(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.