Sometimes one can find intrinsic truths about the human condition in the most mundane of places. Like the introductory chapter of an architecture textbook.
That’s what happened to me this week when I was skimming through Invitation to Architecture: Discovering Delight in the World Built Around Us (Taunton Press, 2014). The book’s authors—Max Jacobson and Shelley Brock—both teach introductory courses in architecture, and though it is a well-designed tome with a decidedly non-academic flavor to it, the book is essentially a primer. I was digging into it as I usually do, with the intent of finding out how useful it might be for our readers. Imagine my surprise when I was confronted with a love letter to the notion of home ownership!
In the first chapter, the authors talk about how important ordinary buildings are to children, especially the structure of home. Like the best poetry, their writing contains a revelation that is both surprising and self-evident at once. These architects then proceed to delve into the following features humans crave from built world, and the psychological reasons behind them.
Shelter: Ever since emerging from the womb, we as human beings are constantly looking for a place that will keep us warm and secure. “This experience can include the pleasant feeling of being safe inside during a storm, or gathering together with others in a space made for that purpose, or in the simple satisfaction of owning a space that one has created for oneself,” the authors note. They go on to assert that the reason a child enjoys building forts is “because he or she is actively creating, or designing, the small-scale space that is so vividly felt as satisfying.”
Vantage: A room with a view may seem more like a luxury than a necessity, but the authors insist that the desire to be up higher than others is part of our evolutionary make-up. “Our ancestors sought out high, protected places from which to apprehend approaching danger and to have a height advantage to either attack or defend,” they write, adding that this is also why kids love spying on the adult world from high balconies or tree houses.
Ownership: As a child, did you ever paste a sign on the door to your room proclaiming exactly whose room it was and who was allowed in? Or maybe you and your friends had some sort of clubhouse you could call your own. This exclusivity easily transfers to home ownership and other structures of adulthood. These feelings are also especially strong when applied to a place with a height advantage, such as a porch or stoop.
Creation: Whether it was with blocks or a deck of cards or a dollhouse, most of us spent some time creating imaginary structures to suit our childhood desires. According to the authors, working in miniature also gives children’s little brains the opportunity to experiment with the world in a safe environment, exercising “the mental skills of attention, imagination, creativity, and intelligence, allowing them to grow and develop.”
That last item contained a curious footnote at the end, noting that as kids today “spend less time with creative play” they are not as prepared “for the form and space-making aspect of architectural design.” For a moment, this worried me. I wondered if the proliferation of the iPad as teaching toy would mean a lessened love for home ownership. I thought about it for a bit and decided it probably wouldn’t have much effect. After all, the authors have clearly established that the need for shelter and home ownership are traced well into our evolutionary past, and we crave security right out of the womb. There’s not much a new toy can do about that.