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A creative blog by Anthony Godoy on The Whole 9

Anthony Godoy is the creative director at Dead Serious MM, a Seattle boutique branding agency. He’s also a photographer and life-long writer whose work has appeared on The Whole 9 for a few years. Though his days are being infringed upon more and more by business development and management responsibilities (running a company and all), he still finds time to hit the design world hands on. He is also a skier, lover of music and gets around pretty fast in the social media circles. Follow him on Twitter, @deadseriousmm, and on Facebook at Dead Serious MM.

Motivation Of Opinion, And The Incident On East Lee.

I’m not good enough at golf to complain about my game.
- someone on a golf course

Good and evil are subjective things, immeasurable in karats. One man’s sin is another’s good deed. The world is built on this and at no point in time more so than today. What matters is the motivation of opinion. We like or dislike something immediately, but our first thoughts are often shrouded in the fog of motivating circumstances. Thus, to creatives, we aren’t just playing to the tastes of our audiences, but also to their priorities.

BMW has a reputation for unveiling new designs that are at first despised, and then loved. I hated the X3 when I first saw it, and that was after months of anticipating its release. I stewed, complained, cried and moaned to anyone who’d listen, and especially to those who would not. In fact I hated the X3 so much that in 2005 my wife and I bought one, and we both hate it immensely to this day.

It was during my shift from dislike to love that I learned I wasn’t alone in my radical swing of opinion toward this BMW design. But chances are that I liked the X3 from the moment I saw it, and the questions should really be, what motivated me to opine in one direction over another, and at what point did I get over myself?

Clients of mine build homes in Seattle. Playhouse are modernists, and if you know what modern homes are looking like these days, you’ll understand it’s pretty amazing to see a modern home go up in an established neighborhood. It’s an attention grabbing contrast of design, light, and materials.

And they don’t just build, they speculate, meaning they buy land, design, build and then sell. From beginning to end there’s no guarantee of a return. And starting in 2008 that was risky business on the cusp of a crash that prompted troves of Realtors, contractors, investors and designers to blow the dust from their resumes and look for work elsewhere.

Playhouse understood that urban decay doesn’t stop for recessions, and that if Seattle were to come out of the recession in any fighting form, it would have to do so with momentum. They identified what was going to be in demand, who was qualified to build it and with what materials that were readily available to maintain what level of green standards, and on what land, and to what demographic, and from where the investment money was to come. Then they ventured ahead like firefighters into the blaze, and saved many from ruin.

At any point in the last five years their designs have flown from the shelves so fast that it’s been routine for the marketing materials Dead Serious created to arrive hours after offers had been made and hands had been shaken. And you don’t avoid knowing a thing or two about what you’re doing when you’re spec building. The process of building a design isn’t all fancy sketches, neck scarves and zinfandel. It’s a bitch. And doing it well is even harder. So if you’re doing it well, you’re doing it right.

I’d seen drawings of Square Peg some time ago. I deal with most of the projects at various stages from rumor to sale. I also photographed the home next door to the lot Square Peg was to be built on, so I’m somewhat familiar with the area. It’s in a tucked-away hillside neighborhood wedged between Capital Hill and swank Madison Valley, not far from the UofW. It’s full of trees, abuts an arboretum, and contains a mix of architectural styles ranging from gorgeous Craftsmens, to brick classics, to Tudors, to an occasional ailing 50’s stucco. Sort of like the rings of a tree, it’s reflective of Seattle’s eclectic design past. The outstanding homes make you want to cry they’re so beautiful to look at, while the ones longer in the tooth make you think, ‘Well, I’ll bet someone nice lives there.’

Square Peg was just framed and I think paneled when this remark appeared on Playhouse’s Facebook page.

Really disappointed with the construction at 2518 East Lee Street. It is a monstrosity and an eyesore. Let’s hope you paint it a color that helps it blend in with the rest of the neighborhood.

I read and reread it, and imagined hearing it in different tones of voice, and accents, male and female, anything to soften the screaming resentment with which it was written. But there was no way around it, it was motivated by rage. Then I read my client’s reply.

