Where to walk, what to read…

I already own a book on architecture that is just at my level, The Architecture of Happiness. But reading on the internet tempts me to explore many different realms… further than I actually want to go, when it comes right down to it.

Something I read back in the fall made me want to see the book Cognitive Architecture, by Sussman and Hollander, and my library’s “Link” feature helped me to get it, from southern California. It came in just before Christmas, and just before I needed clear away piles of books and papers, seeds and seed catalogs, to make space for a few Christmas decorations.

So I barely glanced at it, and quickly put it…. somewhere. I was pretty sure it was upstairs, probably in my bedroom, and when I found it last week — after looking everywhere several times over the last month — it was in an odd little stack of things, with a prayer book and a Christmas card and other unrelated stuff. One reason I hadn’t seen it earlier was that it was so much smaller than I remembered it.


So small, my immediate thought was, maybe I could actually get through this book! Even though I’ve sort of moved on and my current goal is to whittle down the number of half-finished books I already have, without adding more.

So I only browsed, and it is pretty interesting, about designing buildings for the way people live and behave, the sort of “animal” that humans are. One example is, that people in cities are known to like to walk or congregate on the edges of open spaces or streets, near buildings or walls, so that the buildings “have their backs.” But not so much if the building is turned in on itself and doesn’t seem open to the people, with low windows, for example, for easy window shopping. An example of a space not conducive to this protected and friendly feeling is the Boston City Hall Plaza, which is known as an unloved space and is up for renovation:

It is known that people prefer not to climb stairs if they can avoid it. I know that doesn’t apply to toddlers. This is my neighbor Grace who was enjoying going up and down my front steps this afternoon.

I discovered that one of the authors, Ann Sussman, has co-authored a fascinating article, “The Mental Disorders that Gave Us Modern Architecture”!

Many of the other points of human-centered design were not new to me. I had learned a lot from De Botton’s book, and I also have this one that Pippin gave me, in which I can browse actual buildings and their architects, which is more appropriate for me, who am not considering a career in design.

I wonder if I have other books I could write about without having read them, and in that way get some satisfaction from my failures…? I’ve enjoyed making use of this one to organize the Architecture compartment of my mind, and I found a pleasing poem in it as well:


What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,
and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

-Lisel Mueller

6 thoughts on “Where to walk, what to read…

  1. What a fascinating dip into the world of buildings – and a great poem to boot! This one has really tickled my appreciation of words and particularly the etymology of words. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read the article you linked: “The Mental Disorders that Gave Us Modern Architecture.” I feel much better now about my absolute distaste for the work of certain architects. I wonder what she’d make of Frank Gehry? And Frank Lloyd Wright, for that matter. When I toured one of his made-for-middle-income homes at the Crystal Bridges museum, the guide mentioned that his homes have no attics, basements, or garages, because he didn’t want people to be able to “collect all that stuff.” Phooey. That “stuff” is called life, and memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Julia Morgan’s the one for me! And whoever designed the modest house my in-law’s lived in, in San Jose, California: elegant for such a middle class home built in the 40’s, with plenty of built-in storage in every room. And no flat roof!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How interesting! Architecture is so subjective — and even if you love something aesthetically (I love Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes), I wouldn’t want to live in one. I’d feel too nervous. I’m not a minimalist and admire the homes I visit that are — but I couldn’t live there (and mine would probably give them hives!) Interesting about the squares and buildings and gathering spots. Makes sense but I never thought of it before.


  4. My favorite part is the thought of talking about books without having read them, and maybe getting “some satisfaction from my failures…”  But the whole thing, simply delightful. Like a late-night conversation on a train,* complete with pictures. That beautiful child. Grace.
    *I just read a moving Grace Paley story, “Friends.” On a train, talking about their lives, their almost failures which are sadly beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A most interesting dip into architecture. Enjoyed reading the tidbits you shared, certainly whets my appetite for more. Thanks for the book suggestions and for this comment you made (I certainly could relate to it): “So small, my immediate thought was, maybe I could actually get through this book! Even though I’ve sort of moved on and my current goal is to whittle down the number of half-finished books I already have, without adding more.” Even though I’ve sort of moved on…..how often I have felt that way when a book I ordered from the library finally arrives after months of waiting. I’m a grazer and I have a short attention span, I think. 🙂


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