Environmental Design and Art by Heather Novak-Peterson

Constructive Babble

Empathy will make Our Design Stronger

I have always believed in the power of identifying a personality in a place. I have enjoyed helping to create spaces that entertain people,  places to dine, and places to claim as your address. Recently, I have gone through an entirely different experience that really made me realize what the essence of personality in a place is, and how much we need it.

Just after Christmas I was shocked with the news that one of my greatest creative mentors and heroes of architecture, my father, was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. We went on a journey as a family through his treatments, operations and recovery. I walked through the lobbies and hallways as a worried daughter, acting as pathfinder and translater of information for our family.

Experiencing these spaces with emotions tuned to an entirely different complexity, I was amazed how different the personality of spaces called out to us. My sense of empathy was guiding my vision. I searched for visually calming things while surrounded by very sick people, and sat in lobbies and waiting rooms for hours as we waited for extensive procedures.  Places I had walked through before for only a few minutes, began to feel cold and impersonal as you sat for hours perched on constrained furniture in neutral colors, in wide open spaces with huddled groups of strangers dealing with powerful issues that you are trying not to over hear.

Experiencing these places with an honest need to connect, the true concept of personality in space really came to life. Almost like walking into a diagram, I saw the intersection of design, human understanding, and brand come to life before me. I was in a laboratory that I wanted to feel like a temple to the best science, a church, and home all at the same time.

When our emotions are the most raw, we often simplify things in our mind as we are trying to grasp at understanding what is happening around us. Spaces, whether they are caring for us, feeding us, selling to us or housing us all have the need to connect design with human experience. Connecting need, communication and art with the concepts of comfort, calming and efficiency. When you walk through a space that actually does that, it stops you in your tracks while you take it all in like some gorgeous vista off the side of life's road, and you remember the places for how they made you feel even more than you can recall the visual detail.

Empathy will make our design stronger, and our experiences will make our environments richer with the complexities of emotions. Don't just stand at the window looking in, put yourself in that place and look around for a while.