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October 11, 2014

The Architecture of Happiness: The Significance of Architecture

I'm currently reading The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton and I invite you to join along with me! I purchased this book close to four years ago and regrettably am only reading it now. I've always felt that we are shaped by our buildings just as much as we shape them. I'm very curious about that emotional connection with architecture, and have even created a few projects exploring this idea (here and here). 

Today I am writing about the first chapter The Significance of Architecture. Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Below is a summary of the first chapter, in my opinion, and some of my thoughts to go along with it.


I. The Significance of Architecture

Alain de Botton, in his 2006 national bestseller The Architecture of Happiness, confronts the notion that we are implicitly affected by architecture. “Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places - and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.”

He cites that architecture is not only a physical sanctuary, but also a psychological one rendering our homes, workplaces, and public buildings “guardians of our identity”. In his first chapter, The Significance of Architecture, de Botton questions this connection with our surroundings. If we are “inconveniently vulnerable” to the colour of our walls and the materials of our flooring, then this strenuous demand on our emotions can lead us to shut our eyes to everything around us and completely numb our senses with the fear that an unfortunate bedspread will derail our sense of purpose. On the other hand, De Botton acknowledges that “even the noblest architecture can sometimes do less for us than a siesta or an aspirin”. This detachment can be traced in history, using the example of the Cistercian monk St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1137 travelling all around Lake Geneva without even noticing it was there.

Even if we are moved by a building, does architecture have the ability to guarantee our happiness or improve the lives of those who occupy it? De Botton states that architecture may posses many moral messages, but it absolutely does not have the capacity to enforce them. Taking architecture seriously means both opening ourselves up to the idea that we are affected by our surroundings while also knowing that architecture may only ever constitute a small protest against the state of things. Architecture asks us to imagine that “happiness might often have an unostentatious, unheroic character to it”, and it might be found in the way the low winter sun beams through a bedroom window, and the way your cat takes an afternoon nap, warming itself in this momentary burst of light. We then have to ask ourselves, as de Botton does when concluding the first chapter, what exactly does a beautiful building look like?


What is our connection to the built world around us? We paint our rooms our favourite colours, we decorate our shelves with knickknacks that remind us of places travelled and experiences lived. We surround ourselves, one would hope, of things that make us happy. But unless you are an architect or a city planner, and even then there is always a client who's happiness you are building for, we do not have a hand in the design of our buildings. So who says what a beautiful, purposeful, and well designed building is? Can a building be designed to satisfy the happiness of the greater good? I believe that happiness is subjective, therefore architecture is subjective. But I also believe that there are aspects of architecture and city building to be designed that give us a sense of ease when experiencing it, whether we are conscious of it or not. Does architecture have the ability to affect our moods or is it simply our projection of our emotions onto buildings that decide our like or distaste and experiences of architecture? What do you think?

In the next chapter de Botton digs deeper into historical references of what a "beautiful" building is. Have a read and stay tuned for a discussion of chapter two, In What Style Shall We Build?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts! You can also reach me on twitter or instagram at @natashabasacchi. All photos by me, unless otherwise noted.

May 31, 2014

THE PAST 6 MONTHS

I've been pretty quite on this blog for the past six months! It's been a whirlwind of a winter since my last project completed. Here is what I've been up to:

January
January was a month of big changes. I started a new job after months of searching and amazing interviews that led to nothing! It was also the first collaborative installation for Aliya and I. We produced a short film and exhibited it in two separate, yet related shows during Toronto Offsite Design Week. It was the best experience! Read more about these projects here and here.

February
I turned 26! This past winter was insanely cold, so to stay warm I spent it drinking whisky "on ice", dancing and singing karaoke.

March
Most of March was spent cuddling my sweet babies. My nephew turned 3 (!!).

April
 April was spent defrosting. I started riding my bike again which felt so good to be back.

May

Another month of big changes. After a few months off without any projects, I'm back at it this time collaborating again with Aliya Tejani and Christine Rohrbacher. We are designing and building a food cart for The Stop's Annual Night Market. You can read more about our project here. So excited to share more! I also quit my job that I was very unhappy at so I can open myself up to new opportunities!

