Ever wonder what inspires the writing of a great novel? At first blush, I would surmise that passion, desire, craft and experience all play a large role in crafting the prose for a great literary work. As someone who is a casual reader of great fiction, I find it hard anymore to read anything for pleasure. My last foray in fiction revolved around the Dan Brown books about the some Harvard prof and his travels through ancient buildings throughout Europe (you may have heard of them!).
But I’ve always fantasized what it would be like to have a conversation with the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Jack Kerouac, Ayn Rand or George Orwell. One of my first questions would be “so where did you physically write your book?” This may seam trivial to most (except for us architects), as questions of inspiration and technique might make for a longer conversation. But I find myself thinking about this every time I walk into an interesting cafe or bar or bookstore. Is there something about a place that can ignite the creative senses (and thus bears great creative, thought-provoking work)?
Part of it could be the location. Urban centers throughout history (see the Athens of Socrates and Plato, Florence during the Renaissance, Paris in the 1920’s, or New York in the 1960’s) have always seen a clustering of creative intellects. Rural locations can give the isolation needed to connect with oneself or with nature to unlock the creative juices. But what about the actual building where the creative process unfolds within? Is there some formula that helps to set the stage for the playwright? Could it be the scale, or the sights/sounds of the location? I feel there’s got to be something within a physical construct that affects creative cognition.
As architects, I wonder if we’re paying enough attention to the spaces that we’re charged with shaping. Do we really take into account the interaction of inhabitants within our spaces? The boundary (or lack thereof) between public and private? What about light and sound? Do we pay attention to the changing of the seasons, and how a space may feel good on July 4th, but lousy on January 4th? What about material and texture? Scale and height?
I know there’s other factors outside an architect’s control that foster this creative environment (usually involves the company, or what’s on that plate or in that glass). But my fear is that we concede the “feel” factor to typology or branding. I think it would be sad if Ryan Homes or Starbucks would be the future incubators for the creative talent in America. Doesn’t seem very democratic to me.
Next time you grab that coffee or beer, take a look around and soak in the atmosphere of where you are. If you find a good one, let me know…I’m always looking for great cafe or saloon for some inspiration.