estonia design, estonia architecture, architecture and democracy

Innovative Building in Estonia Illustrates Power of Design

November 13, 2009 12:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The design of a building in Tallinn is meant to encourage democracy, calling attention to the impacts of architecture and design on quality of life in different communities.

Life, By Design

In a competition to create Tallinn's new City Hall, the winning design is a building intended to be a "democratic space for citizens to see their city at work," according to Dwell. Conceived by Danish Firm Bjarke Ingels Group, the building has a reflective, mirror-like finish, suggesting that most coveted quality of democratic government: transparency.

That a building promotes democracy is not unusual in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, according to Dwell. Other architects and designers have attempted to shape or improve quality of life through their work.

Virginia Matthews of The Independent focused on the topic in a 2007 article. In the U.K., government officials have been paying more attention to "the link between learning and the environment in which it takes place," she wrote. But a new building does not always equal a better one; a study by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment found that among newly built schools, too many "looked as though they were trying to control children rather than inspire them," Matthews wrote.

Design organizations, such as The Lighthouse in Glasgow, are hoping to provoke further discussion on the interrelatedness of design and quality of life. The center is hosting a series of debates, with each one covering "a different topic - Public Spaces, Housing, Education, Regeneration, Health, and Sustainable Places," and will feature leading design experts and thinkers.

Background: How design influences us

Barry Didcock's essay in the Sunday Herald puts things in perspective, likening the "built environment" to gravity. "We never give it a second thought but it's absolutely fundamental to our existence," Didcock wrote.

An article in Scientific American focused on the ways in which design impacts behavior and health. According to the article, "Scientists are unearthing tantalizing clues about how to design spaces that promote creativity, keep students focused and alert, and lead to relaxation and social intimacy."

The impacts of nature—an open window in a hospital room, for instance—and other interior aspects, including ceiling height, light intensity, furniture choices and even carpeting are discussed.

Eve Edelstein, a visiting neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, teaches at the New School of Architecture and Design in San Diego. "Because of advances in neuroscience, we can begin measuring the effects of the environment at a finer level of detail than we have before," Edelstein told Scientific American.

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Related Topic: When design mimics lifestyle

Last October, Portland Fashion Week featured designs reflecting the eclectic Pacific Northwest city's lifestyle. According to The Oregonian, the city offers “an ever-growing community of independent designers working to make Portland a high-fashion hub,” while maintaining a down-to-earth practicality. The Fashion Week annual event was billed as a fully “sustainable production,” and included designs by former New York City resident Janessa Bautista.

“My concept is things that are comfortable and functional, with pockets for my keys, not too fitted. Everyday things that you love and never go out of style—really utilitarian, but with a feminine side,” she explained to The Oregonian.

Bautista says she left New York and returned to Oregon, where she studied textile design, because of the “quality of life in Portland and Eugene.” In Oregon, Bautista says she’s able to keep designing her own line without giving up the things she loves, such as riding her bike and cooking her own meals. In “cutthroat” New York, her hectic schedule made achieving that balance nearly impossible.

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