Author Archives: happyspacesproject

Cards Part One.

The other day while exploring Melbourne‘s Southbank I discovered  the restaurant Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons. One wouldn’t have known from the dramatic, semi-transparent, entrance that inside the walls were covered with cards left behind by past patrons.

Similarly, the cards for the toolkit have been informed by the submissions of patrons to (the) happy spaces project. Currently there are 52 cards, each with one word and lots of notes in my notebook. Below is a detail.


Originally posted on ASPIRE. MOTIVATE. SUCCEED!:

Caseysimone Cooper,  co-creator of (the) happy spaces project shares with us her ideas and thoughts of how happiness and contentment are projected through the lens of various people around the world. Through her project, she is able to unite people around the globe to share their ideas of happy spaces – and how they look like in their own perception. As one of the creative thinkers of (the) happy spaces project, she sees in the submission of photos and peoples’ ideas of what happy spaces are and how they influence the lives of everybody on earth! In every photograph being submitted and shared on her site, lies an understanding of one’s own space and how it creates a magnitude impact into the lives of many.

This is her story:

AMS:     Tell us about yourself: your education, training and what you are currently involved in.

Caseysimone: I am currently completing my undergraduate studies…

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Toolkit: Cards.

“IDEO Method Cards is a collection of 51 cards representing diverse ways that design teams can understand the people they are designing for. ” –

This week I will be developing a set of cards that identify the elements that make up spatial happiness and well-being.  I will take cards (index cards or stock paper) and write one distinct element of spatial happiness on the card, with simple visual illustration of the idea, when appropriate.

These cards may become an element of the toolkit, regardless of whether or not they are, however, they will surely inform the toolkit. The hope is that through noticing the simple elements of spatial happiness will allow one to combine the elements into more complex and complete spatial ideas that foster happiness.

from: Take Care of Yourself by Sophie Calle

Similar to a tarot reading or the periodic table of elements, though one element or card can represent a great deal, it will be how the cards/elements work together that will tell the most dynamic and complete story of how to create a “happy space.”


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Happy Spaces: Toolkit


In culmination of my seven week time exclusively devoted to (the) happy spaces project I will be creating an reference guide to creating spaces that foster happiness and well-being based on the data that has been collected through the submissions and through research.

The next two weeks will be mainly devoted to this project, though blog postings, and user submissions will continue during this time and into the future.

The format of the “toolkit” or reference guide is still undecided but will be accessible online regardless of the format.


Martha Stewart's Cooking School

It will draw on inspiration from cookbooks, especially the “tools” sections and recipe formats. As well as how to books, infographics, and diagrams.

This “toolkit” aims at fulfilling the “resource” goal of (the) happy spaces project, “We hope this blog will serve as a resource to architects, interior designers, designers of any sort really, aesthetes, and anyone who has ever been curious about why people create spaces the way they do.”

All of the information regarding how the environment affects human cognition, behavior, and well-being comes from an experiential understanding of the world. Here at (the) happy spaces project we understand that though happiness and space can be measured, together they will remain incredibly subjective.

This is not to say that spatial happiness can not be designed for. Spaces can facilitate and suggest happiness and well-being by being easier to understand, relax in, be productive in, and encouraging of positive social behavior, but will never have the capacity to dictate any trait or behavior.

In this visual, textual, and graphic representation of how to create spaces that foster happiness, I will outline the taxonomy of elements of spatial happiness that have emerged as a result of my research and analysis of the submissions. Included in this project will also be an analysis of submissions so far — where they come from, what they are of, what they talk about, and what significance this has on conceiving spaces that encourage happiness.

The toolkit will assist in noticing what brings us happiness in spaces that we encounter and understand what to implement in spaces we have the opportunity to curate that will foster happiness.

Look for more posts about this piece of the project as the toolkit develops, and its release at the end of February.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Slow and Steady Wins the Race is a conceptual clothing and accessory line that reinterprets the classical everyday wardrobe. It is built on the belief that high design can be, and should be, accessible to all.”

Slow and Steady Wins the Race asks: What do we wear, why do we wear it, and how can we create new classics that are timely and timeless, unique yet universal? The work is a logical dissection of fashion, an investigation into the basic elements of what we wear, and a considered response to the hyper-consumerist pace of fashion.

-Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Website

When I read this description of the clothing line Slow and Steady Wins the Race I imagined replacing the ideas of fashion design with the ideas of spatial design and how poignant it would be if designers’ “about pages” explained their intentions in designing spaces as follows:

Design Firm X is a conceptual spatial design firm that examines and reinterprets the classical everyday use of space. It is built on the belief that high design can be, and should be, accessible to all. Design Firm X asks: What do we use space for, why do we use space, and how can we create new spaces that are timely and timeless, unique yet universal? The work is a logical dissection of space, an investigation into the basic elements of how we move through and use space, and a considered response to the unresponsive, hyper-consumerist pace of spatial design.”


Unhappy Spaces: Housing Developments

Mass Housing in Ixtapaluca, Mexico

300 Units

Really no different than Daly City, this housing development just lacks integration or diversity in its inherent design schema.

Cabrini Green. Chicago IL

3,607 units over 70 buildings

Cabrini Green, a public housing project, has become associated with violence and poor facilities management and upkeep that led to such incidents as a 15 story garbage chute pileup. The projects were “Badly designed, badly located, overly dense, excluded from the remaining city.” ( In the late 90s it was decided that the buildings would be demolished in favor of mixed-income residences. Demolition concluded in 2011 and tenants have moved into the mixed-income developments.

