Walking into certain places changes my demeanor instantly. Walking into an officious government building makes me subconsciously adjust my posture, and similarly, walking into a friend’s home loosens me up immediately. Some restaurants or cafes even have that effect. While in some cases I feel a force of the building’s expectations that smother me as I enter, in others, I have an instinct from memory to inform my actions.
Our general opinion of a space may be formed through countless mediums: graphic design of a flyer or business card, journalistic flair, memory, cultural ideals, social hype, and in my opinion, most notably through architecture. We naturally evaluate something before reacting, often avoiding a place out of a sense of being ill at ease – as if we’re subconsciously afraid of not being what ‘it’, a designed space or place, requires.
I first pondered this when considering a design project I’m working on – a restaurant in a cool, bustling, edgy part of Melbourne. The space is a fine composition with its crisp white brick walls, glass vases holding fresh green plants, sharp steel fixtures and endless wine bottles. However, if this building were a person, they could easily be described as snobby. I admire the artists who took to creating this space, as there are countless ways in which they’ve worked to make it beautiful. However, walking into spaces such as this often leaves me feeling undeserving of such an environment, and through its perfection I’m left feeling imperfect. This usually results in an awkward retreat, back to the egalitarian sidewalk.
Business owners may specifically be attracted to this type of intimidating design – design that itself acts as a bullshit filter, to steer away any rogue patrons who would purchase a single coffee and linger for hours. For me, it’s these lingerers that encourage me to find a temporary ‘home’ within a public space and purchase whatever that place offers – a cinema ticket, a coffee, a glass of wine – for that dynamic effect of public privacy.
Now, I want to assert the difference between this feeling and another feeling I often seek, by architectural means, of being dwarfed by a building or overwhelmed by an environment. I find that this condition allows me to think, or get a sense of perspective. In these instances I’m never left with a feeling of rejection or inadequacy, but rather inspired and refreshed.
And so those establishments with flawless, methodical interiors might achieve what they set out to, but for me, I revel in architecture that allows comfort for any person. Large galleries, tight halls, brightly lit reading rooms, cavernous cellars – all welcoming, nourishing for the senses, and enticing at different times for different reasons. In my own architectural endeavours, I aspire to design alluring spaces rather than intimidating and inaccessible ones, which if anthropomorphized could be called gracious hosts.