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The Synergy of Space and Emotion

(Art by Paul Gilling)........

All things exist in space and everything happens in space. We live, love and grow old in space. Our everyday life is conducted in space, we walk, run, drive, and stroll through space. We get lost in space. We work in space. We eat, drink, sleep, connect, share, dance and sing in space. We do the most dramatic and most ordinary things in space. The whole time, space is orchestrating our feelings.

Fundamentally, yet wondrously everything happens in space, yet space differs in function and meaning, it manipulates our expression and sense of self.

Naturally, our personal space is private. We define and shape this space with our memories, interests, tastes and needs, we allow these familiar spaces to represent an understanding of ourselves, space we invite others to share but will never truly understand.

There are public spaces, where we conform to the general need of our community, people living with us and the social rules and manners we have agreed over time.

Public spaces are imbued with meaning and memory, often left to a technocratic process where planners, authorities and developers set native and aesthetic. Arguably, society has become an end-user, missing from the co-creative processes other than passive recipients of notification and schedule.

In this first introduction into the topic space and emotions, I want to introduce both topics and show why it is important to look at them together. I believe public space crucially co-defines us and our fellow humans in public.

The way space is created influences our actions, our thoughts and feelings. Space co-determines who we are and how we feel about the past, ourselves and our existence at the moment and often also in the long-term.

We have all had experiences in public space that made us feel sublime, without worry or a without a feeling for “space and time”. Some spaces bring us into an open-hearted state of mind, where we feel calm, confident, compassionate, curious (referring to Hilary Jacobs Hendel). Equally, public space can make us feel frightened, anxious, avoidant, indifferent, aggressive or facilitates a fight, flight or freeze state of mind.

It is not a new notion that the design of public space impacts our sense of self and place. However, it is my understanding that while creating space in the public realm - be it in recent post-conflict cities or a city from WWII like my home, Berlin – Little consideration is taken with regards to what state-of-mind and what feelings public spaces create within us. Therefore, I will introduce my thoughts on why it is beneficial for space makers in the public and all those involved in the process of considering the environment’s emotional effects when designing and building a public space.

My thoughts build on the concept of the ‘Change Triangle’ by New York psychologist Hillary Jacobs Hendel. Her development of the Change Triangle builds on the work of Diana Fosha, who developed the Triangle of Experience, as well as David Malan, the developer of the Triangle of Conflict. The Change Triangle helps therapists and all those interested in learning how to access core emotions. Our core emotions (joy, fear, sadness, disgust, anger, excitement, passion) are often masked by either inhibitory emotions (such as anxiety, shame and guilt) or defense (such as a judgement or the feeling of grandiosity or superiority - when we are above or below something we can be sure that we are not in connection with how we feel).

Learning to access our core emotions and letting them have a voice is crucial for our connection with ourselves and with others. Just like developing empathy for others starts with being empathetic with ourselves, we can only connect with others, if we maintain a connection to our selves. The current apparent

“problem” with emotions in Western societies is the lack of awareness and knowledge on how to deal with emotions.

Emotions come in waves, often we cannot predict when and why we feel what we feel. But what neuroscience and psychology of today finally know is that it’s crucial to allow our emotions to be present.

We are thus encouraged to accept what emotions are present, to fully get to know us and to learn how to handle what we feel. Why is this important? Living through our emotions and accepting them allows us to connect with our authentic state and moving through our emotions allows us to dive into an open-hearted state of mind. Being in this state of mind allows us to be present, the attributes Jacobs Hendel connects to this state of mind are: calm, curious, connected, compassionate, confident, courageous and clear.

Over time, this desirable state of mind will follow me as a guide whilst I explore: What places (in recent and older post-conflict cities) enable us to feel like being in an open-hearted state of mind? What distinguishes these spaces from others? What do spaces look like when they reinforce inhibitory emotions or defense mechanisms in us? How do spaces make us connect to a calm, curious, connected, compassionate, confident, courageous and clear state of mind? And how can the public spaces we move through, help us connect with ourselves and thus also foster a connection with others?

Corinna Britta Sahl


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