‘Focus instead on the little things that the bigger picture is made of’ | whynow

Cristina Macia Briedis reflects on what impression the lockdown is making on our habits – we are addressing tasks in new and exciting ways, signalling a comeback of the Renaissance Man.


On creativity, multidisciplinary adventures, maps, and other nonsense

When the lockdown started I braced myself for what I thought would be an avalanche of dullness. It turns out, the lockdown is anything but dull. Four weeks in and I would rather describe it as a rollercoaster: the big, long, national, emotional rollercoaster.

During the past weeks, I have gone from strange excitement to mild depression, from hypochondriac paranoia to absolute carefreeness, and from downright boredom to unstoppable motivation at least once a day, every day. It is difficult to say whether this big mood-swing that has come to define my life is the cause or the effect of the inventiveness required by the new indoors world we live in. I have painted; badly, but merrily. I have exercised; clumsily, but energetically. I have even tried my skills in the kitchen with my granny’s beef stroganoff recipe, which tasted nothing like the original but was well received by my partner, bless him.

I have painted; badly, but merrily. I have exercised; clumsily, but energetically.

The lockdown, it turns out, is the comeback of the Renaissance Man. We are all trying new things and finally giving free rein to our creative inner selves through any craft that can be undertaken inside closed doors. Some, the painterly Michelangelos, choose photo art and other Instagram related hobbies. Others more akin to the Bernini personality choose sculpting, generally of their own bodies. The beauty of the lockdown is that we all seem to be doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, who knows? Maybe some slumbering geniuses will find their hidden talents during these weeks and we will enter a new era of artistic splendour when the doors to the world open up again. 

I, personally, have not been able to commit to any of the high arts yet; instead, I have heard the call of cartography. As an architect, I am more than used to plans and drawings as tools, but I had never really seen them as a goal in themselves until now. Maps are not the sexy, rebellious form of expression that I dreamed of embracing when I was a child but, looking back to my life before confinement, I have always been somewhat fascinated by them. The fact that you can understand a place so well from a point of view so foreign to a land-dwelling creature is at least interesting, and the notion that by understanding a city and being able to draw the whole of it on a piece of paper and own it is, in all honesty, fulfilling.

I have focused my architectural energy on creating a two-dimensional ‘super city’ that combines, in careful collage form, all the neighbourhoods, streets, and landmarks from around the world that mean something to me. The result is vastly entertaining. I can now trace the route I would take to buy Japanese pastries in West Hollywood from my flat in Camden by crossing the Champs Elysees and avoiding the crowds around the Fontana di Trevi. Or how I can visit my uncle in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark making my way through the busy Madrid neighbourhood of Chueca and crossing the bridge from the Riga city centre.

I have noticed, however, that my super-city has an unsustainable pub-to-dwelling ratio, and that almost every single neighbourhood that has made it into the city is way too expensive for me to afford. In other words, I have kicked myself out of my ideal world. So maybe urbanism isn’t my thing after all, maybe I should turn to philosophy next and ponder on the implications of why I wish we lived in an architectural world where we all have the purchasing power of the Beckhams.

On DIY and discovering that I was missing out before

I used to take a forty-five minute walk to work every day and cycle to construction sites no matter how far they were. It was my way to start the morning fresh and active, to avoid moving from my bed to a bus, and to the bus to an office chair. Now, catching a bus seems a faraway memory of luxurious times! It is at times funny and at times eerie. I think all of us have felt like Will Smith in I Am Legend at some point in the past week yet somehow without the thrill of it all (or the ‘legend’ part for that matter).

It is, indeed, a dreary apocalypse we are living. I can only enjoy the fragment of the city I can see from my window and Netflix has become my dearest companion; my other interactions are strikingly similar to the streaming interface. I have, however, developed a growing interest in things that in my self-entitled and taken-for-granted life used to be beneath my design interests as an architect. One of these activities is DIY.

I have an old bench that I rescued from a construction site back when I could go carefree about my architectural day-to-day. It was full of splinters and had chipped paint and a wobbly leg. For years it has served me well to get the afternoon sun in my small balcony, but I always caught myself guiltily acknowledging it needed to be fixed. Well, I fixed it. Sanding, sealing, sanding, priming, sanding, painting, sanding, and varnishing sum up the last couple of days in my life. And I am quite fulfilled with the work I’ve put into my little bench. It looks sturdy but used, fresh but with history.

I am quite fulfilled with the work I’ve put into my little bench. It looks sturdy but used, fresh but with history.

There is a takeaway from my bench fixing adventure. I have realised I have been missing out on a lot of things in my pre-coronavirus life. I know it may sound contradictory but everywhere we look we see people talking of things they miss rather of things they were missing out on. But we can shift this perspective: self-isolation, as lonely, unheroic, or distant from epic tales of catastrophe as it may seem, can be turned into an opportunity.

In my case, this opportunity has opened a window to step away from ‘the bigger picture’ for a while and focus instead on the little things that picture is made of. The love for things hand made, with a wabi-sabi worn out look, is something that will no doubt make it back into my designs once the lockdown is over and I start taking that forty-five minute walk to work again.

Rampa  They Will Be