Living patterns and the principle of concavity

Living patterns and the principle of concavity
Interior of the Café Landtmann in Vienna, a favorite hangout of both Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud, a wonderful space for creative conversations.

​A well-designed space offers psychological “reassurance” to us, its users. We find such healthy characteristics predominantly in traditional places. Of course, we can perform an action in any volume barely large enough to contain it. But it should be our goal to design spaces that make us comfortable enough to enact our roles in life without feeling anxiety caused by strict geometry. A successful space, then, is shaped in such a way that it “reassures” our body and mind — not necessarily with its aesthetics, but the medical/psychological response it elicits.

We have all experienced the sense of emotional elation inside a truly great space. That elation has little to do with the room’s size. Yet many Modernist architects seem strangely uninterested in the factors that are responsible for this effect. But we have evidence that the rules for designing such spaces can be discovered, and then tested. Some environments possessing modest dimensions invite us to linger there, yet other spaces of similar shape and size somehow disturb us. Some geometric components and features, which we might not notice until they are brought to our attention, make all the difference in the world to the adaptive quality of spaces that contain human activity.

Spaces that nourish human emotions with built geometries can be documented as living patterns (Alexander et al., 1977), but much of this research remains to be done. Architects trained in conventional methods tend to resist design solutions that employ living patterns. Why? Mostly because they tend to value appearance above utility. They don’t want to be told that their designs might displease or even hurt users’ sensibilities. That would imply failure. So they ignore feedback and insist on judging design exclusively by abstract aesthetics. For them, design patterns are anathema. […]