Why Pretty Matters

Throughout history, humans have decorated their homes in order to add aesthetic value, among other purposes. Ranging from cave paintings to Baroque embellishment, it is clear that aesthetics take different forms depending on the context and culture surrounding them. The aesthetic value of a product, which is mostly subjective, will inevitably drive the price of the good up. Why should people pay more for pretty, unless they are receiving an additional benefit from the product? As inherently rational creatures, we can sense that the good is worth more, though we cannot always pinpoint why.

Cave paintings from Lascaux, France - While the true cultural and spiritual meanings behind these paintings remains a mystery, they certainly must have been valued by their creators - and later generations - for their aesthetic power.

Cave paintings from Lascaux, France – While the true cultural and spiritual meanings behind these paintings remains a mystery, they certainly must have been valued by their creators – and later generations – for their aesthetic power. Sourced from National Geographic.

Though it is often viewed as unnecessary, beauty in all forms has a significant psychological impact on us, controlling much more of our worldview and quality of life than many suspect. The most obvious impact of aesthetics in design is the effect on the clients who will live there. Beauty in the home creates tranquility, while homes which are unattractive to their owners can cause feelings of stress, hopelessness, or desire for change. Having beauty around us – not just in our homes, but in our offices, neighborhoods and towns – allows people to feel that they are dignified, deserving of the best, and well cared for. By increasing owner self-confidence, aesthetically pleasing housing allows them to move forward in other areas of their lives, including economically. Nancy Biberman, in her article ‘Bronx by Design: Why Beauty Matters,’ explains that by preserving the aesthetic beauty of an old hospital that she renovated as low-income housing, not only did the residents take better care of the place, but the workers were often inspired to “go the extra mile.” This allowed builders to feel pride in their work, and renters in their home.

The Urban Horizons housing building in New York

The Urban Horizons housing building in New York; a former hospital which was renovated as low-income, eco-friendly housing.

Not only does a beautiful design impact those living or working there, it impacts the impression visitors take away of the owner. Even if only on a subconscious level, beautiful building design reflects well on the owners, while less attractive homes reflect poorly. Through the objects and arrangements we choose to include, viewers imagine that the home reflects the personality of the person or company to whom it belongs – which it often does.

Not everyone has the time, money, or skills to create a beautiful space. Designers, in constructing, renovating, and decorating, should hold themselves to a high aesthetic standard, in order to create beautiful homes and surroundings for both the current and future occupants. By handling the stress of choosing socially and personally acceptable choices for the home, we provide a service to make clients happy. A beautiful space IS worth more, because it makes the owners happier, more tranquil, and proud of their surroundings. While hard to place a value on these psychological impacts, they are clearly preferable to the opposite effects, caused by dissatisfaction with the appearance of one’s living or working space.

-Elizabeth

 

Roadtripping – Nashville

This past week my classmates and I took our senior field trip to Nashville, where we toured hotels and restaurants to look at the design and architecture of the spaces. We also were able to visit a few firms while there, and take a much-needed break from class. Here are a few highlights of the trip – hope you enjoy!

 

Cheekwood - Bruce Munro's Light Show

Cheekwood – Bruce Munro’s Light Show

We started our visit at Cheekwood, viewing the light show exhibit created by Bruce Munro. Munro uses optic fiber to transform the grounds into an otherworldly experience. We also saw a few amazing treehouses left over from a previous design competition between local architecture firms.

Music City Center - Nashville's new convention center

Music City Center – Nashville’s new convention center

The next morning we started the day at Music City Center. The convention center opened last May, and currently boasts the largest green roof in the Southeast. The Omni Hotel next door was also recently opened, and is expected to be awarded LEED silver for new construction. It is one of many to be opened to support the new convention center.

Omni Hotel in Nashville

Omni Hotel in Nashville

Other hotels we visited included the Hermitage and Union Station. The Hermitage, which is known for housing a gentlemen’s club in the past, let us view their famous men’s room, which is clad in green and black leaded glass, and preserved by popular demand.

