Frank Lloyd Wright, Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, 1906.
Jonah Lehrer's April 30 "Head Case" column in the Wall Street Journal
, "Building a Thinking Room,"
is the kind of mainstream reporting on architectural matters that always makes my blood boil.
For thousands of years, people have talked about architecture in terms of aesthetics. Whether discussing the symmetry of the Parthenon or the cladding on the latest Manhattan skyscraper, they focus first on how the buildings look, on their particular surfaces and style.
If this were a student paper, I would circle that people
. Which people? In which decade, much less century? All people until you, Jonah Lehrer, decided it was worthy of your interest? The substance of the article is new research by scientists that show that "architecture and design can influence our moods, thoughts and health." To which anyone involved for the past thousands of years in architecture and design can only respond, No duh
. Nice of science to finally catch up.
Among the shocking new revelations: A low-ceilinged space with loud air conditioners is a more stressful work environment than a recently renovated one. Blue rooms aid creative thinking. Lehrer writes:
Although we're only starting to grasp how the insides of buildings influence the insides of the mind, it's possible to begin prescribing different kinds of spaces for different tasks. If we're performing a job that requires accuracy and focus (say, copy editing a manuscript), we should seek out confined spaces with a red color scheme. But for tasks that require a little bit of creativity, we seem to benefit from high ceilings, lots of windows and bright blue walls that match the sky.
My outrage stems from the notion that this is news, or that only now, when scientists have found it to be true, can architectural knowledge be used to make the world a better, happier and more productive place. This attitude privileges scientific knowledge over visual thinking, a common and largely unexamined prejudice. Why are those smarts more applicable, more mainstream than ours? Why do we need science to codify what architects have practiced for centuries? It is not as if daylighting happened yesterday.
I haven't been so annoyed since Lehrer's last foray into design, the rudely titled New York Times Magazine
article, "A Physicist Solves the City."
Are we supposed to thank him?