When asked about the key difference between Eastern and Western philosophy, Martin Heidegger (referring to the Buddhist tenet of the spirit’s interchangeability between sentient beings) responded that unlike Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy is rooted in the position that humans are fundamentally different from animals. Underscoring a parallel sense of exceptionalism, architect and educator Wes Jones taught me that humanism manifested through technology is the ultimate expression of excellence.
There are many artifact origins of ancient technology: including stone axes (tool), spear tips (weapon), beads (ornament), and pottery (craft); Wes Jones was primarily interested in the primitive hut (shelter). His time collapsing fictional composition of techno-machinic Primitive Hut was a precedent for my undergraduate thesis and taught me how to utilize Hegelian dialectic on architectural forms. His projects are exemplars of working through the opposition between intensity and elegance. Somehow, Wes Jones always succeeds in creating buildings, furniture, art, infrastructure, and machines that are unquestionably “correct” in a Mies-ian sense of the word. Wes Jones manages to be a heretic and a historicist; appropriate and contrarian; advanced and traditionalist. The nimble theoretical cleverness of Wes Jones is unmatched by any of his contemporaries.
As a thinker who deals frequently with philosophy and complex concepts, Wes Jones’s texts can be difficult to access for those who do not apply full attention. I recall reading every one of the essays contained in El Segundo, back in 2007, with a considerable effort in concentration. Perhaps more accessible are his lectures and talks that are posted online: I found his talk with Preston Scott Cohen in Harvard, and his lecture in USC to be best illustrative of his ethos.
I have long given up trying to imitate Wes Jones’s genius. Now, I only apply appropriate lessons and examples toward my own work. For instance, Wes Jones stated that his Astronauts Memorial is a “souped up” version of the Vietnam Memorial by Maya Lin; currently, I am investigating the memorial typology with a critical eye toward how Wes Jones appropriated a distinct manifestation of a symbolic gesture, then transformed it with a bold new technological praxis. There is a valuable lesson in reasoning that Wes Jones imparted on me and I consider it a distinct honor to have been mentored by a master architect.