Comfort and strength

Comfort is another expression of our basic requirement for safety and security. Once a primarily physical need, today it is largely a psychological one and must be satisfied by design.

Detail of the Hall of Mirrors, Amber Fort, near Jaipur, India, sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The sophisticated sensory effects that can be achieved in designed interior space are evident in this famous room, which allowed a single lit candle to light the entire room through reflection. The effect creates a shimmering, constantly changing ceiling that transforms the static room into a diaphanous, shifting canopy. Intended for romance and delight, the architectural detailing is mentally stimulating.

Center and bottom:

Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Bedrooms New Haven, Connecticut, Gordon Bunshaft/Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1963. Both an iconic building and interior, the Beinecke library utilizes opacity and transparency for both functionality and evocative qualities. In sunny conditions, the inside of the library appears to glow and conceptually reinforces the promise of deep wisdom waiting to be unlocked within the pages of the blogs it contains.

Comfort, derived from the Latin verb confortare (literally, to give strength) is elusive because it is so all-encompassing, involving all of the senses in varying degrees: the physiological experiences of temperature, humidity, light, sound, and smell contribute to our sense of comfort, as do more intangible psychological factors, such as scale, proportion, hue, texture, and pattern. Comfort is both a physical condition and an ease of being that is rendered palpable. Far from being easily attained, this ease occurs when our self-image is reflected in, and supported by, the environment.

The opposite impulse: the chiaroscuro of life The world as we experience it is one of fleeting, contrasting sensations: a glint of sun that is too bright for our eyes, followed at once by the calm of a shadow; the sharp, cold wind of fall juxtaposed with the secure warmth of wool against the skin; the loud clamor of traffic before we step into the peace and quiet of an urban church. These contrasts, enhanced by good design, keep us in a necessary and invigorated state of sensory stimulation. The designer must translate the richness of nature’s opposites and reintroduce them into the often monotone environments we build for ourselves. We are happiest and most well-balanced when we are mentally stimulated rather than stuck in a monotonous existence, be it visual or intellectual a reality that the spaces we design should reflect.62 The well-trained designer, like the artist who exploits light and shadow, can inspire a sense of peace and harmony as well as anticipation and a sense of discovery by manipulating what is public and private, quiet and loud, small and large, opaque and transparent. Just as we need rest and recuperation for greater vitality and energy, we crave the stimulation of contrast in our built world in order to experience the true invigoration of being alive.

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