The famous Hermitage men's room

The famous Hermitage men’s room

We also visited the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, where we saw the exhibition ’20 Americans,’ celebrating the diversity in African-American art over the decades. Ironically, though the exhibit focuses on showing that African-American work does not need differentiation from other American work, and comprises many themes and media, through the exhibit’s existence it seems to differentiate the work. Regardless of the politics behind it, the exhibit contained many inspiring works of art.

-Elizabeth

The Importance of Light

As summer comes to an end, people tend to spend more time indoors, decreasing the levels of light they are exposed to.

As summer comes to an end, people tend to spend more time indoors, decreasing the levels of light they are exposed to.

With shortening days and cooling weather, the importance of light is once again in the forethoughts of many. Light serves many purposes – creating emphasis, providing adequate vision for tasks – but is also deeply ingrained into human instincts. Most of us have heard the terms circadian rhythm, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), insomnia and hypersomnia – these are all affected by light. In design applications, light is often used primarily as a decoration or an accent, however as the designers of livable spaces we have an obligation to also ensure that these spaces provide the best quality of life possible for their inhabitants.

According to PsychCentral, about half a million Americans are negatively affected by the onset of the winter months. The changing light quality, shorter days, and more time spent indoors are believed to be responsible for much of this. Two things that are important to remember are that sunlight on a clear day creates much higher footcandle levels than is recommended for artificial light, and despite our preference for warm, flattering tones of light, natural light is actually very blue. Obviously these contrasts create some problems – how to balance the comfort created by warm light (which is mostly a Western ideal – Eastern cultures tend to prefer blue light) with the healthful effects of the bluer light during the day, which limits our melatonin production during the day, cutting down on drowsiness and symptoms of depression. In addition, the intensity of the light needed to create the healthful effects of natural light has to be balanced with the need to use the correct footcandle levels required to perform tasks, as over lighting a space can cause fatigue and eye strain.

Obviously these are problems that need to be considered, but don’t have prescriptive solutions available. In the States, we as designers are often accustomed to having prescriptive solutions available for common problems, as our codes are set up to provide very clear, specific guidelines. However, many of the problems faced by design cannot be viewed in such a way, and must be solved as a performance requirement. Hopefully through our awareness of these problems we can begin to design our spaces in order to holistically create the best possible outcome for each individual situation.

-Elizabeth

Abundance and Inspiration

“We see a world of abundance, not limits. In the midst of a great deal of talk about reducing the human ecological footprint, we offer a different vision. What if humans designed products and systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture, and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe, our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?”

-William McDonough & Michael Braungart, from Cradle-to-Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Cradle-to-Cradle uses the cherry tree as an example of natural production - wherein even the wasted blossoms nourish the soil. (Michael S. Yamashita, for National Geographic)

Cradle-to-Cradle uses the cherry tree as an example of natural production – wherein even the wasted blossoms nourish the soil. (Image: Michael S. Yamashita, for National Geographic)

Sustainability often gets a bad rep for using scare tactics to cause strict behavioral change. However, this quote from William McDonough & Michael Braungart’s book Cradle-to-Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things shows a different view of the world, one where we can both have plenty and help – not just avoid harming – our world and society. Once we achieve this, it is no longer only ‘sustaining’ but also ‘supporting.’ This book was one of my first true sustainable design inspirations, allowing me to see the hope for the movement past the (at the time) overwhelming negativity in the media.

This is also the spirit evoked by the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the most stringent green certification program for buildings today. Rather than mainly focusing on reducing impact, the LBC also requires its projects to give something back to the world.

The Living Building Challenge is different from LEED certification in that it requires every standard to met on each project, rather than acquiring a determined number of points. The performance areas the LBC are concerned with are called the 7 petals: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. These areas comprise the 20 imperatives which must be met for certification. One of the more unusual Petals of the LBC is Beauty. It is rare that the aesthetics of a building are acknowledged as important in protecting human culture. The Beauty petal only contains 2 imperatives: Beauty + Spirit – which states ‘the project must contain design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit and place appropriate to its function’ – and Inspiration + Education.

 

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) administers the challenge, along with other visionary programs. I have just joined the Institute as an emerging professional, and am interested to see what I will learn through my involvement. I hope it will further inspire me while I continue my involvement in the sustainability movement. For those of you looking for a little inspiration as well, I recommend you take a look at some of the programs the ILFI is home to. If Declare, their material transparency program, isn’t applicable to you, perhaps Just – their social equity business disclosure program – will be. After all, these problems will affect us all if we do not choose a better, more holistically abundant way of working.

