The Architecture of Awe - NLP article

September 3, 2004.

      I must begin by thanking a friend from the UK (Adam Sargant) for bringing a BBC radio program on the same named topic to my attention recently!

      Since NLP is the study of the structure of human subjectivity, or rather -- the study of subjective excellence -- anything that helps us to more rapidly learn how to do 'what works best' is central to the pursuit of NLP. Applying these skills in areas -Not- considered to be the use of NLP is also still central to the purpose behind NLP (modeling excellence!).

      So if you've ever wondered how places of worship are able to inspire the spiritually intense feelings that they do... you'd be in good company. The BBC Radio recently ran a quick story on a group of scientists investigating this very subject. It's unfortunate that the ad for the piece online didn't give much info away, so I thought I'd add some ideas to the mix and share them with you here.

      And here's a quote from the original article, on how Architects create a sense of awe and amazement in all of us, as we explore their buildings:

"Many buildings designed for worship - be they temple, church, synagogue or mosque - seem able to influence the mood even of those who don't believe there is anything to worship. What is it about a building that induces a sense of the transcendent?"

      I spent 2 years pursuing a Bachelors in Architecture degree, until I found something I enjoyed more. So this is still an area of high enthusiasm for me.

      Here are some of the major elements contributing to that sense of awe we experience in certain kinds of buildings, such as various governmental buildings or memorial buildings, or cathedrals, etc.

  1. The experience of how light is "controlled/designed" for visitors.
  2. The flow of the primary, secondary, and tertiary spatial sequences.
  3. How sound is carried through space and how materials support or inhibit that -- i.e., do words echo? They do on certain kinds of stone, whereby they don't on most kinds of wood, unless the finish has been designed to reflect both light & sound.
  4. What elements are used within space to change the experience/scope of the 'scale' of the environment in which people find themselves? Homes are designed around a human scale. Places of worship are designed to minimize the human scale and maximize the vertical scale for a spiritual effect.
  5. What materials are chosen, and how large or small are the building elements? I.e., you don't use a cinder block in a church wall, you use a 4' tall granite block. The building element in something with a human-scale would be a brick. The building element in something with the scale of a Church would be almost as tall or taller than a human being.
  6. What is the visual/spatial sequence one experiences coming towards the building, and how are you directed into the building? What elements mark the transition from external to internal? Are the lines between both contexts blurred? Or marked out clearly? When the lines between contexts are clear but we have several stages of transitions, that is most awe-inspiring.
  7. How is your attention directed as you move through the space? Overtly? Or Covertly? Example -- walking between two columns is a form of indirect axial direction. Movement along one path, flanked on both sides by columns. If you walk into a square space marked by four columns at the corners, you're at an intersection, indirectly marked. If you walk up to a wall and the doorway is in the middle, the axis is marked directly rather than indirectly. Indirect management of our attention is more awe-inspiring than direct.
  8. The lack of external noise. If you enter a building from the sounds of the world outside and suddenly the space you enter is either devoid of external noise, and/or, filled with lofty and echoing sounds you could not hear from outside, that will inspire awe.
  9. Elements that mark the extended passage of time. It doesn't matter if the building is new or old. If the experience is that of something that either has or will stand the test of many centuries, that is awe-inspiring.
  10. Extreme contrasts that actually seem to work oddly well when juxtaposed together. Case in point: The pyramid structure in the center of the Louvre (I.M. Pei).

      The above are just a few ideas that came to mind when the above radio program was brought to my attention. I haven't heard the radio program, so if you did -- I'd love to hear what those scientists had to say!

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