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Can a building have a personality?

karen otis

 
Grandiose, serious, and austere personality
 

I have often said that buildings have a soul. As architects, we breathe life into the spaces that we design, and from there the building or space interacts with each visitor, creating a memorable and heightened experience.  If buildings have a soul, then it makes sense that their soul has a personality too.  Right?

 When we enter a building, it engages us in one way or another.  It creates a feeling in us as we experience the space. It might be the way that the natural light spills into the space, or the way the stairs feel– whether they are inviting or precarious. The handrails and door knobs might feel thoughtfully crafted so we sense our hand fit perfectly. A building’s components meld together exuding an aura or ambiance that we as occupants feel and sense. All of these intricacies, each of the ways the building engages us, form its personality.

It is the building’s personality that tempts and beckons us to connect. Without it, the building would feel empty, lacking in spirit. It would feel vacant and hollow. And it is the building’s personality that speaks to us, instilling a mood.  It can have a calm and gentle personality that conveys serenity and peacefulness, or it’s personality can be loud and frantic, annoyingly bombarding us with nervous energy and unsettling anxiety. It can be awe-inspiring and light-filled, or dark and mysterious. It can promise joy and excitement, or pensive melancholy.

Grandiose, serious, and austere personality

When we as humans engage with one another our personalities come out.  We can be happy and excitable, conveying a playful and joyful personality. Or, we can be more distant and guarded, portraying a shy and cautious personality. And our personalities affect our interaction with the other person. We can make the other person feel wanted and included, or our personality can make the other person feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Architecture is no different.  It is alive with spirit, purpose, and personality.  

The quiet, creative type

Dramatic, traditional, and somewhat stuffy personality

The open, collaborative, and delightfully playful type

Think about the spaces you inhabit. What emotions do they bring out in you? Do you feel connected with the space? What would you say the building’s personality is? Take note of the spaces that make you feel uncomfortable or edgy or irritable. You and that building just may not mesh.  And for the spaces that brighten your mood, that uplift and speak to your soul—welcome their personality and absorb their splendor.

The bold, powerful, and confident type

Karen