Discussion Notes for Friday AM Discussion Group | (the A.M.s)

January 8, 2021

Questions:

  • Tell us about a place (a room, a home, or other) that you remember fondly from your childhood. Describe it, and why you remember it fondly.
  • Is it possible to be human without a “place” (not in the conceptual sense but in the physical sense)?

Read:

A terraced house on a tree-lined street. Earlier today, the house rang with the sound of children’s cries and adult voices, but since the last occupant took off (with her satchel) a few hours ago, it has been left to sample the morning by itself. The sun has risen over the gables of the buildings opposite and now washes through the ground-floor windows, painting the interior walls a buttery yellow and warming the grainy-red brick façade. Within shafts of sunlight, platelets of dust move as if in obedience to the rhythms of a silent waltz. From the hallway, the low murmur of accelerating traffic can be detected a few blocks away. Occasionally, the letter box opens with a rasp to admit a plaintive leaflet…The house has grown into a knowledgeable witness. It has been party to early seductions, it has watched homework being written, it has observed swaddled babies freshly arrived from hospital, it has been surprised in the middle of the night by whispered conferences in the kitchen. It has experienced winter evenings when its windows were as cold as bags of frozen peas and midsummer dusks when its brick walls held the warmth of newly baked bread…Although this house may lack solutions to a great many of its occupants’ ills, its rooms nevertheless give evidence of a happiness to which architecture has made its distinctive contribution.

The Architecture of Happiness, pp10-11

We enclose places on the face of the earth for the sake of activities to be performed within those places; we judge that enclosing the place, and doing so in a particular way, will enable, and perhaps enhance and fit, those activities. The activities might be relatively passive. Sometimes we enclose a place because we want to protect something located there from the elements – some plant, some rock, some artifact of historical significance. Sometimes we enclose a place because we want to prevent animals from escaping, sometimes because we want to store things there. These are things we do, not things done to us…The place that is enclosed existed before it was enclosed. But when a place is enclosed, then the enclosure brings something else into existence, namely, a bounded interior space – or in case the enclosure contains a number of interior rooms and passageways, a number of bounded interior spaces. Space as such has no bounds, and is obviously not created by us. But by enclosing a place, we bring into existence one or more bounded interior spaces. The enclosure does not create the place; the place was there already. What the enclosure creates is one or more bounded interior spaces.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Seek the Shalom of the City”

Questions:

  • Have you ever thought about the degree of impact that architecture has on you or on our communities? What have you concluded? What are questions you might have about physical space? About architecture?

Read:

Yet a concern for architecture has never been free from a degree of suspicion. Doubts have been raised about the subject’s seriousness, its moral worth and its cost. A thought-provoking number of the world’s most intelligent people have disdained any interest in decoration and design, equating contentment with the discarnate and invisible matters instead.

The Architecture of Happiness, pp11

Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

“How To Be A Poet (to remind myself)”, Wendell Berry, from the book Given

Nevertheless, such determined efforts to scorn visual experience have always been matched by equally persistent attempts to mould the material world to graceful ends. People have strained their backs carving flowers into their roof beams and their eyesight embroidering animals into their tablecloths. They have given up weekends to hide unsightly cables behind ledges. They have thought carefully about appropriate kitchen work surfaces. They have imagined living in unattainably expensive houses pictured in magazines and then felt sad, as one does on passing an attractive stranger in a crowded street. We seem divided between an urge to override our sense and numb ourselves to our settings and a contradictory impulse to acknowledge the extent to which our identities are indelibly connected to, and will shift along with, our locations. An ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-coloured limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us. Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.

The Architecture of Happiness, pp11-12

…imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy.

Wendell Berry, “It All Turns On Affection”

Questions:

  • How should we look at space or place? How should we look at architecture, or as Wolterstorff says, the places we enclose?
  • How should we look at architecture’s relationship to how we live our lives physically and morally? Is there a relationship?
  • De Botton seems to invite thought about unseen values and physical spaces, and Berry seems to fill that out. Do you think imagination and space/place/architecture is related this closely? Why or why not?

**All content unless otherwise noted from The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton . Content for this discussion compiled by Kirk Irwin