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Published:January 31st, 2006 11:07 EST
Design Flaw Right?

Design Flaw Right?

By Sean Stubblefield


We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us. " --- Sir Winston Churchill

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. --- Aristotle

"Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence." --- Nietzsche 

Environmental psychology considers the effects of a person`s environment on behavior and attitude. Shape, color, pattern, lighting, arrangement, ergonomics and symbolism all influence our impressions of and relation to a place, both consciously and subconsciously. Our emotions, attitudes and behaviors can be motivated and manipulated by these environmental impressions. The layout of a place, how things are situated within and through it, influence how we respond to and react with and within that place.

Feng shui is a recognition and an application of this fundamental aspect of human psychology.

Competent television and film directors understand and implement this concept when creating scenes, scouting locations or establishing the over-all essence of the story.

How a thing looks effects and affects how we feel and think about it.

Climate-- whether atmospheric, geographic, or aesthetic-- significantly influences temperament. A utopian environment instills a distinctly and substantially different impression than a dystopian one.

The physical environment (or theme) of a place " the design of it-- creates a mood or inspires emotion, deliberately or inadvertently, in the minds of those who are immersed in it.

Whatever place we are in determines and defines, in some way, our roles and how we should act while in that place.

A Mexican restaurant that doesn`t feature Mexican attributes will not exude a Mexican " vibe; the place does not depict a Mexican sensibility and so will not feel " like a Mexican restaurant. Its appearance belies and defies the name, and you will not believe it.

If you are in a place that looks desolate, then that is the typical emotional resonance it will invoke " you will detect a sense of desolation and feel desolate.

A room with no windows creates the impression of a closed environment, while a room with windows creates an open one.

A street littered with trash makes it feel dirty, psychologically, but the absence of trash makes it feel clean.

A city composed of plain, indistinguishable buildings sets in the mind a feeling of being plain and undistinguishable " uninteresting and totally unremarkable.

It seems that most people don`t realize that our environment is a reflection and representation of who we are. What we put in our homes is an expression of ourselves.

It is somewhat ironic, and a bit strange, that in a society such as America where appearances are clearly deemed important, that we so casually disregard the appearance of our buildings and roads.

We spew out buildings, houses and roads routinely, giving little or no thought to artistry or originality; in so standardized a fashion as to suggest having fallen off an assembly line. And even perpetuating congruous communal styles wouldn`t necessarily be so bad if they weren`t so uniformly ugly in their plainness and mediocrity. But we are simply duplicating and reiterating the same monotonous housing schemes. Most architects and city planners are merely recycling the past and imitating the same bored and boring structures with no innovation or initiative allowed for individuality, so that one urban area is not unique from another, and one suburban area looks essentially no different from any other. As if someone, somewhere, at some time declared in some official capacity that all similar structures must look similar ", with a mindset assuming everything has already been invented. "We have the wheel", I imagine them thinking, "what else is there for us to do?"

I hear that there have even been studies documenting the detrimental effects of the urban landscape on human social and psychological behavior.


In my travels, what I noticed is that every large city, and some small, has a few sporadic buildings daring to feature an " or any " artistic flare, or deviation from the norm. What I see, overwhelmingly, are dull variations on simple boxes with windows. Most homes and apartments follow a common mold. Every city in America looks virtually identical. The only notable attempt at an exception, that I`ve found, is in Las Vegas... an extraordinarily beautiful architectural sight to behold, inside and out " but even then, almost exclusively along what is known as the Vegas Strip. From a distance, Las Vegas may not seem like much, may appear as any other city. But within the City of Sin, the devil is in the details. Up close and personal, The Vegas Strip is an excellent architectural marvel. Even in pictures, Vegas is impressive. But photos and film do not adequately show the magnificent and Hawesome splendor experienced by actually being there. An incredible monument to/ of architectural creativity and artistry, The Vegas Strip is an oasis in the desert, perhaps literally as well as figuratively. The magnitude of the multifaceted and artistic beauty demonstrated in the décor of the Vegas Strip is not only successful in creating and establishing the desired image and attitude of adventure, mystique and intrigue this city is reputed for, it is an exemplary testament to artistic architecture that all cities who seek brilliance should aim for. But I still think we can do better. I`ve never been to New York City, but I`ve seen the buildings of that Great " city of world renown in photos and film " and they are really not " as a whole-- very impressive, artistically speaking. Indeed, they are quite ordinary, plain and simple " uninspired and uninspiring. Too often, form is sacrificed to function; the ornate is neglected and ignored for the sake of economics or practicality. The aesthetics of a city should reflect and represent the psychological aesthetics, the gestault or spirit, of the people who build and reside in it. Or at least of those who design them. The representative architecture of our cities do not paint a pretty picture of who we are as a society, locally or nationally.

What this shows is either that we lack imagination, or the courage to engage it.

If we want to inspire, in and among our population, a sense of greatness or nobility which we would ideally aspire to, then we need to encourage them, show them what it looks like. Sometimes we need to be encouraged and reminded of who we are, who we can be. The architecture of our cities ought to denote and reinforce an ideal, a state of being that makes us-- collectively and individually--feel good " about it, ourselves and our future.

I sincerely believe that design professionals (architects, drafters, city planners, interior decorators) have a responsibility to improve the human environment.