-Elizabeth

Test the Limits

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the one of the easiest ways to irritate any designer is to insinuate that their job is only concerned with aesthetics. This is why so many of us will snap when called a ‘decorator’ rather than ‘designer,’ or when asked why education is necessary for our major. In truth, interior design – any design – is problem solving, and there are always problems to be addressed. Though beauty may count as one of these issues (come back later for my post on ‘Why Pretty Matters’), there are deeper socio-economic issues at stake.

Friends Reference

This is a pretty standard knee-jerk reaction.

This is why I love seeing articles about design that makes it clear how big a difference we can make, and reminds me to keep pushing limits. The example below was taken from Co.Design by Fast Company, which sends out one of the newsletters I will actually read on a regular basis.

Empower Playground, Ghana

Empower Playground, Ghana

The article highlights the nonprofit Empower Playgrounds. Set in impoverished rural areas of Ghana, where lack of electricity is prevalent, the company creates merry-go-rounds which harness and store the energy generated from playing. The energy is then used to charge LED lanterns, which are sent home at night with groups of neighboring children. The kids can then study at night, as most of their days are spent doing chores or helping on their farms. The nonprofit also urges the schools to allow the few females who are able to attend school to be the lantern-bearer, in an effort to show that there is value in allowing these girls an education as well.

Empower Playground in Ghana

Empower Playground in Ghana

Not only does this invention give the children somewhere to play, it also creates more opportunity for a successful education and community development through the lantern networks.

 

-Elizabeth

Greenbuild 2013

Yesterday I signed up to go to this year’s Greenbuild – the world’s largest ‘green’ building conference. It’s hosted by USGBC, and student members are allowed free access to the events if they are willing to volunteer for a few hours. Some classmates and I decided to make the trip to Philly, so in two months, you can find me manning the tables at Greenbuild and wandering around the exhibits and lectures!

This will be my first year attending Greenbuild, so I’m uncertain what to expect. This year is unique, as it will not only focus on understanding LEED v4, but is also the 20th anniversary year for USGBC. The theme, ‘Greenbuild Nation,’ refers to crossing borders in the creation of a new, ‘international nation,’ which brings together those concerned with the universal issues of human rights, economic wellness, and the planet’s health. The keynote speaker this year, Hillary Clinton, was presumably chosen for her role in promoting human rights during her time as First Lady. The speakers are meant to be business, environmental, and social leaders, and though I was originally surprised by the choice of Hillary for the keynote, upon reflection she certainly does have a strong background in these subjects.

Hillary Clinton has spoken for several human rights movements, including the rights of females and members of the LGBT community.

Hillary Clinton has spoken for many human rights movements, including the rights of females and members of the LGBT community.

Other speakers of note include Ron Finley, a ‘guerilla gardener’ promoting the right to healthy food for everyone; Ed Mazria, whose work developing low carbon solutions for buildings is seminal in our understanding of climate change; and Sheryl WuDunn, who co-authored the book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” and also helped in developing the documentary series of the same name – a personal favorite show of mine, though definitely a tear-jerker. There full list of speakers is online here – but don’t worry if you miss a speaker or can’t attend, as they post the videos online (here).

In addition to the expos and speakers, there are themed group discussions at the Knowledge Bar, LEED workshops, and tours of sustainable building in the host city. I visited Philadelphia briefly this summer, and hope to have the chance to tour the Cira Centre (aka the Amtrak Building) on 30th Street. Designed by César Pelli, its glass curtain walls are meant to reflect nature rather than block it, as you can see in the photo below. It is Energy Star certified and rated LEED silver. In addition, it was developed on a brownfield, and built to support public transportation – a sustainable development in more ways than one.

Amtrak Building

César Pelli’s Amtrak Building

I’m certainly excited for the event, and I hope to see you all there!

