David Grantham on Architecture, Film, Oneness, and Clowns

By Dax Hamouth

Photo Courtesy of David Grantham

Photo of David taken from interview

David Grantham—who is he? David Grantham is a designer, filmmaker, and a designer for film. He’s trained in architecture, filmmaking, clowning, facilitating recovery from grief, and facilitating Montessori-influenced learning for children at church. He is a past and present board member of several non-profit, cultural, and church enterprises.

These however, lend themselves to the question of ‘what is he’ really; often in our quest of answering the ‘who’ we fall prey to answering the ‘what’ of a person—understandable since who someone is, is always a very difficult tapestry to weave. We can ultimately only try to approach the ‘who’ and try our best to bracket out the ‘what’; only by reading between the lines of biography, by observing the choices a subject makes, can we begin to approach ‘who’. So let us try this. Who is David Grantham?

David was born into a wonderful but very structured neighbourhood, where, “cursed with creativity” as he was, he was pushed into going into architecture; however, what he always truly loved was film. He was not entirely free in the matter of course, and so he first pursued architecture. In the end he did come to love architecture in a way, “from the soul”, but it was not until later that he would return to his adolescent love for film. 

Architecture—and film—is a lot about embodiment, David tells me. He grew up in a household very devoid of sensuality and so has had to work at developing a sensual spirit. To design something, one has to take into account the bodies of the people who will enter the space and observe it; but at the same time, the place itself has a body. To design a building requires an intuitive sense: one must give place a body. 

In order to do this, he has had to shrug off certain presuppositions about the division of mind and body that the modern West likes to put forward. When he was studying architecture, the architects David truly loved all discussed the spiritual relationship they were developing to the places and buildings they designed. Ultimately, he rejected this dichotomy and came to accept a unity between the ‘spirit’ and the ‘physical’. 

David’s process for designing a place begins holistically.  There are always specific concerns—heating, lighting, the purpose of the place. But what shapes the project and inspires the process is the whole that lies at the end of the project. 

Once the need of the building is identified, what comes next is figuring out how the people who occupy it will exist within that need. From this whole, small pieces and details become needed—‘what will this space need to contain’, ‘how close should it be to other spaces’, and so forth. The ways these pieces interconnect give rise to an internal unity. A building then is a lot more than the sum of its parts: a building “is [a] something that follows its own logic”. To embrace that internal logic, David discusses the need to ride “on top of” that logic, to be a person “receiving sensuous cues” from the design. This ability of understanding the ways in which people occupy the space is essential. But David

was not able to truly embrace this particular aspect however, until clown school. 

For David, clown school was a way to learn how to embody character—a useful tool both for filmmaking and for architecture. 

He attended Fool Moon Productions Clowning School, headed by Jan Henderson. In learning to clown, it began with a mask. He was taught to suspend his self as much as he could and sculpt clay masks without thinking. When David puts on these masks he describes entering the world of persona. 

“A clown is pure energy,” he says. “When I put it on, I was ready to just move in a certain way.”

David (pictured second top) with his clown school

When he entered the persona, he describes his identity as existing tangentially to his consciousness, as an “editor”, making sure the clown persona did not do anything too outrageous. 

Clowning for David allowed him to free himself from certain rigidities of himself. The taking on of a new persona helped him both with embodiment vis a vis his architecture and understanding character for his film.

He describes even using his clowning later on to help him deal with the big egos one may stumble across in the world of architecture; where in order to help himself deal with the larger-than-life people, he would adopt egoist personas himself. This in turn helped him with his “Rumpelstiltskin” dilemma: that he may give gold to the upper management of the buildings he wanted made, but then they would insist on changing it into straw—which he then had to turn back into gold. In other words, his building designs were often changed or narrowed by the developer and it became his job to “add depth” to these narrowed designs. Thus, clowning helped with his work. 

Indeed, clowning taught him much about character. For David, it is and always was film that was his first passion. As discussed, for a long time, like a spawning salmon swimming imperatively against the current, he felt he had no choice but to enter the world of architecture. What changed this was meeting a girlfriend of his who “felt about architecture the same way I felt about film”. After seeing someone else’s pure passion for something he felt more forced than chosen, he decided to throw himself back towards film.

David talks about an important aspect of creativity: the oneness of all things. An important part of the creative generation is realizing that everything is connected. For him, this manifests as a highly spiritual unity of the cosmos. He discusses this realization being inspired especially by the Indigenous (Denesuline-Saulteaux) artist Alex Janvier’s frieze, who gave him the experience of Oneness as an “experience of the divine as embodied reality”, during a visit to the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. 

Frieze by Alex Janvier at the Muttart Conservatory

This experience of oneness and unity of form and material has inspired him in a variety of ventures. When asked about his legacy, for example, he discusses the addition to a community centre in Calgary he designed, whose roof resembles the wings of a bird—this odd connection being only possible through this recognition of universal unity

Community centre Addition designed by David

David then goes on his excitement for the future; yes, his own legacy, of buildings and movies; but maybe more profoundly, about community and the love we inspire in others. He has a lot of hope, he says, for the future, because he sees a depth and compassion in the newer generations—more so, he thinks, than existed on his own. The world is a dark place, but there is a lot of hope, he thinks. 

Thus, the bridge of past, present, and future is complete: the ‘what’ of David closes. The ‘who’ of David is of course embedded there in the what; and though there are too many aspects to that who, many of his virtuous and fun-loving qualities, I like to think, show through in that brief biography of David Grantham, architect, filmmaker, and emerging clown. 


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