You are disappointed, but I am thrilled that finally someone in Seattle is willing to commit to the permanent record their intolerance towards diversity. . . Maybe you should burn a cross in the yard. That’s what some people do when they don’t like their new neighbor.

I couldn’t have written it better myself. A tantrum begets a scolding.

Having a few years experience as an opinion editor and dealing directly with citizens on hot topics when the fur flies, my mind played out a few possible scenarios of how this might go. Being more concerned with their brand strategy, I was interested in the long game, not just this one design or this one pissed-off chick. I caught up with my client and mentioned to him that the next step is very important, as it will direct how this plays out.

“Be the other shoe to drop,” I said. He balked, and the worst happened.

At the time that I was mad at BMW for the X3, I couldn’t even afford to think about buying a new car. I had done well enough immigrating into my little second-hand BMW 2-door hatchback. I’d married lucky but drove around like I was doing BMW a favor by driving their car. I know, right? What a dick.

I’d once worked with an animator whose concept car sketches I’d seen, but other than that I was as qualified in auto design as I was in heart surgery, or in the finer points of making a good Chinese cheese. But to hear me yammer on about the horrible X3 design, you’d think I’d invented the wheel. And gasoline. I never went so far as to quote my associate’s take on the X3’s design, because that would have just made me out to be a butthole. “My friend designs cars, and he says . . .” But I’m sure I wanted to.

Truth of the matter is that the car wasn’t what I’d envisioned, and I, the BMW owner and newest member of the nouveau riche, felt entitled to rage against the machine that had slighted me. I was motivated by spite. I deserved to be heard, not just recognized, but known, and to be placated in some way, propped up and gently burped. I wanted BMW to apologize to me directly and immediately rebuild the X3 because I deserved it. I was entitled.

Well, anger being the brief madness that it is, I saw through my tantrum, as I’m sure did others, and I realized that the X3 was exactly what I needed. And so I bought it. (Don’t get me started on the X1, but OMG have you seen the X4?)

Seattle’s a hotbed for nativism.

“You aren’t from here, are you!” I remember hearing that once from a small man in a bright mango-colored rain jacket. He’d lost his place near the front of the stage as the crowd filled in to some event. He looked like Cisco. I saw rage in his face as he clinched his fists and lowered himself into a slight squat. His accusation rang out like a bear cub’s startled bark fully expecting mama bear to rush from the trees to his defense. He was swallowed by the crowd as he stood whimpering.

There’s no uncertain amount of resonant hate toward out-of-staters who’d brought their liquidation monies to the Pacific Northwest and started raising both property values and the design bar. I suppose it’s the case anywhere this happens, but Seattle took it exceptionally hard. (see CALIFORNIANS) Now there is a reflex toward most development that feels a lot like “You’re not from here!“ I don’t always disagree with it. But even when I staunchly agree it reminds me of that little martyr guy appealing to the mob for some survival-of-the-fittest pass. Had I taken him out at the knees, he may have garnered such support and sympathy from the crowd. I may have even apologized to him. But it was just a crowd at a show. It be’s like that sometimes, as my father says.

I’m sure it must have somewhat stunned Seattle to watch Bellevue and Redmond explode the way they did as Microsoft grew like weeds. And as the Amazons and the Vulcans and the Group Healths explode in Seattle today, city leaders are fully aware Seattle doesn’t have the runaway land Redmond enjoyed. I don’t want to give away the ending, but companies require people, people require homes, and cities don’t become leading economies through the preservation of stagnation.

What’s at stake? Mayor Mike McGinn was recently seen at Zillow’s headquarters touting Startup. He called it, “an initiative to support the growth of the Seattle technology-startup community and establish Seattle as an internationally recognized home for emerging technology companies.” I read this in the Weekly, I think.

Enter Peter Steinbrueck, mayoral candidate and son of Seattle hero architect professor savior-of-Pike-Place-Market Victor Steinbrueck. It’s fitting that Peter is the only Seattle native in the field of potential mayors, as well as something of a Robin Hood in the eyes of natives not-so-fond of an evolving high density urban Seattle.

