Why are these chairs making me so sad?

I’ve been reading “The Architecture of Happiness” by Alain de Botton. Because I read anything about architectural philosophy and anything written by anyone named “Alain”. (umm – please ignore THIS POST – as it may undercut the aforementioned “fact”)  And, while reading, I’ve found myself struck by one premise in particular.  

We interpret inanimate objects using the exact same process we use to interpret other people’s emotions.

We (as a species) are VERY good at reading faces. The slightest lift of an eyebrow can shift an emotion from confusion to fear. A tiny tightening of the lip can change a persons aspect from “benevolent and tender” to “stupid and highly sexual”. (that was in the book.., really..). Our ability to read each other’s emotions is a highly evolved trait. It’s probably one of the reasons we’ve climbed to the top of the food chain. And, a possible justification for Fox’s “Lie to Me“.

So, why wouldn’t we use that same trait to interpret buildings?

Photo from Marco Bellucci’s photostream on Flickr and is used under the creative commons license. Building by John Hejduk

Maybe a clients disdain for your design has nothing to do with it’s architectural merits. Maybe it just looks aloof and distant. Maybe that window placement makes it look aggressive. Maybe that slightly off-center door makes it look shifty and mildly drunk. There could be more to the phrase “I don’t like it, but I don’t know why” than you realize. The client may really be saying “that building doesn’t look like a potential friend I want to talk to at this party”. That building doesn’t make me “feel” very comfortable. That building looks a little… sad.

So can objects emit feelings? I think they can. Especially, chairs.

All “chair” photos from Keaggy.com’s photostream on Flickr and are used under the creative commons license. – Abandonded, discarded and/or sad chairs. A collection of 50.  The original 50 from the project are also online at keaggy.com/chairs/sad. And, of course, they are available in the world’s most incredible book – “50 sad chairs” Go buy it….now.

Full disclosure, I may have a thing for chairs. Seriously, I’m sitting on one right now. It’s SO soft…and vinyl-ey. In fact, I used to go to auctions every weekend and buy broken chairs, knowing that I would one day “restore” them to their original grandeur. I have dozens. They’re sitting side by side in the back of my attic right now. Alone. Sad, and alone…, so, so,… sad.