Marika Shioiri-Clark is an architect and an innovator based in the firehouse she and a local developer converted into office and retail space in Cleveland’s budding Hingetown neighborhood. We sat down in front of the firehouse with a cup of Rising Star Coffee to talk about creativity and an architect’s process, and she revealed some secrets as to how she is bringing her life into balance.
Marika is reading / experiencing the book, The Artist’s Way, for the first time, and so it seemed a particularly poignant moment to discuss creativity with her. In her words, “architecture is a creative field that wants to be scientific or philosophical,” and in its attempt to adhere to logic, sometimes the creative process gets stymied. So, she’s using The Artist’s Way to explore other mediums like singing and painting, which are keeping the juices flowing.
An accomplished architect for bettering the world, as part of the Mass Design team behind the Butaro Hospital project in Rwanda amongst others, Marika demonstrated further her generous spirit when I asked her what she would say to someone struggling in their creative process.
“You have to keep producing stuff. Make stuff, even it’s crap or even if it’s small — no matter what. You won’t always feel inspired, so you have to develop a discipline. You just have to practice and leave room for divine intervention.”
I thought this was an interesting point, and one that hangs so many of us up in our valiant effort to be a one-man band who can take credit for every little detail. Haven’t you ever experienced the truth that by simply carving out the time for something, showing up, and being willing, somehow a way always appears? Often, as an artist, I can’t remember much of what I did beyond showing up.
“Did I have that f-stop set at 4 or higher when I was doing that fine focusing?” I’ve asked myself driving away from a photo shoot.
It’s a bit alarming that I can’t recall, but all that matters is that I showed up, and it’s the can now (as they say in entertainment). I put everything I had into it, and I have to trust that everything ended up right where it should have. The photos will speak for themselves, and they were guided by brilliance I wasn’t entirely conscious of.
So, I think Marika is on to something with her emphasis on learning that her real role in the creative process is to make time and space for it. It’s like simply opening a window so that genius can fly in.
Balancing her time between social activities and personal relationships with the demands of a creative career has been a focus for her lately. Breaking up different activities into segments done only for a couple of hours at a time is helping to achieve the desired equilibrium, and that involves creating a bit of a routine. She starts her day doing “morning pages” to purge and organize her thoughts, then she generally works on either architecture or design projects, depending on the day, with a break in there to be outside for awhile. She also changes it up by working once a week in a new cafe in a different neighborhood. The space from “the usual” tasks helps her concentrate on creative stuff.
I also asked her about the process of architectural design. What’s it like?
“It’s kind of like a puzzle. It’s a long process; often 4 or more years from inception to completion. You start with brainstorming and sketching based on the site.”
The hospital in Rwanda was built on a ridge with large valleys around it. “So we had to figure out how to fit everything necessary into the space with very limited square footage.”
“How the space will be used for various purposes also had to be considered. For instance, airborne disease is a major problem in the area, so we created a lot of outdoor space — waiting areas, outdoor hallways, spaces for patients to recuperate. That gave us an opportunity to consider how the landscape would play into the experience of the campus.”
The materials used to build are also a major consideration of the architect. “For the hospital,” Marika said, “we made the decision to use local materials — in this case volcano rock — but wanted to use it to better advantage than it had been typically.”
Closer to home, she has been designing the renovation of the Hingetown shopping center, located on the same corner as the aforementioned firehouse and Transformer Station.
“Existing space is much harder logistically. You want to keep main walls and save costs by utilizing what’s there.”
In spite of the logistical challenge, she said that creatively the limitations help her. “People like having constraints. You need something to base decisions on. A logic to start with.”
A non-native Clevelander, Marika has enjoyed watching the city creatively and economically flourish in the past few years. I asked her what she thought contributed to the vitality she’s observed.
“More interest in design, people becoming more flexible, the ability to get something great with only limited means — these are the cultural phenomenons we’re experiencing. What Cleveland has going for it is that it’s a much more affordable place to experiment with these things than New York City.”
Marika has a truly brave approach to perspective change. She once moved to Mumbai for six months without knowing a soul, and has taken epic road trips including one from Cleveland to Tennessee to New Orleans, and across Texas. (She highly recommends you look up Donald Judd’s town, Marfa, Texas, if you’ve never heard of it.)
What does travel bring to her life balance?
“It’s inspiring. I get to see new cultures. I get to see how other people do stuff, how different cultures inform how people do things. Get out of your comfort zone.”
That’s an order! Just kidding. But it does seem breaking from from the comfort zone is the only viable soil in which to plant new creative seeds. Then just feed it and water it at regular intervals through “practice,” and let the unknown breathe into it that inexplicable force that makes it manifest.