Lessons from History of Architecture: What I Perceive As Truth May Not Be The Truth At All

A huge part of the beliefs ingrained in my subconsciousness is there because I live in the Philippines. I would have a different set of beliefs or truths if I live in Japan or was born in India.

What if I grew up in a Muslim environment?

Taj Mahal, India
Taj Mahal, an example of Saracenic Architecture

If I was born in a Muslim family, I would most probably be a Muslim too and I will grow up going to mosque that are adorned with abstract patterns. Because for Muslims, any form that depict human or animal figure on or in a mosque is considered as idolatry. Hence, their places of worships are always decorated with abstract art. So, if I grew up in that kind of environment, I will consider human or animal statues in a place of worship as idolatry.

What if I grew up in Japan?

If I was born in Japan, I will grow up being surrounded by Shinto shrines wherein statues of animals (like kitsune and shika) stands on the site of the shrines. If I grew up in that kind of environment, I do not consider that I am committing idolatry because I do not worship kitsune and shika. Kitsune simply serves as a guardian of Kamis while shika is a direct messenger to sun goddess, Amaterasu.

What if I was born into a family whose religion is Roman Catholic?

If I was born into a family whose religion is Roman Catholic, I will grow up going to a Catholic Church every Sunday and being surrounded by statues of Jesus, Mama Mary, and other saints. My belief would be that even though there are statues in our church, we do not commit idolatry because the statues serve as a visual reminder and a way to connect. As BBC writes, “Catholics do not worship Mary or the saints, but ask them to pray to God on their behalf. This is known as intercession.” We are not committing idolatry because we know that we are worshipping God.

So what does this all mean?

This essay will not answer the question, who’s beliefs are more right or more wrong because as I was studying the architecture of different countries, I began to realize that what I perceive as truth may not be exactly the truth at all but it is only considered as truth because its what a collective group of people in my area believed in.

My current truths are shaped by the people and the built environment around me. But it may not be the truth at all.

So what’s the truth? Honestly, I don’t know and I have no intention of wasting my energy on finding out what’s the real truth.

But I am writing what I noticed here today because I know that having this kind of awareness—that what I perceive as truth may only be a truth because that is what most people in my location believed in—makes me more empathetic, understanding, and open-minded to other people who do not share the same beliefs as I am. The people who do not share the same beliefs as I am, they grew up in an environment that told them that this is what’s right and what’s wrong, just like how I am, hence I do not have the right to judge them for that because what I believe in may not be even the truth at all.

Culture shapes architecture and the built environment, in turn, is what shapes the beliefs of the future generations of that land. For instance, the Shinto shrines of Japan are established by people who are now centuries dead. But Shintoism is still practiced because the tangible idea of what they practice in the past is still here in the present and hence, they continue to shape the beliefs of the Japanese people.

We are largely shaped by our environment and sometimes, it makes us a bit more kinder if we have that kind of awareness every time we interact with someone.

No to Throwaway Culture: Products that Are Intentionally Designed to Last Long

In an era wherein users are encouraged to constantly buy products that are new and innovative today but next year, those same brands release another set of products with better technical specifications than the previous ones, so what we do is to buy again and throw away what we had previously bought and so on.

Many designers today had realized that the throwaway culture and designing products with an intent to only last for a certain time frame or had cause users a lot of money every year and creating more waste in this world.

I came across four products that are intentionally designed to last for decades. I highly recommend these products for starting families.

Furniture: bekind.

bekind is a Norwegian furniture brand, where their brand name is also a conscious mindset. Their bekind mindset enables them to,

“…build furniture for generations – creating a sustainable world of furniture – free from a throw-away mentality. Earth conscious lifestyle starts at home – with small things. 

They have two products: bekind.EINS and bekind.ZWEI.

Source: bekind Kickstarter page

Source: bekind Kickstarter page

Both of these products have a lot of affordances, meaning they could be used in various ways. Bekind.EINS could be a chair for children or a stool for adults. On the other hand, bekind.ZWEI can be seating for both adults and children and it can also function as a table.

With their versatility, users will never have to worry about buying pieces of furniture once they or their children will grow out of it.

Fashion/School Supply: Bag

The Japanese backpack: facts and origins of the randoseru
Source: Go Go Nihon

Randoseru is a result of an idea to end comparison and wealth advantage in classrooms. On an island with limited resources, it was important for Japanese people to consume things in moderation. Hence, they intentionally design products that last for years.

One example of that is Randoseru. It is a bag used by students throughout their six years in primary school and passing it down to a younger sibling. Randoseru bags are known throughout the country for its durability and great quality. The trend started in 1887 after the crown prince of that time wore it t school. Until now, Japanese students still use Randoseru bags to school. Even with all these new school bags from the West, Japanese people still choose to buy randoseru.

Product: Hanger

Source: Ensu Design

One problem for a growing family is the need to buy various kinds of hanger for various type of clothing (ex. hangers for kids’ clothes, hanger for working clothes and at-home clothes, etc)

Source: Ensu Design

Well, here is Mozu Hanger. This hanger suits most types of clothing and various occasions as well. Its slim profile makes it suitable for suitcases when you are constantly traveling abroad and allows more space in the closet. Its form eliminates the hassle of buying baby hangers as well as the act of stretching the collars just to take the clothes off the hanger.

