I am not particularly fond of my new hostel (I can feel my roommate shaking her head). I mean, sure it’s big and pretty and it has swings and two freakin’ dogs innit but it is also deeply… impersonal. Around 900 girls live here and I still have no clue who lives next door (except you guys have very weird taste I mean who listens to Hannah Montana at 6 in the morning). The reason for this is mainly two things -
I am socially awkward and my building is just designed that way.
Seems like I am shifting blame but please bear with me as I try to explain to you why and how design and aesthetics affect the way people feel and interact with each other, and why personally speaking you should start giving a damn whether or not you sleep with the curtains open or closed.
Let’s zoom out okay let’s start with the big picture stuff itself- Prisons and office spaces.
[Vox transcript] Western Europe and Scandinavian countries are looking into designing more humane prisons. The underlying philosophy being that the sentence in itself is a punishment the architecture and design of the place where they live is not. There are multiple ways in which you can design a humane prison and various studies have shown that such places also have fewer conflicts and lesser cases of indiscipline recorded. One way is to design the layout like a campus layout, where prisoners have to go from one building to another for different purposes so they often have to start their day of by commuting which mimics real life. The second way is to design green and community spaces. Thirdly the inmates should have a view of the outside and not just of the facility itself.
All of these things help them to feel more connected with time and space outside. These design choices ultimately affect the way the inmates feel about themselves, the people around them and the outside world. If they have good community spaces and they can socialize properly they tend not to get in more fights, if their rooms have views of the trees or lakes they can track the passage of time and not feel so cut off from the rest of the world.
Every choice in architecture is a conscious one. Every nook, every cranny serves a purpose. We just need to be more aware of what that purpose is and interact with design and our environment the same way.
Now let’s talk about offices. 60% of the people working in office cubicles complain of headaches and can you guess why?
A) Office work C) My Boss Sucks
B) Recirculated air conditioning D) The season finale of Game of Thrones
It’s B). Literally. People get a headache sitting in their tiny spots with a very limited view of their co-workers and tinted windows that discolour the weather outside so they are cut off from fresh air, other people and the literal passage of time.
Some companies, however, are smart. They know this. They know that if they want their employees to come up with creative and innovate ideas repeatedly then they have to create spaces where they can. Spaces that encourage such things not stifle and kill this spirit.
Apple has apple park, google has Googleplex - these are multi-billion dollar companies that people would die to work for and somewhere in that reason is the design. If you’re spending 8 hours a day at one place every day you want to spend it in a pleasant place, to say the least. For millennials, the line where work starts and where it ends is blurring. Work defines our life, it defines us, it becomes our identity. Do you really want your identity to be this bland? And boring? And artificial?
Now, why should you care how offices or prisons are designed? The simple argument being that the applications are present in more than just the institutions. They seep into our daily lives and unbeknownst to us, they slowly and gently affect the way that we feel and think and live our lives.
There is this study of beauty called aesthetics. It deals with the stimulation of senses through different mediums of beauty.
Aesthetics go a little bit deeper than just making things look pretty. The logic and philosophy behind it is much more complex and much more relevant than you would have thought. Take this experiment that Harward conducted for example - they got a room, perfectly lit and air-conditioned, and put a few grad students in it. Within 24 hours they started hallucinating and after 48 hours they started fainting.
The room was strikingly white and empty. There were no windows, no colours, no nothing.
Our senses need to be stimulated and design plays a very important role in that. Nature and man should live in harmony and this harmony ought to be reflected in our buildings and our offices and our schools and homes. I don’t mean to sound emo or anything but nature is literally designed in a way that is supposed to stimulate your senses. Did you know that the different colours in the sunlight serve different purposes? The light yellow in the morning helps your body to wake up and the blue/purple/red/pink hues during the evening release a chemical in your brain that helps you go to sleep.
Good architecture is an invitation to your senses, it is a conversation. It should not feel like it’s restrictive or just there. Nothing should just be there. Everything answers a question whether it is - Does this help me breathe better? or does this make my office look prettier? And we have the science of aesthetics defending and telling us that both of these questions are equally as important.
So yeah. Keep your curtains open, go walk on grass, sniff a flower and read some goddamn feng shui.
P.s. the sun says hello