I’ve had a number of reminders lately of the importance of considering individual social and spatial needs when designing interior spaces.When my sister was home for a visit, we took a walk in some of my favorite parts of New Haven. We were discussing our ideal places to live in Connecticut and agreed that we’d choose either New Haven or the Northwest corner - two very different places! What my sister and I have in common is that we have strong introvert and extrovert sides of our personalities. We both enjoy the energy and vibrancy of the city atmosphere as well as the quiet solitude found in the woods.
Susan Cain’s Ted Talk “The Power of Introverts” speaks so well to how the introvert is devalued in our culture. I especially love how she explains how solitary activities can have a social component when she describes reading with her family as “just a different way of being social. You had the animal warmth of your family sitting right next to you, but you were free to go roaming around the adventure land inside your own mind.” The trend of creating open collaborative spaces, particularly in schools and workplaces, is often implemented at the expense of those who work, live, or play as their best selves in more intimate environments.
Jonathan Tuckey, a British designer, addresses the same topic in relationship to home design in Dwell’s article “No Half Measures”. He designs with contrasting proportions, saying that “Houses need those scale shifts to accommodate our moods and our day-to-day rhythms.” I enjoy how he recognizes and designs for the gray area. Most people don’t want to be social all of the time or alone all of the time.
Less recently, I’ve been hearing about schools and office environments built with few or no walls that have disastrously failed.
It seems coincidental that this subject continues to resurface, but perhaps I’m not the only one seeking a better balance in our environments for different ways of thinking and interacting. Susan Cain spoke about how she denied her introverted natural self because of our society’s pressure to be the opposite. Hearing this helps reinforce for me the importance of getting to the heart of our clients’ true needs. Are they asking for collaborative space because that is how every person works or learns, or because that’s what our culture says is best? Do you really want an open floor plan? The answer may be yes, but it’s important not to forget to ask the question and encourage our clients to think deeply, through the layers of societal pressure, to come up with their right answer.