Newsletter | May/Jun 2022

What has inspired us recently?

by Jiane Du

As an architect and designer, how many times have we heard from others and within the profession, that we are not relevant, buildings can be built by builders and real estate developers who have the economic resources, therefore control our built environment. This kind of statements have always made me furious and frustrated me until I learned about Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s book “Welcome to Your World : How the Built Environment Shapes our Lives” from her talk at an AIA convention. In Sarah’s book, she reminded us as architects and designers, that how we design and build, profoundly shape our feelings, memories, and well-being, and argues that we must take advantage of this knowledge to construct better places that we live, work and play in every day.

Think of how listening to a piece of music can change your mood or a book can transform you to a different world and atmosphere, or a good film permeates our lives with story lines and dramas. Each of these arts affects us in ways that are powerful and real, but each does so only when we actively engage it, for a short time on a given day. On the other hand, our relationship to the built environment differs from that of any other art form. The place we inhabit affects us all the time and how we feel, whether we choose to pay attention to it or not. What is more, the built environment shapes our lives and the choices we make in all the ways that other arts do and combined. The architecture we inhabit affects our moods and emotions every day. Good design with thoughtfully composed ordering systems, sensuously active materials and textures, deliberately constructed spaces, create coherent places that have a powerfully positive effect on all of us.

Taking an illuminating journey around the globe and into the brain, Sarah’s book reveals that the built environment and its design matter far more than anybody, even architects, ever thought they did. Using cutting-edge research in cognitive neuroscience and environmental psychology, she articulates the ways in which a room, a building or a public plaza affects us, and details our reactions to form, pattern, light, color, sound, texture and more.

It has been a long time since I have been inspired and read an architecture book from preface to finish. We, as designers know that design matters. But many of us find ourselves stumped when make the case for why design matter, and matters crucially to people’s lives. Whether your client is a school district superintendent, a store shop owner, a real estate developer, a city’s development agent or an owner of a house, “Welcome to Your World…” formulates some tools for us to articulate why a well-designed place matters and how it affects our well-being. It also reminds us of why we chose this profession and how we can make a difference in shaping of our built environment.

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