-Elizabeth

Joyous Design

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future, it is something you design for the present.”  -Jim Rohn

If you aren’t happy, then you’re doing something wrong – it’s about the journey, not the destination, right? Though happiness may come from within, I believe designers have a responsibility to create spaces that promote – and provoke – it in people. Here, a list of 10 places that put a smile on my face:

1. The Lotus Temple, Delhi, India

The Lotus Temple, Delhi, India

The Lotus Temple, Delhi, India

This may take the top spot just because of my personal love of lotuses, yet it is still a stunning building. Reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, the giant petals of Fariborz Sahba’s Lotus Temple were cast of concrete and clad in white marble. As a Bahá’í House of Worship, the building was required to be based off a 9-sided circular shape, and no images or statuary displayed within. The result is a calming, serene interior.

2. Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya

No, it’s not photoshopped. This hotel is actually home to the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. The manor, which is modeled after a Scottish hunting lodge, was built in 1932, and only became home for the Rothschild giraffe after their natural habitat was purchased by the government. Now the site also houses the Giraffe Center and runs a breeding program intended to reintroduce the species to the wild.

3. Church of St. George, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Church of St. George, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Church of St. George, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Lalibela has 11 monolithic churches, which are sites of pilgrimage. This one, St. George, is particularly famous because of its cross shape. I love the contrast between the perfect geometry and smooth sides of the church, compared to the rough, uneven gorge surrounding it. The tunnels and pathways leading to the top are also reminiscent of secret passageways and ritual.

4. Free Spirit Spheres Hotel, Qualicum Beach, Canada

Free Spirit Spheres, Qualicum, Canada

These spherical treehouses are handcrafted and suspended by ropes from the rainforest canopy in Vancouver Island. Though small, they innovatively fit a kitchenette, bed, and even speaker system into these floating orbs. Guests have remarked that the experience reawakens their imagination and sense of childhood.

5. La Balade des Gnomes, Durbuy, Belgium

The Lunar Suite, La Balade des Gnomes, Durbuy, Belgium

The Lunar Suite, La Balade des Gnomes, Durbuy, Belgium

It’s always nice to see a building with as much personality as the La Balade des Gnomes in Belgium. At first glance, you can tell the designer enjoyed creating this, and let his imagination take over. In this fantasy-themed hotel with 10 rooms and a suite shaped as a Trojan Horse, Dominique Noel, the owner and architect, claims that he wanted it to be “almost imaginary, with a youthful essence and work[ing] harmoniously with nature.” The building is also created entirely out of natural materials – another plus. The hotel’s room themes vary from troll lairs to outer space, all interpreted in inventive ways.

6. Villa Hamster, Nantes, France

Villa Hamster, Nantes, France

Villa Hamster, Nantes, France

Weird? Yes. Unnecessary? Absolutely. But you have to admit, there is something comforting about knowing that you really CAN find whatever you want if you look hard enough – even if that something happens to be the life of a hamster. Escapist destinations are alive and thriving.

7. House on the Cliff, Calpe, Alicante, Spain

House on the Cliff, Calpe, Alicante, Spain

House on the Cliff, Calpe, Alicante, Spain

This building reminds me a bit of Wall-E – like an alien which has landed in an uninhabited world, it sits within its rocky home, surveying the Mediterranean below. The stark white of its walls and furnishings allows the emphasis to remain on the lush landscape.

8. Bosco Verticale, Milan, Italy

Bosco Verticale, Milan, Italy

Bosco Verticale, Milan, Italy

These apartment buildings are currently being finished in Milan, and are to be the world’s first “vertical forest.” The trees will shade the inhabitants, help control dust, and absorb CO2. The project also serves as proof that “green photoshopping” – or adding trees to skyscraper renderings to immediately make them look trendier and more sustainable – CAN sometimes work in real life.

9. One Shelley Street, Sydney, Australia

One Shelley Street, Sydney, Australia

One Shelley Street, Sydney, Australia

Housing the Macquarie Group, this office was built to enhance Activity-Based Working (ABW), creating collaboration and a transparency through the workplace. Meeting pods surround the 10-story atrium, while the remainder of the space is divided into ‘neighborhoods’ of work zones, a Main Street with communal spaces, a Meeting Tree, and other group-based areas. Sustainable technologies have been incorporated throughout, resulting in a huge reduction in energy consumption and paper needs.