April 23, 2014

LATELY, IN MOVIES

I heard so much talk about Blackfish (2013) and how much it made everyone cry. While I didn't cry, I understand the sentiment. I had no idea how emotional and communicative whales were. The movie really did open my eyes to the whole industry of entertainment and nature, and makes me question, again, Toronto's new Ripley's Aquarium. I love psychological thrillers so I was stoked to finally watch The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) - two variations of Ripley in one paragraph, coincidence? It was great!
Warning: I'm about to say the next four movies are "the best ever". After Fall, Winter (2011) was a complete surprise. A connection between two emotionally insecure people, who both have a secret. This movie had a modern Romeo and Juliet quality to it - but really just the final scene - and it kept me on edge the entire time. Worth a watch! I saw two more films apart of the Godard retrospective. The first one being 2 or 3 Things (again and on the big screen!!), and the second Pierrot Le Fou (1965). This movie has been on my list for 4 years and is the movie that originally got me interested in Godard so long ago (because of this exact image). To see this movie at Tiff and on my 26th birthday, it was definitely a dream. I learned that this film, along with many of his films, are generally improvised. His films don't follow a typical story arc and they're sometimes wildly unrealistic and magical, but that's why I love him. The best scene was when Belmondo turns around and Karina asks him "What are you looking at?" and he responds "The audience". Perfection! Also, as usual its visually stunning and colourful.
Antares (2004) is a film with three different parts that beautifully interconnect. I'm the biggest sucker for movies about relationships, human interaction, and the complexities of emotion. This was exactly that. It was powerful, it was brilliantly written, and again, the shots were gorgeous. So inspiring. Brownian Movement (2010) is my newest "you HAVE to see this" movie. It was so stunning it inspired me to write an entire post about it, so stay tuned. All I will say for now is that its a brilliant film about desire, expressed for the most part through body language and facial expression. It is so fresh and powerful.

April 21, 2014

INVISIBLE CITIES: CITIES + SIGNS


In experiencing the city, the eye doesn't see things but images of things that mean other things, that signal to you a recognition and an understanding, so that you can in turn address them accordingly. 

"Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse." - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

You are already intent on recognizing figures. To understand the language of the city, you must first free yourself from the images that in the past announced to you the things you sought.

April 19, 2014

INVISIBLE CITIES: CITIES + MEMORY

"I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper's swaying feet; the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen's nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn; the tilt of a guttering and a cat's progress along it as he slips into the same window; the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared beyond the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering; the rips in the fish net and the three old men seated on the dock mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper, who some say was the queen's illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock. As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands."  - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

The city today is the city of the past in which its desires are already memories.

February 1, 2014

LATELY, IN MOVIES

It took a while, but I finally completed the series with Before Midnight (2013). Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are some of my favourite movies, for their conversation, their insights, and the dynamics between Jesse and Celine. I love how we get to watch their relationship mature and how throughout the series their problems and ways of dealing with them change. (A)sexual (2011) is a documentary, and honestly, nothing to write home about. Interesting none the less.
These next two movies are perfectly lumped together because if you were to ask me to chose a film that has an outstanding production design, I would pick these two. Her (2013) blew me away for multiple reasons. The colours, the city, the outfits, the technology had such an ease about them. But also the story. It reminded me of the show Black Mirror, in that not-so-distant possible future type of way. I felt for him because of the emotions he was experiencing and not because its a strange future. Perhaps this future already exists. I've read and already seen The Fountainhead (1949) but rewatching it now again is so fitting. First of all, again the set design, the outfits, the shadows, and my god the architecture. Apparently Rand wrote in the screenplay that the style of architecture to be portrayed was to be in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright "and only Frank Lloyd Wright". A woman after my heart! This time watching it I was actually cheering along and audibly swooning over every gorgeous detail. It's the only Ayn Rand book I've read so far. It's about individualism over the collective, and a wo-man's soul. This is expressed in power, media, love, architecture, politics, society. It's just everything; please please please see it and lets chat about it.
Now, Godard! I've been obsessing over Jean-Luc Godard since watching 2 or 3 Things, and even more so now that TIFF is currently running a two-part retrospective of his work! A Bout de Souffle or Breathless (1960) I've seen, but had to rewatch. It is his first feature film, and apparently one of the most famous debuts in film history. Its interesting to see a later work first, then go back to where he began. He has such an interesting style, with his jump cuts and those glances to the camera which make me melt. Une Femme est Une Femme or A Woman is A Woman (1961) is his first colour film, and colour it has. This film he experiments more with sound and music, and you can see why he made waves in the film industry with his new style. This is beginning to have the style I love: those opening credits with text and typography, his introduction of his main characters, the way he uses the camera to elongate a single moment and a single feeling, the repetition of the characters' actions, what he chooses the extras to be doing (kissing), his references to other films (including Hiroshima, Mon Amour!!) - I can literally go on and on. The more I think of this movie the more I love it. Its about love and love as a performance; is it a tragedy or a comedy? Godard Forever!

January 14, 2014

AT LEAST ∞ IMPRESSIONS

Exciting news! For the last little while myself and my best pal/ colleague Aliya Tejani have been working really hard to produce two installations for upcoming exhibitions taking place during this years Toronto Design Offsite Festival (TODO). I am so thrilled to finally share a bit more about our projects, and hope that you have the opportunity to come see our work and the work of the talented artists and designers participating with us!

Urban Factors (300 Seconds)
SUMO Project is a practice founded by two architects with a gorgeous studio and gallery space in Kensington Market. During Toronto Design Offsite Festival, they will be screening five short films (ours included!) that explore the contemporary urban condition from a sociological, psychological, aesthetical, functional, and/or physical point of view. Here is a description of our film 'At Least ∞ Impressions':

"This short video integrates captured documentary footage of reflections of public spaces/ city life in Toronto and key moments in cinematic film. Through a series of 30 second productions, illusory stories, contexts, needs, and desires are impressed on surfaces that retain imprints of reality. The thematic exploration of perception through reflections and alternate realities encourages the adoption of new perspectives and the emergence of connection, ownership, and action in our shared spaces."

