Visionaries: Carolyn Steel
1st April 2009
In many ways, Carolyn Steel was born to be an architect: as a child she used to dream of buildings.
We never contemplate the things that are directly important to us. Happiness goes under the radar.
As her professional career advanced, however, she developed a nagging feeling that the architectural worldview was somehow incomplete.
‘As a student I was always looking for something outside the realm of architecture,’ Steel says. ‘And later, when I was teaching, I didn’t just want architects to critique my students’ work; I wanted politicians, authors, scientists and sociologists.’
After 10 years teaching students at Cambridge and practising architecture in London, Steel applied for and won a scholarship to spend six months studying in Rome. Once there, she chose to focus on the city’s historic Jewish ghetto, in particular what she describes as ‘the mundane order of the city’.
‘Do you know what “mundane” actually means?’ Steel asks when we meet, bounding over to a bookcase, pulling out a tattered dictionary and leafing through it animatedly. ‘Mundane: “of or pertaining to the world”, “worldly”, “earthly”, “terrestrial”, “cosmic”, “ordinary”, and “boring”.’
She shuts the book triumphantly.
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