The Spaces Around Us

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman's Odyssey

One way to assess music, is by appreciating what is not played, the spaces in between the notes. The spaces around us are starkly prominent with how much is empty, and how we choose to fill them.

Season to season, the spaces outside our homes change according to the tilt of the earth toward the sun. While weather may be beyond our realm of control, we are in command of the spaces around us, and the walls that encompass our daily lives do have an impact of their own.

"We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us," Winston Churchill, speaking at the rebuilding of the House of Commons which had sustained heavy damage during the Battle of Britain. In this observation is the profound architectural truth that applies to all buildings, both public and private.  

Initially, buildings reflect the qualities of the people who design and create them. Once built, to some extent, the people who live and work in them begin to take on the qualities of the buildings they inhabit.

Architects have long intuited that the places and spaces we inhabit can have an affect on our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. From the lightness in our step along brightly lit hallways, to the uplifting ambiance of vaulted ceilings, the style, mood and structure of buildings can inspire or douse creativity.

This awareness of the importance of our surroundings has long been noted all around the world. The Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing the human existence with the surrounding environment, known as feng shui, has long influenced the structure and design of spaces and places in Asia.

Historically, feng shui was widely used to orient buildings in an auspicious manner, or in a way that best channels the "qi" (invisible forces that bind the universe, earth, and man together). Flow is important in the constant movement around us, even in the structures that define our physical boundaries.

Prizewinning biologist Dr. Jonas Salk had this epiphany in the 1950s. Attempting to find a cure for polio in a dark basement laboratory in Pittsburgh, he was at an impasse. He took a break and traveled to Assisi, Italy, where he spent time in a 13th-century monastery. There he was able to gain new insight, one that would eventually lead to his successful polio vaccine.

Convinced that he had drawn his inspiration from his surroundings, Salk believed so strongly in architecture’s ability to influence thinking that he made an entire scientific facility with that purpose in mind. Teaming up with renowned architect Louis Kahn, they designed the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California in the hopes that it would be a place that would stimulate breakthroughs and encourage creativity.

Whatever space you surround yourself, awareness is always key. Pay attention to your environment, it is a small task that can inspire priceless results.

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