Whiskey is the American Drink

photo.jpg, originally uploaded by bryanboyer.

This week both Tim D. and Dorf reminded me that I have a blog. This blog. With about 32 days left until my thesis presentation I am, as they say, underwater. Or, perhaps more appropriately, under whiskey. Today I finally received a shipment of illegal* whiskey. One bottle of an old favorite and a bottle of something new that I've never tried before.

The Anchor Distillery pretty much had me at hello given that they're from San Francisco and they are committed to producing no-nonsense, stout alcohol. Their Junipero Gin is the juniper-lover's robust alternative to Hendrick's smoothness. Strong and herbal, this is no wallflower's gin. Whether you love or hate this gin will tell you if you actually like gin or if perhaps you should be drinking vodka instead.

Having enjoyed Junipero for a couple months, I was absolutely elated to find that the same shop makes a whiskey. The Old Potrero, pictured here, clearly comes from the same mind as Junipero: it's one of the stronger whiskies I've enjoyed, with a firey kick that falls into a burnt caramel descent. It's good on ice, it's nice alone, and it's great in an Old Fashioned.

The Hudson is a new drink for me but first tastings are positive, extremely so. Having these two show up on the same day is appropriate considering that the Hudson is perhaps as different as possible from Old Potrero. Where The latter is strong, even explosive, the Hudson is smooth and thin. It evolves from familiar shades of wood and earth to a surprising, tenuous ringing finish in notes of cherry. Usually I trade amber liquors for clear during the summer months, but with a whiskey like this I may have to revise my plans.

As this project comes to a close I am continually reminded that one of the things I set out to do was spend some time thinking about what makes up "american-ness." If there is to be an American Capitol, what makes it so? If there is to be an America that holds at its core some notion of resolved-difference, what are those things which bridge this difference to provide a common ground? The impetus for the project was an essential observation that rather than a resolved-difference we have slipped into a mode of differentiated resolve. The notion of "agreeing to disagree," which seems to be amongst the core of American political values (at least in the longterm sense of the word), is not possible in an environment where deliberation is replaced by defamation or deception. The exhaustion resulting from the staking and re-staking of claims that is central to both compromise and an agreement to disagree is absent in a political culture that forsakes rebuttal in favor of unilateral attack. With no effort expended to actually calibrate an ongoing dialog (D v. R, Clinton v. Obama, etc) the various parties at war with one another are able to continually lob new attacks over the wall without suffering setbacks or slowing down. Like launching a cruise missile at some geo-located target, one-sided attacks require none of the apparent effort that actually rebutting an existing assertion entails. These are not battles so much as a strong of isolated strikes.

What's an architect to do? Short answer: nothing. This is not our bag, it's a big issue. Long answer: everything. The playing out of politics is intensely spatial, as anyone can tell by looking at the daily reports of the candidates' positions. But beyond this fashionable catch-all term "spatial," political acts are directly influenced by the buildings that they play out in. The architecture that serves our government (oh, and us) has immense implications in terms of the meta-organization of the groups they house. To trot out a dead horse on this blog, the architecture of the Capitol Building-- yes, its walls, windows, and doors-- directly contributed to reversing the Constitution and limiting the representative efficacy of our House of Representatives. To test this idea another way, try asking your boss to trade offices with you.

What's this architect to do? My (naive) response to these larger political issues and the direct architectural issues that have been my preoccupation over the last 8 months is to think about the contest as a default mode of operation. What does it mean for something to be deliberated upon, to be argued over rather than simply mashed together in a state of congestion? More specifically, how can basic tasks of judgement about architecture be insisted upon as the price of entry to working on more important political issues? If the first question of our Congress was whether their meeting chamber was good enough to meet in, I am reinstating and highlighting that question as a fundamental prerequisite for the daily function of the institution.

This leads very quickly away from contemporary architectural predilections for generic spaces (shroud in spectacular skins as if they are embarrassed of their monotony) and towards a condition of differentiated interiors. This is an architecture that has winners and losers, that demands to be evaluated before it can be used, that is always adding its spatial metadata to the proceedings it houses. We must insist that however much a building like the Capitol will likely act as an outward symbol of the American nation, this symbolic chain should be able to be followed backwards, down into the building, and transformed into an instrument that may become useful in measuring (and thus judging!) the success and failures of the body that inhabits this shell.

To return to the whiskey before I drift off into an early morning nap, it seems especially American of me to have received not only whiskey, but rye and not only a bottle of rye, but two. With this apparent embarrassment of riches comes an essential necessity that Americans have always been addicted to: choice. So pick a side, pour a drink, and get to arguing.

* Puritans still run MA, apparently. Another reason to hate on New England.