Category Archives: Conversation

Response to Amy C.’s Email.

(Amy C.’s questions are in bold.)

Is happiness, in the context of our relationship to the natural and physical created world of spaces, a little like what Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving says about love -” Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, faith and overcoming of narcissism.  It isn’t a feeling it’s a practice.”?

What discipline is required to cultivate happiness in our relationship to spaces, and the creation of spaces, which are meant to imbue happiness  – like classrooms and playgrounds and parks and public housing?

Boiled down the question is: What is required of designers in order to cultivate the happiness of others in the spaces that they create?

This question is essentially what the happy spaces project is attempting to help answer through the submissions. I don’t know what the full answer to this question is, but I think the first couple of steps are to begin to broaden our understanding of what elements of happiness are derived from space and an acknowledgement that the answer to that is slightly different for everyone.

So in terms of say a classroom, the classical values of an education teach us a lot about what allow the physicality of a classroom to foster happiness. For example, students should be able to focus and concentrate; studies show that light, ergonomic seating, and well designed acoustic spaces allow for people to focus for longer periods of time with less stress on their eyes, bodies, and ears, this reduction is stress could mean that there is more space for positive encounters, one type of happiness.

If we made happiness one of the criteria for school design what would change about how we design the spaces?  What if we also made this the center of our discussion in designing public housing – what practices would evolve?   How would the discussion change?

If we made happiness the criteria for any designed space what would  most likely  change would be the participation of the desired patron of the space. In a context where subjectivity comes highly into play, as is the case with happiness and spaces that foster happiness, the population whom the space is intended for will be the best gauge for what in a space will bring them the most happiness. Of course the discussion could be tricky, if you ask a group of 5 year olds what they want in a classroom space it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear “a candy store” or “a water slide” (those are things I would have loved as a 5-year-old – for a day) – but what you really want to know is, are there spaces they can go when they are tired and are there spaces where they feel engaged in they activity they are doing.

In terms of public housing, the discussion might change from one that is often direct by government committees and often doesn’t involve the demographic they are intending to serve to a patron input model. My experience working for a non-profit that conducts Human Impact Assessments, however, suggests that often community groups misjudge what is best for their environment and their collective health. As such it is crucial that in adopting a model that involves the intended users that the questions that are asked, help to critically investigate what brings them happiness in spatial situation – not just what the media or social norms suggests will bring them happiness.

I have noticed this shift in myself. Through investigations into what kinds of spaces bring me happiness I have observed that I am contented and happy in spaces that do not hold every aesthetic and practical element that I would like from a happy space. For example I would love if my bedroom had more light, but it has incredible morning light that shines right on my pillow and reveal the most delightful colors of the day.

In a culture that values the ‘pursuit of happiness” why do we so often design public projects for the young, the elderly, the sick and the poor without this as our primary aim?

I wish I knew. I think the intention behind many design projects is incredibly good, and rarely malice – but I am convinced that space and happiness are connected and there is a way to integrate them in the design of spaces.

What would it mean to the collective if we did integrate this into our shared dialogue about urban design and public projects?

The hope is that there would be more happiness, contentment, and wellbeing fostered.

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A different kind of email submission.

 
Earlier today I got this email (in bold) from Amy C. who has submitted multiple spaces to the project, and wanted to share it with the happy spaces community. I will be posting my reply in another post and would be thrilled to post your responses. Please send your responses, to happyspacesproject@gmail.com or comment below.
I wonder if happiness in the context of our relationship to the natural and physical created world of spaces isn’t a little like what Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving says about love -” Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, faith and overcoming of narcissism.  It it isn’t a feeling it’s a practice.”
 My question to the happy spaces project is what discipline is required to cultivate happiness in our relationship to spaces, and the creation of spaces which are meant to imbue happiness  – like classrooms and playgrounds and parks and public housing?
 If we made happiness one of the criteria for school design what would change about how we design the spaces.?  What if we also made this the center of our discussion in designing public housing – what practices would evolve?   How would the discussion change?
In other words in a culture that values the ‘pursuit of happiness” why do we so often design public projects for the young, the elderly, the sick and the poor without this as our primary aim?  What would it mean to the collective if we did integrate this into our shared dialogue about urban design and public projects?
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A different kind of submission.

Last week I was sent a Flickr  slideshow of 56 images and no descriptions, titled Spaces, by Lina Srivastava, an activist based in NYC. Her website describes the work she does this way:

Lina Srivastava works to leverage cultural expression and cultural identity as a foundational element of social transformation.
She is the Principal of Lina Srivastava Consulting, focused on employing strategy, planning, engagement, and transmedia design to create and demonstrate social impact. There, she works with projects, companies and organizations aiming to positively transform communities where political, social and cultural conditions create imbalance or inequality, or the potential opportunity for economic and cultural growth.
Her vision to create change is to move through a process of: Issue Awareness, Engagement, Action, Change

I was so inspired by the type of engagement I felt when I watched her slideshow that had no explanation of why she had chosen the images. The format of just images was much different from the image/description format I am used to, and I found myself thinking about the images in a different way, for I had to put myself into a “happy spaces” mindset  in an attempt to understand how she had chosen the images.

Yesterday, Lina and I met over Skype and talked about how she chose the images, what the  inspiration was, how the work she does plays into how she notices space. She posed many questions while explaining her thought process and feelings toward space that I am excited to have the happy spaces community start thinking about.

It was a wonderful experience to watch the slideshow with only a little context about why Lina chose the spaces and what informs her relationship to space, so I encourage you to watch the slide show in its entirety, reflectively, before scrolling down to read about the slideshow from Lina’s perspective, as curator of the images as a collection.

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Lina explained that she does a lot of traveling and always has a camera with her, almost as an extension of her arm. When she found out about the project through a Facebook post Gong Szeto made, she was inspired to look through her collection of over 12,000 digitized images of her travels with the mindset of “happy spaces.”

The questions that Lina found herself asking about the spaces she had documented in her photographs and the spaces she photographs that she had never really thought about before:

What is it about space that catches my eye?

What is my relationship to the cities that I traveled to?

What is it about designed space, that I am looking for?  

Lina explained that it is through the motions of framing and subsequently taking images, that she relates to the spaces she photographs, understands the space as a more  intentional design piece with qualities that foster certain types of engagement and experience. “I’m there, I’m experiencing it, I’m soking it in, I’m walking about it, and it starts informing how I look at the world.” -Lina

Lina started to notice commonalities in the way people hold and experience space in when looking through the images from her travels. Some spaces she saw brought up the question:

Why do we walk through spaces and how do we frame our own lives when we are outside our own element?

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