I just finished a magnificent and inspiring book titled Devil in the While City by Erik Larson. He writes a historical account of Chicago’s triumph at the end of the 19th century in building the 1893 World’s Fair. But it’s even more intriguing in not only unfolding the design and construction of the World’s Fair—led by an architect by the name of Daniel Burnham—but also the rise of a new serial killer, H.H. Holmes, among the glory of the White City (as the fair was soon named). It’s a book well written with rich language and texture that compels you through the pages bouncing back and forth between Burnham’s conquest against all odds and Holmes’ disturbing work as an entrepreneurial killer.
What has kept me thinking about this book since finishing its last pages is the drive and thus accomplishment of the men involved with the World Fair. At a time when communication was limited to telegraph and letters, and construction was still evolving into what it is today, the feats that these men tackled and brought to the eyes of those who visited the fairgrounds is astonishing. It puts me to shame to consider this. They thought and worked, it seems, without limitations. They were driven by their vision for their work, rather than fame and recognition.
Devil in the White City has me thinking through what drives me. What drives my work? What vision do I have for my field, for the work ahead? What legacy do I want to have in design, not for my own recognition, but for the sake of design? What principles will be foundational to my work? These are the questions I’m wrestling with now.
What about you? What drives your work? What vision do you have for your field and the work before you?
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