Why I picked it up: A few years ago, when I visited the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, there was a moment when I stopped to enjoy the sunlight. And then I realized I was in a science museum, and I was enjoying the sunlight. I loved visiting that museum, I stayed a long time, and I found the exhibitions more memorable than typical.
You see, I have a pet peeve. What I call "black caves." Those yawning exhibition spaces, typically painted black, with no natural light whatsoever. They are particularly prevalent in science centers and museums. And they have always confounded me. I find them oppressive. But it has also always seemed odd that science centers, which typically have no collections, are so dark while art museums are typically filled with light.
Which brings me to Welcome to Your World. A review of this book in The Nation queried "what is the science behind how we experience architecture?" That piqued my interest, not only because of my experience in North Carolina, but also because museum-goers sometimes share with me their emotional and physical responses to museum buildings and spaces.
Main thesis of book: More than 90% of our time is spent in human-made spaces, and "[design shapes] our cognitions, emotions, and actions, and even powerfully influences our well-being." Thus, it is incumbent on all of us to make sure our built environments support human welfare as a health and well-being issue. This seems pretty obvious to me, to design for people (it's my attitude towards museums, after all).
Fun fact: There is an Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. Who knew?
Three most important takeaways:
Read or skip: Here's a sample sentence: "Carefully devised, skillfully deployed metaphors mitigate the build environment's stasis and our tendency to habituate to it, through the many overlapping associations they elicit." If this sentence excites you, this book is for you. If it makes your eyes roll back in your head, well, consider my review sufficient.
But if you are considering a new building or a remodeling, and you truly care about how visitors (and your staff) will respond in the new space you are creating, the book may be worth picking up and reading.
Full citation: Goldhagen, Sarah Williams. Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives. New York: Harper Collins, 2017.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.