How do the shapes of buildings affect us? Inside and out? Positive space, negative space, the contours of the air, the contours of the pillars or rooftops? How do these “real” shapes change us on any given day? How do these shapes affect our thoughts and feelings? Our whole minds, our whole selves?
Architecture 101 maybe? But what’s really going on here?
Of course, there is the obvious: We just like the way certain buildings look, the way we like anything…Duh. But right now, I’m wondering about why and how? What’s at work here? Just what is it about that arch, that high ceiling?
Two things of note–while I was strolling the grounds of Oxford many years ago, I truly felt smarter, inspired to think deeply, reach deeply into the crevices of ideas, really seek something. It was so easy to imagine…so easy to imagine a full life of serious intellectual pursuit. All those arches, stony courtyards, airy corridors set off a flurry of explosions in my head…new theories about the nature of experience, possible anomalies in Euclid? If I had been asked to present a paper that week of my travels, I’m certain it would have been stellar, crisp with rigor. The same thing happens at Stanford. Oh, it’s the arches, oh ,oh, oh the arches…and the air.
Upon my return from England that summer, I asked an architect colleague of mine about the design of the British Museum. I told him that I felt so much less tired walking around that museum, could it be the angles, the design of the ceiling somehow? He looked at me, blankly. Oh well, maybe he only did the math and failed to remember to breathe…
Nowadays, I am spending two days a week on the Cal campus. Again, I am teased into intellectual rigor by the arches and windows. Why and how does walking between redwoods, a babbling brook, and thrusting spires combine to make me want to hurl my phone into the ditch, bring out a yellowed-paged tome and sink deeply into the fine print, looking carefully at the tiny footnotes along the bottom of the page? Why do I want to don my tweed jacket and bury myself in the stacks?
Okay, call me a Romantic.
Okay, duh… of course, this is about context and construction, all the “baggage” we bring to moment, all those images and stories and movies from all those years, blah blah blah, but can we put that social context aside for one moment and just ask this one question: is it possible that the shape of a roofline, the angle of a doorway might actually impact our breathing, our imaginations?
If you were reading these words on yellowed pages, a recently discovered manuscript from an old Master, a set of scribbled words from the hand of revered philosopher, and sitting in the halls of Harvard, smelling the pages of millions of books, seeing the light streaming in the paned windows, would you not be receiving these words in a different way? Would these words not be lifted somehow, off the screen of an obscure blogger in 2019, and into the weighty realm of importance? Would your tolerance for long-winded sentences be increased?
I’m going to Cal few days a week, to audit a few courses for my sabbatical work, an obligation I regret I signed on for…So I’m making something out of it, I’m naming it, like I do. That’s what I do.
I’m going to burrow into books. I’m going to bask in the angles of the rooftops and window panes, I’m going to hover on the quaint bridges that cross over the creek. Architecture matters. I’m going to breathe differently. I will, therefore, think and feel differently. I’ll tuck myself into a corner coffee shop, reading, reading…pencil in hand, scribbling scribbling scribbling. I’ll imagine myself …
This time, I am a scholar, an intellectual, an old tweed jacket, the soft, worn pages of a Classic. I am the buildings themselves, containers of curiosity, daring, and reverence. I’m in deep, sequestered from the chaos of my adult life, imagining myself…
Exploding with ideas, inspired to really seek something.
Of course, this will only be true for 2 days out of 7, the rest of which time I will be once again in my little house, imagining myself … doing, being…something/someone else.
Sigh. I’m a theater artist, after all.