 

Princess Mononoke and Its Context

I’m deeply fascinated by the film Princess Mononoke. A fellow intern, Sam recommended this film to me. According to her, the film had influenced her to take her advocacy seriously. Currently, she is part of various organizations for the environment and an intern for Magwai, a company that produces reef-safe sunscreen.

Princess Mononoke has indeed the power to nudge audiences into caring for the environment deeply than ever. However, when I watched it, maybe because of my artist training, I noticed subtle details in the film that shows the rich history and culture of Japan.

SHINTOISM

World Religions: Shinto in Miyazaki's 'Princess Mononoke'

Japan’s oldest religion, Shintoism’s core belief is humans in connection with nature. Thousands of Kami (Japanese gods), that takes the form of the thing or animal it represents, made up the pantheon of Shintoism.

KAMI

In the film, humans recklessly cut trees and kill animals- an indication of disconnection to Kami. Hence we see the Boar god getting eat up by its hatred and starts acting like a wild animal, unconsciously destroying villages.

KODAMA

Pin on Studio Ghibli

These little white things called Kodama, or “tree spirits” in English, appear in forests as a sign that the forest is healthy. Kodama is one of the many Kami mentioned in the film and has its origin from Shintoism as well.

At later part of the film, when the forest is about to die, many Kodama falls from above- a sign that they had disturbed the spirit.

LEPROSY

The Complicated Power of Princess Mononoke's Villain, Lady Eboshi

In the earlier history of Japan, they considered leprosy as a punishment from the gods. As a result, they placed people who suffered from this disease in isolated facilities. In the film, they were not banned from their hometowns. Instead, they were given shelter and jobs.

A REMINDER

Although the film is relevant wherever you are, Director Hayao Miyazaki created Princess Mononoke to remind the Japanese of their Shintoism roots. Moreover, Studio Ghibli released the film in 1997, a time when Japan is ‘modernizing’ after being devastated by World War II. Miyazaki hopes that his fellow countrymen would not forget where they had come from.

THOUGHTS

This film had completely blown my mind. One must have a profound understanding of their culture and their people to create a film with such a rich historical background. Aside from its not-so-subtle environment advocacy, Princess Mononoke reminds its audience that hate plus hate does not equal peace. Actions of hatred do not end when you had hurt someone you hated, it will indirectly affect another, and so on. It will never end. Instead, as what is constantly being emphasized during the film, “View the world with eyes unclouded by hate.”

Integrating Nooks Into School Designs

When I was a kid, I love to play under a table. I imagine that the table, where I am under in, is my house. Under the table, I could take on whatever roles I wanted: a mother, chef, teacher, bank teller, and a businesswoman. Together with my peers, we would imagine that the table is either a castle or a mansion. For most kids, they felt the same way but not necessarily under a table. Kids, today, create makeshift tents out of blankets or use a playhouse to execute their role play ideas.

Apparently, architects today had integrated playhouses or little nooks into their school designs.

The new Sandy Hook School has playhouses, or what they call tree houses, in various areas of the school. Jay Brotman, managing partner of Svigals + Partners explained that this is one of their efforts to, “…encourage compassion, prosperity, collaboration, and joy.” These small spaces allow young children to collaborate with each other.

In Japan, AN Kindergarten has little reading nooks shaped like playhouses are at the center of the space. Little nooks are located on the glass balustrades, independently standing on the ground floor, and even under the stairs. They added these features into the design as the architects explained, “In recent years, when children’s physical ability and creativity have been decreased, we expect that they can start improving by setting a variety of playgrounds indoors at different places.

Flower Kindergarten by Jungmin Nam
Flower Kindergarten | © Kyungsub Shin

Flower Kindergarten in Seoul, South Korea has a similar play den under the stairs. Architect Jungmin Nam, head of OA Lab (the studio that designed that school), said that “The stair itself becomes a playground. The space created below and above the stair is utilized as a children’s play den at children’s scale.”

Aside from being a place where collaborative play and learning can thrive, playhouses or little nooks are where children can do free play. Free play is an act where anyone who plays will not be intervened by an authoritative figure.

Why are playhouses and even as simple as makeshift tents out of blankets are loved by kids

From the book, Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-Based Education, principal and author Rebeca Wild wrote,

“Playhouse provides a place for secret games and undisturbed conversations in an atmosphere of privacy.”

She explained further why playhouses are important,

“In such a prepared environment that offers many stimulating attractions but excludes the possibility of any pressure exercised by adults, it becomes surprisingly clear that each and every child, provided that it has no severe disturbances owing to disrespectful or inattentive treatment, possesses a clear inner direction or guiding force, as it were. This is what leads the child in its choice of activities [free play], makes it possible for the child to find its own rhythm and allows the child to achieve a new balance with each new activity, if permitted to– follow this inner directive force, the child is able to act and react as a self-confident, happy, and helpful human being, despite its tender age and to enjoy each day to the fullest.”

