Architecture that Comforts

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.

The Ninja House, Tokyo - a space that beckons

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.


  1. Kate says:

    I think it’s definitely true that as you walk into a place there’s often a feeling that accompanies it. I know you’ve moved a lot – what do you look for in a place when you think about living there? What’s the bare minimum feeling that you’d need, and how much of it can be influenced by different decorating styles?

    • Kate says:

      Kate I completely agree – I love that you brought this up – I often think about that notion of the ‘bare essentials’ like Thoreau did in Walden – and how much peace and comfort you might get without the distraction of the superficial unnecessaries. In designing, too often we think about function – when in fact I believe we should think of spaces in relation to emotions, and how they are equipped to comfort us when we’re all the different inherent versions of ourselves.

  2. Walker says:

    It’s amazing how so many of the great architectural wonders of the world can make an individual feel small. And maybe intimidation was the design. August cathedrals make you feel weak in the house of God.

    Or I remember seeing the Great Wall for the first time and thinking, “Who the fuck thought this was a good idea?” It couldn’t be strategically cost effective. But then I figured that it was probably really intimidating — the idea of a wall that stretches for 3000 miles. Because if a group of people were crazy enough to bother building a wall that long, what else could they do? Why would I mess with them?

    But space that empowers individuals, and doesn’t scare them, must be a much more powerful thing.

    • Nick says:

      This is exactly why the US needs more buildings to be shaped like dinosaurs. Cost effective? No. Energy efficient? Definitely not. But who would ever mess with a country who’s buildings were all shaped like dinosaurs.

    • Gemma says:

      I plan on doing a post on free spaces in the city – that really provide something special and unique – that your really need to visit and be within to understand. These free spaces within an urban context are magical already, as they allow us to feel at ease in a realm littered with controlled, privately owned spaces. I loved visiting the Great Wall Walker….how incredibly ridiculously huge is it?!

  3. Nick says:

    On a more serious note – really great and meaningful post. Especially as more of us are living in large cities, where almost all space is manufactured to some degree – understanding the relationship between your space and your psychology is really relevant.

  4. Sarah Hill says:

    I love this photo. I personally am a fan of “nooks” in general when it comes to interior design. I am going to school at New School of Architecture and plan on designing new suburban type homes inspired by older homes (that have basements, attics, crawl spaces, nooks etc). I think reading areas by windows are missing a lot in new homes as well. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

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