“You’re not from here, are you!?” might read his campaign slogan, with a picture of him in a slight squat with clinched fists. He may have a plan to steer the city’s growth in sustainable directions, I don’t know. I hope somebody does, because it is a problem. But believe that the issue is how best to facilitate growth, not how to stop it.

Last week I noticed that the Facebook attack had gone on, and it went in the direction I had seen coming: Mob South. It had turned into a klatch of hysterical entitlement and expectation, motivated by fear and intolerance, which became clearer the longer I watched from behind the wheel of my little second hand BMW. There were cries of lost views, accusations of non talent, indictments of greed, and finally some smart ass chiming in with, “who handles your PR? Have you got an intern at the helm?” Little did that person know he or she’d been slapped back by the main dude, who, in the end, realized he was dealing with non issues and closed the door. And it was a shame, because the people involved with Playhouse open a lot of doors to a lot of people.

I also realized that in the minds of these people was a collective vision of a smallish man in khakis and a tie hiding behind a desk somewhere, someone easily bullied. But most of all they seemed to imagine someone who owed them something. One woman wrote that what my client should have said was, ‘I’m sorry you are unhappy.. we strive to build beautiful modern houses…’” and further pedestrian and apologetic language you might expect to see in a recall press release for tainted meat, or cars with faulty breaks. I wondered what this woman knew less about, architectural design, business or people.

Catching up again with my client, I mentioned the fray, not in an “I told you so” way, but in a “you know what’s up, right?” sort of way. He was on the go and said something about the time. As he walked out the door, he looked over his shoulder and paused quickly. He had a wince on his face. Then he was gone.

I’ve known him a while, and that look said a few things. It said, ‘This isn’t even about design.’ It said, ‘That home is going to sell and the people who are going to live in it are going to love it.’ And it said, ‘Really?’

I drove to the project to see for myself what was going on. I went there expecting, maybe even hoping to see someone’s view being blocked, or fence being bent over, or a river full of half empty paint cans and fish floating belly up and crying children at its muddy shores – something to justify the tears. I walked around the project, photographed it, walked the block up and down trying to find some fault in its place in the neighborhood. Nothing. It fits.

It wouldn’t be the first time I stopped in my tracks and called someone at Playhouse to congratulate him or her on a job well done. (Remember they once named a project in my honor – The Bane Of A. Godoy, due to my reoccurring reprehension to specific elements of modern design, mainly butterfly roofs. In the end I called to congratulate them on the project and how it actually fit my street. The home was quickly bought by a creative director at a large ad agency, and his partner.) As I stood in the ally which runs along side Square Peg, a car with two people sidled up beside me. We spoke briefly on the issue.

“They’re all assholes!” the car’s passenger said. “A family’s going to move into that house and the lights are going to go on and everybody’s going to love it, and they aren’t going to hate that house and they aren’t going to hate that family!” And they drove off. The driver, coincidentally, was an architect who had no opinion on the matter.

The most recent Facebook comment, dated May 12th, goes like this:

I implore you to reconsider the colors for this house . . .

If you’re looking for an appropriate voice, that’s actually Darth Sidious, and not Scarlett O’Hara. I tried both. “Implore” isn’t a request here, but a threat dramatically growled out with a drooling British accent. It’s again motivated by some sort of entitlement complete with clinched fists and red face, and not simply from a squatted position, but lying down and spinning Chuck Berry circles on hot asphalt sprinkled with shards of glass. Think Pris’s demise.

I agree: Someone is going to move into Square Peg, and they are going to love it. The plants will grow in and the lights will go on and a family is going establish itself and there will be no cross burning in that yard. Someday they will move out and another will move in and so on until someday when Square Peg is being torn down, others will protest, imploring the wrecking crew Square Peg’s value to the neighborhood and how its replacement will be a monstrosity and an eyesore. And one man’s good deed will again be an evil to those entitled to the way things aught to be.

  1. Incredible, as always.

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