Puitt Igoe. St. Louis, MI

2,870 units over 33 buildings

“The apartments were deliberately small, with undersized kitchen appliances. “Skip-stop” elevators stopped only at the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth floors, forcing residents to use stairs in an attempt to lessen congestion. The same “anchor floors” were equipped with large communal corridors, laundry rooms, communal rooms and garbage chutes.  The stairwells and corridors attracted muggers. Ventilation was poor, centralized air conditioning nonexistent.” -wikipedia

Suburban Sprawl. USA

“In one three-city study, suburban residents were 18% more likely to be killed or injured by traffic accidents or crime. ” – Jeff Speck. Besides uniformity and density that dissuades neighborly and community participation, Suburban developments are often segregated by zoning type. By this I mean you may have a CVS within walking distance of your home but because it is in the “commercial zone” there is no possible way to access it without a car. This leads to poor health and environmental outcomes.

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Happy: The Movie


“HAPPY combines cutting-edge science from the new field of “positive psychology” with real-life stories of people from around the world whose lives illustrate these findings. We see the story of a beautiful woman named Melissa Moody, a mother of three who had a “perfect life” until the day she was run over by a truck. Disabled for nine years and disfigured for life, amazingly she is happier now than before her accident. Manoj Singh, a rickshaw puller from the slums of Kolkata, India who lives in a hut made of plastic bags with his family, is found to be as happy as the average American. Through these and other stories HAPPY leads us toward a deeper understanding of how we can all live more fulfilling, healthy and happy lives.”

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Great Places Award.

What kinds of spaces foster happiness is what (the) happy spaces project is hoping to understand more deeply. Here are some non-user space that have been given the “Great Places Award” by the Environmental Design and Research Association (EDRA) for demonstartion  “that an understanding of human interaction with place has generated the design.”

The EDRA award submissions that have shown “how research and/or citizen participation is linked to or part of practice”

Here are a few awardees:

Great Places Award, 2011

Steel Yard. Providence RI

Great Places Award, 2009

The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. Oslo, Norway

Great Places Award, 2008

Olympic Sculpture Park. Seattle, WA

Great Places Award, 2007

The Ferry Building. San Francisco, CA


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What is Happiness?

My college roommate had a collapsible umbrella with black polka dots and a wooden handle carved into a duck’s head. I never saw her use it, but I would always smile when I saw it hanging on the back of our door, imagining all of the adventures one could have while kept dry by a duck and some polka dots.

Philosophers, writers, psychologists, have all tried to define happiness. I can say with confidence that none have succeeded, because like most experiential things, no sentence can completely embody what happiness means. Stendhal, a realist writer from the 19th-century, wrote, “To describe happiness is to diminish it.”

I do not know that telling a friend about a happy experience diminishes it, but it surely doesn’t capture it in its fullness and complexity. But to define happiness, a type of description, surely subtracts dynamism from the concept and experience.

(the) happy spaces project has asked its users to “describe why a space makes them happy” in order to understand the spatial elements of happiness, but not to define happiness completely. Everyone has interpreted “describe” differently, some posts never even mention the concept of happiness, but their seems to be an implicit understanding that happiness is central to their association and comprehension of the space.

 The associations that users have made between happiness and other concepts has been quite interesting to watch develop. Many speak of family, well-being, friendship, sharing, light, growing up, view, relaxation. Even if happiness is “the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” as Aristotle proclaimed, perhaps it is not happiness itself but rather what makes us happy that should be of focus. Perhaps through the acknowledgment of that which makes us happy, and integrating those things more deeply into our lives, we can achieve happiness.


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Embodied Cognition.

In a experiment  conducted by MIT professor Josh Ackerman, and colleagues, they discovered that sitting in a hard chair made would-be car buyers more likely to drive a stiff bargain. Ackerman explains, “The way people understand the world is through physical experiences. The first sense they develop is touch.”

While reading an article by designer and consultant Dylan Kendall, Aesthetics and Happiness: How Space Affects Well-Being, I discovered the philosophical, psychological, and scientific field of study, Embodied Cognition.

Embodied Cognition looks at how the environment affects an organisms’ cognitive development. Embodied cognition researchers claim that the way in which an organisms’ sensorimotor capacities interface with the environment determines which cognitive capacities will develop. Embodied cognition explains that if we change aspects our physical selves or our physical surroundings our cognitive abilities change as well.

 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains Embodied Cognition:

“In general, environmental factors are very important because they can influence not only what options are available to a particular organism, but also why an organism might choose one option over another when performing a particular goal-directed activity. For instance, weather conditions, the size of the ball, the rules of the game, and whether or not an individual has any broken limbs will most likely factor into their decision to throw the ball, or kick it. Yet, all of this person’s past experiences with an object in these varied activity-based contexts will in some way contribute to their current understanding of the activity. The individual’s understanding of these past experiences is directly informed by the kinds of sensorimotor experiences their form of embodiment allows.”

Developmental psychologist Esther Thelen explains Embodied Cognition:

“To say that cognition is embodied means that it arises from bodily interactions with the world. From this point of view, cognition depends on the kinds of experiences that come from having a body with particular perceptual and motor capacities that are inseparably linked and that together form the matrix within which memory, emotion, language, and all other aspects of life are meshed. The contemporary notion of embodied cognition stands in contrast to the prevailing cognitivist stance which sees the mind as a device to manipulate symbols and is thus concerned with the formal rules and processes by which the symbols appropriately represent the world.”

Our development is influenced by the environment which we live in, our cognitive capacities determined by the embodied experiences we have. All experience is spatial in some sense, our waking life is spent in physical space and our sleeping life often lets us dream of another comprehension of physical space. Therefore, it is crucial that in the development of space that designers are at least are familiar with the fact that space does have a powerful impact on our cognition. As Thelen explains, our cognitive development will affect our memory, emotion, language, and interpretation of the interactions and action which we carry out throughout our life.

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