November, 2013

Dear Children,

Ivan Chermayeff, my father (your grandfather), is a quite well known graphic designer. His father, Serge Chermayeff was quite a known and successful architect, as is your great uncle, Peter Chermayeff. I am also an architect as you know, not a famous and successful one per se but they have 81, 50 and 46 years on me, respectively and quite a bit more on you. All four of us certainly have our own way of doing things but from my perspective, three generations in, we are almost the same people.

We each have what came before us, which should and often does make it easy. We just put a star on it.

I think that you’ll find that what might be burdensome in professions that prize originality is in fact quite helpful. Reading this from your father’s point of view I suspect, even hope, that you don’t agree. You will agree because it is not very difficult to do so. (Admittedly, I have no perspective on this, as I cannot change circumstances, which is always an important aspect of a discussion about the past and future.)

We four (five with you) along with many other Chermayeffs each have our own way of doing things and though we are sometimes gregarious people, perhaps aggravatingly so, we never speak about our work together. It would seem our familiarity makes speaking about our ideas very difficult. Because we trust ourselves on a surface level it doesn’t make sense to ask about it. Though it surely is not always good we give each other the benefit of the doubt. More to the point I’ve never gotten any criticism and don’t feel welcome to give it. (Still, I wish you would share a bit more about your life from time to time.)

Hopefully, as in my case, some sentiments pass down without too much fuss. People ask if I have had to rebel in some way. Are you ever asked this question? I have not been forced or asked to define a difference between my father and I. Do you feel like you ought to? People once asked my uncle and your grandfather the same question. They seemed to have it quite easy too. (For me it is an interesting question with a boring answer.) I’d like it to have be the other way around, I like it to have be more wild. I think the old old man was forging new ground and I am jealous.

All that said, perhaps you should rebel. How would you do that? It's still a wide world, where a new niche appears everyday, especially if you take the broadest possible tack in your thinking. Speaking for myself, I'd say that what makes our forbearers worth considering has everything to do with what might make you worth considering. By this I mean we’re the best, but perhaps I am not even speaking to you here; I don’t have this problem so why would you. My work feels universal to me. My father’s work seems universal to him. In a very basic way we have entirely self-referential solutions that at the same time encompass the others.

You and I are quite alike, no? We’re like my father and uncle; they are like their father. There is real continuity. I say that with a mixture of pride for the concept and shame for the thought.

To be clearer I love you and I love them. We find ourselves making the same mistakes that they did. It is much easier to be the third generation than to explain why I am not the first generation of something else.

Our family believes that we can do something new, change the world, around us. I believe in your potency, which given that you might choose the most natural path available to you, seems like something you could easily have lost or still loose along the way. Maybe the old man and the old, old man even taught me about possibilities without ever so saying explicitly, albeit I cannot remember any explicit instructions at all and I am not giving any instructions here, now. That said, honestly, you should probably lie when you do not know the answer or think the truth is the wrong one. In this way, one might stay optimistic.

Love,

Your father