Have you ever entered a house or other building, or stepped into a public plaza or park, or walked into a startling commercial space and felt a shift in your mental or emotional state? Sometimes, even when simply looking at photos of built places I feel a shift. Different kinds of places–different designs–seem to make different kinds of thoughts and actions more likely, through identifiable principles and design characteristics sometimes refer to as "affordances."
Do you think a neighborhood of modest houses with large, inviting porches, large tree-shaded walkways, parking in the rear, and facing a shared green space shapes a different sort of community interaction than a typical American suburb of double- and triple-garage-faced houses with no shared community spaces?
How do public spaces modeled after ancient Athenian and Roman temples make you feel? What sort of tone do they set? Do they change the kinds of thoughts you are likely to have? Compare that to a typical shopping mall.
If you want to have a deeper, more thoughtful conversation, what sort of building would you find more conducive? Why? Aside from noise, are there other design principles that promote more intimate knowledge sharing? Something with such an ability to influence our perception, mood, and behaviors must be tapping into ancient and universal elements of the human mind and culture.
The Western philosophical and political revolutions of the 18th Century have been partly attributed to coffee and coffee houses. Caffeine is often cited, but did the cozy, cacophonous quarters and cultural patterns formed in centuries of pub socializing set a fertile stage for the formation and propagation of novel ideas about the meaning of living in society?
Why is sacred architecture similar around the world? Oversized interiors with massive structural and visual elements, openings to create long shafts of light in dark volumes of space, soaring rooflines and spires outside–is architecture a language encoded in the structure of our minds?
Been to the old parts of London? Rome? Beijing? Istanbul? Any Latin American capitol? How did it impact your thoughts? How was that different from being in a modern canyon of skyscrapers?
What of the hearth? We can imagine that many of the most influential ideas throughout human evolution emerged around fires, whether outdoors or in, whether communal or solitary. Why do even modern high-rise condos in New York and Chicago boast of having fireplaces?
I hope you find the embedded meanings and impacts of the built environment intriguing philosophically, sociologically, and psychologically–as I do. I will post links and print references soon. I want to get this scheduled today to allow you an opportunity to plan to participate.
It's been a while since we took collections to pay for our room reservations. I will pass a can to seek your alms. Names won't be taken, but I'll appreciate anything you can donate (a few dollars would be nice) to defray our costs.