You Cannot Build Something Beautiful If Your Mind Is On The Clock

Zuker-Patterns- 117.docx



Modern home construction and the materials available at local building supply stores are optimized for low cost and speed of assembly. To the homebuilding industry “time is money”, and design choices are always made with this in mind. But it is no way to build something beautiful.


Take your time - window


This pattern is not really about going slow (though it is highly encouraged). However beauty can also arise from a single stroke. Beauty can happen during a manic burst of energy. But beauty is highly unlikely to happen when you are thinking about time and money.

You might be concerned about how long it is going to take to build a certain way or how much it is going to cost.   Or you might simply be hurrying to get a task done by the end of the workday.   All these decisions involve taking shortcuts and making tradeoffs between time and beauty, and when our mind is thinking about money and time, it often makes unwise choices. Some shortcuts you take that might have saved a few dollars at the time will later seem very shortsighted.

Unfortunately one does have to be practical.  The high cost of labor and materials is always hanging over us.  With limited funds we might have to make-do with little more than old salvaged building materials.  But fear not, for you can also build some of the most beautiful things this way.  Learning to improvise with limited resources forces you to become creative.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and hard work never killed anybody.  Instead of buying it, you make it.

Hand crafting everything takes time.  Working with salvaged materials like barn timbers and old windows takes even longer, but it is well worth it.  Try to adopt a new attitude where, even if you only manage to get a single board put up that day, you still say “It was a good day”.




In the design and building phases always try your hardest to stick with the most beautiful way you’ve thought of. Once you’ve imagined what you really want, building anything less is folly. Do not make compromises simply to make things easier. Work as long and hard as it takes to get it right.



Put blinders on about the time required to accomplish your task. Think only about how to best make whatever it is you’re working on. Either you’re trying to make something beautiful, or you’re trying to get it finished. You cannot serve two masters.


Gary Zuker is a Senior Systems Administrator at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1989 he built a house outside of Austin. Inspired and guided by "A Pattern Language", he developed 12 new patterns during the process of building his house.
Gary Zuker

9 Comments to “You Cannot Build Something Beautiful If Your Mind Is On The Clock”

  1. Lev Israel

    I wonder if this pattern can be given a positive name – what is it that we are doing when we are not ‘minding the clock’?

  2. yodanr

    I like this pattern a lot – it again one of those scale less patterns, and applies to everything in life not only building. I share Lev’s comment on finding a positive way of saying it.

  3. Theo

    How about “Beauty is often built in a timeless manner, but not always. Fast can be beautiful too. Just be careful changing.”?

  4. Gary Zuker

    Gary Zuker

    I understand the desire for positive and not negative pattern-names. However I have not been able to think of a better way to say it. It should be something with impact. Short and easy to remember. Nothing suggested thus far quite fills the bill. But I’m open to further suggestions.

  5. Gary Zuker

    Gary Zuker

    This last suggestion speaks to only a subset, or watered down version of the original concept. It implies that it’s all about going slow. But that wasn’t the original point. As Theo pointed out above, “Fast can be beautiful too”. Beauty can arise from a single stroke. Beauty can happen during a manic burst of energy. But it’s highly unlikely to happen when you’re thinking money or time.

  6. trishabrunner

    How about simply being present? That way your essence and creativity can come out and be expressed regardless of it being slow or fast.

  7. Wendy

    There’s a saying in building – in Europe at least – that goes “There is ‘good’, there is ‘fast’ and there is ‘inexpensive’. You can have any two.”

    How about “Timeless beauty is timeless”?

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