall Street suits — poodles — speculating about the whisper-quiet riding mower a groundskeeper is driving over the grassy hillocks.

Imagine pausing for a moment, walking from one building to another. The work here is important, but the ad-hoc groups of thinkers feel only the barest hint of urgency. Deliberation is more important than haste. The surroundings aren’t soothing as a sylvan glade might be, but there is nonetheless something meditative about the hard edges of glass and steel, the crystal air and tinkling water, the green grass and concrete glare.

Stepping into the lobby of the nearest building is another sensuous experience. It is cool without seeming air-conditioned. Though light streams in, it is darker than the outdoors. The floor is polished marble broken by a pool of water that connects to its partner on the other side of the glass wall. In fact, all the walls are glass, mostly clear, some lightly smoked, some obsidian. Plants grow here and there. The lobby appears to take up the entire bottom floor of the building, but that is an illusion. There are no doors, but the smoked and black glass define two apartments occupying opposite corners of the building, the lobby forming a wide corridor stretching between the remaining corners.

The apartments themselves — those in the know can find the entrances by stepping around free-standing obsidian sheets midway across the lobby — are complete and spacious, but as spare as the rest of the striking architecture. The two are identical, save for being mirror images of one another. Like the lobby, the apartments give the illusion of being completely open, continuous spaces. Like the lobby, there are no doors, but the same clear/shaded/black glass walls screen the bedroom, bath, and dressing areas from the airy main room with its kitchen area.

The two apartments are ours: one yours, one mine. Though we have been living in them for some time, only the occasional artwork (seeming to float on a glass wall) or exotic potted plant adds any personal touch. These small touches manage to make each space unique. I’m sitting on a low rectangular bench topped by a burgundy velveteen cushion. I am in your space. In fact, I am marveling at how the almost-imperceptible changes you have made set it off so distinctly from my own, how I no longer feel the disorientation I once felt when walking into that identical but mirror-image space.

These are incidental thoughts. My focus is on collaboration. My group’s task has intersected with your group’s, and we have been exchanging observations and ideas from the two groups in the hope of adding a tiny bit to the body of knowledge that we hope will lead us to an answer to the conundrum that has brought us together in this strange and beautiful place.

You emerge from behind one of the walls that is opaque without seeming to be. You are dressed, but towel-drying wet hair. We are startled. We both jump. You apologize, having forgotten that I would be there. Hair still somewhat unkempt, you walk into the kitchen space and start cutting vegetables. I take a seat on the other side of the counter, and we get back to work.

Ron Risley – 2011-06-22