Archive for February, 2011

February 27, 2011

Gazing Through the Window – Attention Restoration and Views of Nature

While studying for exams as a student, I would often catch myself gazing through the window and loosing track of time, completely unaware of piles of books in front of me. Does that sound familiar? You’ll be happy to learn it’s not called being lazy, but restoring attention (a term which gives an impression of actually doing something, instead of doing nothing). According to attention restoration theory (Kaplan & Kaplan 1989, according to Kaplan, 2004), focusing attention for long periods of time causes mental fatigue, so we shift to spontaneous and undirected attention and immerse in a different unthreatening “place”, giving time for directed attention to renew itself.

University Library in Utercht, the Netherlands; photo by.Storm

Restorative experiences are more likely to occur in interesting settings that bring about effortless attention and involve being away, seeing into the distance, and satisfaction. Vacation would be an example of a great restorative experience, but on a daily basis we may settle for their minimized versions – window views.  We’ve already noticed that they draw our involuntary attention, right? They also give us a feeling of mentally going away (being “absent-minded”), enable us to see into the distance (at least most of them do), and we usually experience more satisfaction in what we see outside then in anything that’s on our desk. However, not all window views are the same and most of us (even architecture lovers) choose views of nature over views of buildings. Does that mean that views of nature provide better restoration for our overstressed minds?

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February 19, 2011

Equal Opportunities in Public Restrooms – Women’s Perspective

Imagine you designed a brand new night club, movie theater, stadium, or concert hall; a place for people to gather and enjoy themselves, to watch a music show or football match. You picked just the right colors, used interesting shapes, took care about acoustics, visibility, accessibility, comfort. You got everything right. Still, about half of people visiting your new masterpiece of modern architecture won’t be able to enjoy it to the full potential, but instead spend enormous amount of time waiting in a toilet line. Why? Because you thought that providing equal square footage in men’s and women’s restrooms is fair enough.

photo by Xerones

What does a value of equal opportunities have in common with public restrooms? Equal opportunity is described as a situation in which people have the same chances in life as other people, without being treated in an unfair way because of their race, sex, sexuality, religion, or age. So, are all people treated right in public restrooms? Just by observing long lines that form in front of the women’s’ toilets you can sense that it is a place of unequal opportunities – at least unequal speed of access. Furthermore, different people have different specific needs that architects should take into consideration when designing. Since everyone uses restrooms multiple times a day, negligence in design may be a regular source of annoyance, discomfort, and frustration for some users. I belive that when simple changes in design have potential to significantly improve quality of life and promote universal values, then it should be done so.

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February 13, 2011

Building Exterior – Architects’ and Users’ Ideas of Beauty

Since we are free to shape our built environment almost as we like (within our budget, known building materials and the laws of physics and state), why not make it beautiful? It seems like a rather blunt question, but if you look around, you will probably notice quite a few aesthetically unpleasing buildings. Surely their architects didn’t intend to insult your taste, so what actually happened there? Some of those buildings  may be old and poorly maintained, but it is not uncommon for a newly built project to be called ugly by the public while considered a masterpiece by professionals. Similarly, some houses that were built exactly to suit their owners’ taste, are proclaimed to be a poor architecture by the professionals.  Clearly, what we perceive as a good-looking building is very subjective; beauty is in the eye of beholder, as someone wisely put it. And building users often look at it differently than architects.


Caixa Forum art exibition, Madrid, Spain; photo by dirk huijssoon

As it often happens when we identify any differences,  we instantly try to figure out who is right and who is wrong, or at least, whose opinion is more important. Is the customer always right or should we leave it to the professionals? This can lead to a long and emotional discussion, but lets not go there for once – looking for a winner-looser situation is never the optimal solution. That is why I was pleasantly surprised to find a piece of work that tries to reconcile differences between professionals and laymen in preferences for the appearance of built environment.

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