I’m sitting in a hotel looking across the street at a windowless blank wall on a big box of a building in a downtown setting. The architect clearly went to great pains to make the best of this wall; the joints in the concrete panels occur with rhythmic regularity that relate to the concrete columns and beams which are visibly expressed in the façade. Care was even exercised to have the expansion joints in the sidewalk originate at the panel joints in the wall. The only piece of the puzzle that doesn’t adhere to the strict geometry is the curb inlet for stormwater, a concession to engineering design standards that is both understandable and forgivable.
Outside of this building is a bus stop. As I looked down from my third floor window this morning, I observed four individuals standing there, waiting for the bus, and totally ignoring one another and the world around them. One was reading a book, the others were engrossed in their hand held electronics (I hesitate to use the term smart phones).
I must make a couple of observations here. First, one doesn’t always recognize how important fenestration is to a building façade, particularly at street level, until one encounters a building that shuns the street and therefore any social interaction. Secondly, the individuals at the bus stop were as isolated as the interior of the solid walled building, in spite of the fact that there were four of them in somewhat close physical proximity to one another. It is also interesting that the distance between these individuals was a precise interval.
It seems to me that there is a time and place to put the phone (or whatever) down and become a part of the world. At a minimum, this can take the form of people (or traffic) watching. If we do that, preferably without headphones, the sounds of traffic and nature (yes you can hear the birds in a big city if you stop long enough to clear your head and listen) bring us into a real connection with the rest of the world as opposed to being slaves to a virtual one.
Good architecture should foster social interaction, not deny it.