10. CONTemporary Library Installation, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

CONTemporary Library Installation, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

CONTemporary Library Installation, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

This installation respects the old Turkish bathhouse it was built in, while housing contemporary art books and occasional exhibitions. The hanging globes of light conglomerate around main architectural details of the bath. The warmth and newness of the wood contrasts sharply with the ancient brick and stone walls, enhancing the effect.

-Elizabeth

Traveling Well: Health and Wellness in the Hotel Industry

Rasa Sayong Resort and Spa, Shangri-La

Rasa Sayong Resort and Spa, Shangri-La

A Little History

Living creatures have always flocked to water – as the essence of life, it is both a physical necessity as well as a mental desire. This attraction spurred the development of the first spas and resorts. Centered around natural resources such as mineral springs, the ocean, dunes, and sulfur springs, these resorts were originally used by traveling emperors and wealthy Europeans as healing retreats.

The twentieth century popularized these destinations, as rising urbanization created the need for more city-dwellers to escape to nature. Traditional spas included lush landscaping, public gardens, and restful entertainment such as music pavilions and reading rooms. Many contemporary hotels and spas still follow this model. The Panoramic Hotel planned by Planet 3 Studios for Karnala, India, is one example.

Panoramic Hotel, India

Panoramic Hotel, India

Plan View, Panoramic Hotel, India

Plan View, Panoramic Hotel, India

Why to Care

Current market reports are expecting a future increase in innovative health and wellness features in hotels. While luxury hotels have long since begun incorporating spa and fitness facilities, the recent rise in eco-tourism and medical tourism is prompting “normal” hotels to step up their game. The concept of “New Luxury” predicts value change causing “middle-market consumers [to] escape the extraordinary stresses of modern life by carefully choosing high-quality, high-performance, emotionally satisfying goods and services.” (3) The desire for meditative, tranquil escapes and spiritual experiences is a result of this, and ensures that spas will focus more on subconscious services, mentality, and spiritual health going forward. In addition, market segments will be shifting. Baby boomers will be retiring, increasing their free time (and disposable income). As one of the wealthiest generations of our time, their segment has plenty of market power. Though aging, most boomers are healthier and fitter than prior generations, and planning to stay that way. Men’s spa use is also expected to increase, as they become more comfortable with seeking beauty treatments.

For 2014

Hotel jogging routes, in-room workout options, fitness classes, and health food choices are going to start trending. A new hotel chain, EVEN, will open their first hotels in Maryland and Connecticut, with a focus on health while traveling. Spas will offer more holistic health treatments, rather than primarily beauty and pampering. Room upgrades to more “health-friendly” rooms may become available in more hotels, a la the MGM Grand’s wellness rooms in Las Vegas. These rooms offer such amenities as extra air and water filtration, jetlag easing blue lighting, Vitamin C infused showers, and slow-wake alarms. With an upcharge of only $20-30, these rooms may appeal to those who cannot afford more luxurious health resorts.

EVEN hotel reception, rendering

EVEN hotel reception, rendering

EVEN hotel gym, rendering

EVEN hotel gym, rendering

-Elizabeth

 

References

1. Ozola, S. (2008). The Architecture and planning of the health resorts in the Baltic region in the 19th century and the 1st half of the 20th century. Architecture and Urban Planning Journal (Issue 2), 84-97.

2. Erfurt-Cooper, P. & Cooper, M. (2009). Health and Wellness Spa Tourism Environment. Health and wellness tourism: Spas and hot springs (156-179). Salisbury: Channel View Publications.

3. Cohen, M. & Bodeker, G. (2008). Understanding the global spa industry: Spa management, 172-176. Oxford: Routledge.

4. Reaney, P. (2013, January 16). Healthy hotels, rise in ancient therapies expected in 2013. Reuters. Retrieved from <http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-spa-trends-idUSBRE90F1H620130116&gt;

5. Lovitt, R. (2012, October 29). MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to stay well, feel better. NBC News. Retrieved from <http://www.nbcnews.com/travel/mgm-grand-wants-las-vegas-guests-stay-well-feel-better-1B6732258&gt;