The exhibition runs the entire week of TODO, with an opening reception on Friday January 24 from 7-10pm. For location details and more information, please go here.

Hours:
Monday 20th to Sunday 26th, 11am-5pm

Admission:
Free

Come Up To My Room
Come Up To My Room is one of Toronto's biggest annual design exhibitions, this being its 11th year running. Last year we participated in the exhibition when we were working with Department of Unusual Certainties. This year Aliya and I are taking over the second floor public bathroom, just off of the main gallery space. Below is a brief synopsis of our installation, 'Conjunction Junction', with some more details here and here.

"'Conjunction Junction' creates individually specific and emotionally charged experiences that bring to question the relationships to and perception of our surroundings. The washroom as a private yet public space becomes an important place where moments of self-reflection and transitional awareness occur. A visual loop of alternating (illusive, plausible/implausible) landscapes superimposed onto reflective surfaces invites participants to explore these private moments and confront the precarious gradient between reality and illusion. 'Conjunction Junction' considers the dynamics of perception and its implications on connection, ownership, and action within ourselves and public space."

The exhibition runs from Thursday January 23 to Sunday January 26, 2014 at the Gladstone Hotel. Join us at the opening reception on Saturday January 25th starting at 7pm, and then make your way downstairs for the incredibly fun Love Design Party, which is the official closing party of TODO.

Hours:
Thursday 23rd, 6-8pm
Friday 24th, 11am-8pm
Saturday 25th, 11am-10pm
Sunday 26th, 11am-5pm

Admission:
$10 general admission
$5 for students on Friday 24th

More information about party details, talks and other Come Up To My Room events here.

As you can probably tell, our two installations are closely related. The film 'At Least ∞ Impressions' has three iterations expressed through spatial change, highlighting the role that context plays in perception. The range of privacy and the design of the environment creates spatial differences that impact perception and interaction with the film. The film will be screened in our installation for Come Up To My Room, in a gallery setting at SUMO Project's studio, and embedded into virtual space (link coming shortly).

We would be so thrilled to talk more about our projects, and to celebrate TODO together so please come by to say hello. Also, feel free touch base via the interwebs and social media!

Twitter:
@natashabasacchi
@aliyatejani

This project would not be possible without the support of the Ontario Arts Council and The Power Plant. Thank you, thank you!

January 13, 2014

LATELY, IN MOVIES

Blue Velvet is my first David Lynch film. It wasn't quite what I thought it would be, although to be honest I'm not sure what I expected. Glad I finally knocked it off my list of movies to watch, that list being TIFF's Essential 100 Films (see the list here). Also, this cover! I knew nothing about Frida Kahlo before seeing the film Frida. Very colourful, passionate, and inspiring.
My Summer of Love wasn't memorable. It felt as if there were a lot of emotions that more or less led up to nothing spectacular, not that it needed to. When I think back to Goodbye, First Love I also think of Blue is the Warmest Color. They are both very different, but similar in that coming-of-age, falling in love and getting your heart broken by someone you thought you'd spend your life with, kind of way. I thought this movie was nice.
The Sessions was great. Helen Hunt is amazing; Mad About You and Twister are some of my HH faves. As you can probably tell, I'm not particularly drawn to action/ fantasy/ historic/ futuristic films. But I gave The Hunger Games a try and I loved it! It reminded me of the novel The Giver, that I read when I was 13.

January 4, 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year! Last year was a whirlwind. If I had to define it in one word I'd probably choose transformation. In 2013 I experienced a wide range of emotions. I loved deeply and I got my heart broken. I had some summer flings and I was confidently single. I had eight jobs and I was still deeply underemployed. I interviewed for some great positions and I was rejected on multiple occasions. I created my first solo installation and I got accepted for a few more. I bonded with my friends and family and went on a few trips. At moments I felt the best I've ever felt, and sometimes I felt like I had taken a few steps back. But regardless, I felt like I had finally gotten hold of some sort of momentum and I didn't want to let go. I can't help but be so thankful and sentimental (obvi) about the year, especially since I ended it on such a good note.
I'm starting 2014 with a new job that feels so right, in an apartment that I just rearranged (feels so NEW), a new hair cut, with the best friends and family a gal could ask for, and feeling so extremely confident and sure. If last year was a year of transformation, I want this year to be a year of balance. Of really grabbing on to all of the possibilities that I've been cultivating over the past two years. Of really pushing myself to my potential and of being present through it all. I want to make sure that I continue to trust myself and to only surround myself with love. My motto so far this year has been "Only good things" and I only wish the same for you too, friends.
1. A collage I made on January 2, 2014. Only good things this year. 2. My apartment on January 3, 2014. If a picture could represent exactly how I feel, this one is pretty close.
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