Recently, I was attending a lecture and the professor made a joke (at least I’m pretty sure it was joke), and instantly I looked left and right to see if anyone was going to laugh. (Nothing is more awkward than being the only person laughing.) This is when I realized it: I couldn’t see another face.
I was sitting in a room filled with straight rows of chairs and couldn’t see any faces but those right next to me.
Today’s architectural world is filled with straight rows of chairs. It creates a great experience between yourself and the focus of attention but do we ever miss out on the idea of an audience? The idea that we can look around and see laughter, confusion, excitement, and wonderment on the faces of others and collectively appreciate what we are seeing.
Before this recent surge of individualization, spaces were designed for large groups of people. Theatres were designed so that each show was different—a moment in time to experience the performance and the select people who were present. In Washington, D.C. (my home town), government buildings line the streets, neoclassical, covered in columns and meant to make you think Ancient Greece and democracy. But what is really more democratic? A building that looks like a Greek temple, or a space that brings people together and asks that they interact, make decisions, and form a community?
This thought comes less as a recommendation and more as a challenge. I challenge you to make spaces in your buildings. Face the other people in the elevator. Arrange your chairs in an arc and not a line. See what happens.
Bio: Alex Smith is an intern at Guernica. Read her last recommendation of public urban architecture “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1517/rec_room_alex_smith_public_urb/.