Blog 5: Environments That Shaped Me, As Opposed to the Other Way Around
I think it is inherent in being an architecture student that you are prone to noticing environments much more than most people do. I always have. That’s probably why we are architecture students. While the others don’t notice their surroundings with the precision that we do, we feel that we should give them nice surroundings nevertheless. There are two main things that have shaped my feel of self, when it comes to the built environment: traveling (in particular, the trip I made to struggling Russia) and works of fiction (those environments of the mind can be amazingly concrete).
Bring a ten-year-old suburban American girl to a Russian orphanage and she will never forget what she sees. There are babies screaming, chained to the corners of their playpens, overwhelmed caretakers, and a bland environment that is obviously trying to look like a home. The whole of Russia is that way: trying to recapture its old prosperity, pre-Soviets. As a ten-year-old, the architecture of imperial Russia enraptured me like nothing else I had ever seen, but I didn’t realize yet that I was a budding architecture enthusiast. That trip to Russia stands out in my mind as the time that I subconsciously realized the effect that aesthetically pleasing environments make a huge difference in how you feel at any given moment. The hotel we stayed in was grand, but the shanty towns on the side of the highway were horrendous. At such a young age, the frameworks of economic status were being formed in my mind in the most extreme way imaginable. The physical things around me during that trip still teach me things about that country that I hadn’t realized when I was ten years old. You carry those images with you until your life experiences have given you the proper frameworks to understand them.
A typical Russian orphanage, similar to the ones in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where my three adopted siblings lived.
The whimsical imperial architecture of Moscow's Kremlin, the buildings that I loved with my whole heart when I was 10.
The second thing that has shaped my understanding of the importance of environment has been works of fiction. I read A TON, and atmosphere plays heavily into how much I like a book or movie. It was through fiction that I first experienced Versailles, industrial-era Chicago, and the blustery moors of England. One major thing I’ve learned is that bleak surroundings often accompany bleak stories. It is an utter phenomenon that a place can be so vividly rendered into words that the reader is essentially in that place, rather than sitting on their couch or whatever. I believe I have actually learned more about environment and atmosphere from stories than I have from the real world. I’ve probably learned more about life in general from stories than I have from the real world. The stories give me frameworks and meanings and clockworks, and day-to-day life just reciprocates that.