Architecture is for the people, and by the people, it’s blueprints of a person’s imagination and thinking. The Father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung describes architectural drawings as diagrams of the human psyche. More than anywhere, we spend most of our lives indoors, and residing in a city naturally subjects us to urban life and sculpts our movement around buildings.
In a TedTalk, Canadian architect Donald Schmitt discusses the impact of architecture on a macro scale, like creating communities that foster innovation, human connection, and the ability to create and learn. How the impact of architecture affects space, society, and climate, and how architecture honors history?
Donald Schmitt strongly suggests that there is a profound effect of architecture on the way one lives and on the rituals of our daily life. He believes in the transformative power of design and practices innovation, functionality, elegance, sustainability, and cultural importance.
The present research shows us that 50 % of the world population stays in constructed places, and 2/3rd of the population is estimated to fall in the same category by 2050. These numbers give us an extreme awareness that we have been staying in urban and constructed environments for most of our waking lives. Whereas in regards to carbon emissions and global warming, planes, trains, and automobiles do have significant impacts but they form only half the impact. The other half is formed through carbon emissions from building operations.
The talk initiates with this revelation that architecture is constantly shaping our surroundings, behavior, and social structures in, within, and between buildings. So, are we happy with these buildings and spaces? Or are we simply working around the imitations of spaces we occupy?
To explain the impact of architecture on a person’s mindset and thinking Donald Schmitt narrates the story of Jonas Salk. Jonas Salk who invented the polio vaccine began his journey working in below-grade and dim-lit constraints of his basement. After several years of research with no results, he decided to travel through Italy.
That’s where the magic happened, he stayed in an extraordinary building from the medieval era. It had scale, natural light, landscape, quality, and the drama of the architecture. This unleashed the innovation he was seeking in his research and was profoundly convinced that this sudden creativity was due to the quality of that monastery.
Realizing the healing power of architecture in 1959, Jonas Salk approached Louis I. Kahn with a project to provide research spaces of enormous quality. With its flexible design and the masterful interplay of material and space, the Salk Institute retains its significance as both a research center and an architectural wonder far into the future.
The spirituality of the architecture there was so inspiring that I was able to do intuitive thinking far beyond any I had done in the past,” Salk himself recounted. What he discovered was a configuration of spaces and a perfect blend of materials. Thus, resulting in a positive impact on his ability to learn. Shouldn’t such characteristics be present in all spaces we design?
Communities should demand architects for such spaces that allow them to innovate, play, and help them to connect with their goals. Schmitt strongly urges architects with their power to change, technology, and understanding of spaces to facilitate the collaboration of innovation and interaction with mundane activities.
“I believe that the way people live can be directed a little by architecture.”
– Tadao Ando
Donald Schmitt’s designs too are based on the transformation of cultural, public, educational, and healthcare spaces. Explaining how the shape of spaces affects psychology and provides more connection and conversation, he compares single relationship spaces with interactive relation spaces he designed for the lecture hall in the University at Thompson. He states how the connection increases tenfold when a certain room is a well-designed shape and acoustics. “You won’t be looking at the back of people’s heads but will be facing them”.
In another way, in the same university outside lecture spaces are kept open and remain fully interactive. By doing so not only do the students learn better but it provides a shift in the methods of learning. A passer-by can engage through overlooking staircases and just listen.
He moves forward and presents examples on aspects of merging sustainability with interactions. Posing a question that many of us try to implement in our academics, can a building be shaped in response to the topography and cultural impact?
The main design of the Law school in the University of Thompson is unveiled in front of its natural inspiration, Mount Paul. The building is shaped in direct response to its landscape and as per A. Y. Jackson’s painting of Mount Peter and Paul. The timber roof is harvested off the forest floor which makes the whole structure not only in tune with the culture but does so in a very environmentally responsible way.
Expanding more on the technological use of his design philosophy, the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building stands as the best version of sustainable designs. The building has a courtyard and a helical staircase through it which is conditioned by a living biofilter that circulates air five stories high. Doing so kills 80 % of contaminations and humidifies the space naturally. Moreover, the atrium over the courtyard provides natural light and a huge expanse of space.
This high-rise research facility with 22 floors of research labs is formed not just by placing labs next to each other but also by creating interconnection in floors to give them views and informal spaces. This space also connects to exterior labs, which breaks the conventional approach of research in mysterious labs and forms a bridge between the research and community. Inga Saffron, an Architecture Critic body states that “There is hardly a college today that isn’t rushing to build its version of Papadakis.”
In regent park, the diversity of multiple aboriginal communities is showcased through iconography on its facade. The multi-colored facade panels take inspiration from the cultural richness and diversity of its community. A new venue for performance, the patrons spill out onto the wide terrace and adjacent sidewalks, animating the neighborhood with social activities.
Donald Schmitt received a Civic Trust Award for this centre which he addresses with, “The design objective was to facilitate interaction among the tenants, students, and the public and to make the center a vibrant and welcoming crossroads for the community.”
The impact of architecture is similar in his Ryerson Image Centre and School of Image Arts, and at Evergreen Brick Works concerning facades. The image center displays a façade with digital projections that can be changed through a click and is enabled by energy-efficient LED lighting whereas at Evergreen Brick Works the facades themselves can be changed by the artisans themselves according to climate. This impact by the use of flexible systems enables the participation of communities and changes the way we think about solid exteriors and energy efficiency.
Talking about energy-efficient buildings, the impact of heat a building produces through lighting, people, use of machinery, etc is massive. What if we recover and retain that heat instead of throwing it out by air-conditioning? This form of thinking is used by Schmitt at the University of Ontario, Oshawa.
He explains how about 400 wells were put 600 feet into the earth to recover the heat produced in summer and by the workings of the building. This heat is pulled and stored into the underground stable temperatures. In cold weather, it is put back into the environment resulting in heating the structure naturally. Since then, the structure has experienced transformation in energy consumption and enormously reduced carbon footprints. So why not make buildings like these that are not net users but net producers of energy?
How can we together make that change happen? With issues arising each month architects and communities struggle to design and maintain energy-efficient buildings keeping the innovation, beauty, and cultural impact intact. This discussion provides an in-depth outlook into solutions that could create an impact that is everlasting and valued.
Donald Schmitt not only theorizes but also acts on his design philosophies in his numerous projects of transformations. He portrays live situations and thinking for what environmentalists, architects, and concerned citizens dream of.
“The design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future. “
– Robert L. Peters