Designing to achieve “magical impossibility”

Today I heard Ben Davis of the Bay Lights public art project describe his process of achieving something that I dubbed a “magical impossibility”— overcoming a situation fraught with maddening concerns of donor financing, complex structural engineering, regulated maintenance tactics, homeland security, and the intra-city politics of obtaining permits. Whew. And yet! Through luck and persistence Davis was able to find the right artist to enable his vision of a “canvas of light” modulating along the intensely variable SF Bay Bridge (winds, traffic, weather, fog) to great acclaim. The result is nothing short of magical, in its mesmerizing illumination of “giant pixels of light” that defies truly daunting practical matters. As Davis explained it, the project’s success depended upon many hands-on conversations with planners and engineers, backed by imaginative prototypes that showed the vision–thus forcing naysayers to shift towards an engagement of “How can we make this happen”. Yup, prototypes matter and can spin up the momentum to enable a vision to become real, corralling the necessary peer support…even for a massive public art project that rivals the scale of 8 Eiffel Towers!

Another point that stuck with me was Davis’ approach to compromise: “I will not compromise but I will be very grateful for your generous support”. Hmm! I like it. That saying suggests to me that taking a positive, “pay it forward” approach to engendering the team’s generosity to believe in and make his vision real is far more worthwhile than the typical back-and-forth exhaustive “death march” of cutting a vision down to a bare minimum of feasibility that satisfies nobody. Who wants that? Indeed, to achieve “magical impossibility” it takes hope, generosity, belief and damn good vision backed by indefatigable persistence. That’s when something truly awe-inspiring happens! Simply gaze upon the Bay Lights to see the proof. (see also: Tesla, SpaceX, Google Glass, Nest, iPhone, etc.)

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