Lastly, “Even at only three or four years of age, many have lost confidence in their own inner direction as a result of the constant intervention and know-it-all behavior of the adults who love them. Some may not even had the complete love and attention of their parents when they came into the world. The purpose of which is to enable them to have basic truth and confidence in life itself.

Playhouses provide children an opportunity to do their own choice of activities without being intervened by an adult. In little reading nooks, children can read and even talk about the book that they are reading to their peers without being conscious of an authoritative figure (if they were in a library). They could even role-play the books that they read, using the little nooks as their backdrop.

What if young students aren’t given an environment where they can play freely?

Author and psychologist Peter Gray wrote in an article entitled The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It,

“By increasing the amount of time spent in school, expanding homework, harping constantly on the importance of scoring high on school tests, banning children from public spaces unless accompanied by an adult, and replacing free play with adult-led sports and lessons, we have created a world in which children are almost always in the presence of a supervisor, who is ready to intervene, protect, and prevent them from practicing courage, independence, and all the rest that children practice best with peers, away from adults.  I have argued elsewhere (Gray, 2011, and here) that this is why we see record levels of anxietydepressionsuicide, and feelings of powerlessness among adolescents and young adults today.

In conclusion, rather than writing little nooks or playhouses must be integrated into school designs, designing spaces where children can play without an intervening adult, and a space that has a lot of affordances (ways for it to be used) are a must. Designing spaces where kids can grow holistically is an investment for a better world tomorrow.

 

References:

Frearson, A. (2016, February). Flower Kindergarten by Jungmin Nam features curvy classrooms and colourful corridors. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/02/26/flower-kindergarten-oa-lab-curvy-colourful-classrooms-seoul-south-korea/

Gray, P. (2016, October 31). The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201610/the-culture-childhood-we-ve-almost-destroyed-it

Wild, R. (2000). Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-based Education. Shambhala.

Winston, A. (2016, March). Hibino Sekkei and Youji no Shiro’s kindergarten features house-shaped reading nooks. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/03/03/hibino-sekkei-youji-no-shiro-atsugi-nozomi-kindergarten-house-shaped-reading-nooks-kanagawa-prefecture-japan/

Yalcinkaya, G. (2017, October). New Sandy Hook school is designed to “prevent unwanted intrusions of any kind”. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2017/10/26/new-sandy-hook-school-designed-prevent-unwanted-intrusions-kind-news-architecture/

 

Why Do We Love Being In Nature?

We, Filipinos, are currently facing various issues right now aside from the pandemic. This carrd contains information, actionables, and organizations where you can donate to help. Thank you very much!

https://parasapinas.carrd.co/


selective photo of a girl holding bubbles
© Leo Rivas | Unsplash

James Corner, a landscape architect, told designer Ingrid Fetell Lee that landscape is more about how we feel, “It’s a whole host of things that will never show up in a photograph. Plants. Scents. Colors. The effects of light and shadow. Water. The sounds of water. Ambient humidity. Texture. Temperature. The effects of mist. The concentration of weather effects and atmospheres… These things are not obvious but they are very powerful and they bring joy.” Ingrid Fetell Lee added, “Being in nature liberates our senses.”

Reading the above statements from the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness created an AHA! moment in my brain. So that is why we love being in nature or be surrounded by nature because it is a sensory-rich environment.

In a TED talk entitled Designing for the Five Senses, designer Jinsop Lee used to ask himself “why is sex is so damn good?“. He found the answer when he used the 5-senses graph.

The perfect experience would be a 10•10•10•10•10. Doing sex uses all of the senses hence, it is considered a pleasurable experience.

I started to look for other examples and concluded why eating, swimming, and traveling are enjoyable experiences for almost everyone– because we actively use our five senses when doing these activities. The same goes when being in nature. These activities lead to sensorial richness which is vital to healthy neural development.

Reversible Destiny Lofts, an amazing architectural work designed with the belief that we can prevent death if we constantly engage in a stimulating environment. In these lofts, corners are curved, floors have lumps everywhere and they are never flat, and bright, vivid colors everywhere. Architect Arakawa and poet Madeline Gins, designers of Reversible Destiny Lofts, believed that the comfort given by modem buildings lead us to an early death. Without enough activity for all of our senses, they push us to a stupor and causing us to say goodbye to the world at an early age.

Reversible Destiny Lofts is an extreme example of sensorial richness but there are still tons of ways wherein we can feed our deprived-senses. Like I mentioned eating, just look at mukbang blogs on YouTube. They eat really well plus, they sound well. When I’m eating noodles, I make slurping sounds to add up to my eating experience.

Designer Ingrid Lee writes, “A sparse environment acts as an anesthetic, numbing our senses and emotions. The abundance of aesthetic does the opposite. It wakes the senses up. It brings us to life.”

 

References:

Lee, I. F. (2018). Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Little, Brown Spark.

TED. (2013, August 6). Design for All 5 Senses [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6wjC0sxD2o&t=4s