How to appreciate buildings

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You can probably think of at least one building you have visited that felt as though it reached inside you, affected you deeply, and perhaps changed the way that you thought about the world. For me, my first visit to St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City when I was in my 30s had this impact. The sheer size of its interior knocked the wind out of me, though the details were just as significant. Every surface seemed covered with exquisitely detailed art – material evidence of the immense human effort over many centuries that had produced this setting. As I surveyed my surroundings with tottering knees, I realized how far the effects of architecture could go beyond utilitarian functions like keeping us out of the rain.

But it doesn’t take a massive cathedral to ignite interest in the human response to buildings. You might have experienced similar feelings in many different kinds of settings. Small churches, college courtyards, commercial headquarters (think of the main office of a major bank) can all evoke a response. Even everyday architectural spaces can connect with our feelings. Think of when you last walked into someone’s home for the first time and experienced an ephemeral sense of its atmosphere. Architects have written entire books about these feelings.

The observation that ‘we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us’, attributed to Winston Churchill, may be threadbare but it is nevertheless profoundly true. The buildings we inhabit help to make us who we are. Yet, in the run of our everyday experiences, it’s easy to become desensitized to their influences. Buildings can seem at times like little more than the containers of human experience, but they are so much more than that. Architecture can function as a vessel of emotion and thought. It can influence the way you feel about yourself and others. As any great art can change who you are, so can a building. It is the art that you live, work and play inside. If you are willing to spend the time to curiously explore buildings both from the inside and the outside, you will be rewarded with a greater sense of the power of place and, with mastery, a more refined ability to use your settings to control your own experience.


https://alpha.aeon.co/images/ba5cecba-859e-4674-af72-c9613cd9639c/900x900.jpgHeidelberger Platz U-Bahn, Berlin. Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty



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