• Phil McAuliffe

Does bad design make you lonely?

I’m curious: what if the loneliness you’re feeling is a response to bad building design?



Hello!


You don’t seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless you’ve come to the realisation that you’re lonely. The stigma and shame you feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.


I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.


This article was written and published on Ngunnawal country. I wish to acknowledge and respect the Ngunnawal people’s continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of Canberra and the surrounding region. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may read this post.


~ Phil


* * * * *

It feels like I’ve always been interested in architecture.

When I was a kid, I’d get a piece of paper, a pencil and a ruler and design houses for hours. I’d get lost in the detail and lost in my imagination.

I’ve visited 31 countries and lived in five in my life so far. Some of the places I've visited were visited because we wanted to see some of the unique architecture. There was the elegant simplicity of the Eiffel Tower. The awe of St. Peter’s Basilica and the dozens of other ancient buildings in Rome. The improbable nature of houses perched on hills in Wellington in defiance of the elements. There are the mid-century modern houses of Palm Springs. And, here in Canberra, the art deco features of Old Parliament House and numerous other gorgeous public buildings throughout the city.



My interest in architecture is at the stage of ‘I know what I like’, as opposed to anything more academic.

However, Jeff – my beautiful partner – is a graduate architect. I love how he feeds my continued interest in architecture through helping me interpret and understand why I have an emotional, physical and often even a spiritual response in certain spaces. I love how he does that for our teenage children, too.


I’m learning that well-designed and well-constructed spaces – buildings, interiors and public spaces – allow humans to be themselves. I love how I’m allowed – and encouraged – to be who I am in that moment and who I aspire to be when I’m in a building that elicits this sensual response.

I love how I feel awed and part of something bigger whenever I walked into the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. I got the same feeling whenever I walked into the Seoul City Hall with its living green wall, spaces for citizens to gather and spend time and its enormous bank of glass guaranteeing political transparency. I love how I feel hugged when I enter cosy, intimate spaces to live, eat and relax.


These are spaces where I feel seen, heard and where I feel that I belong.

Having those kinds of sensual responses helps me to feel connected. I feel connected to myself, to those most important to me and to my community.

So, that’s how I feel when there’s good, thoughtful and patient architecture and design.

But good, thoughtful and patient architecture and design is rare.

Fast and cheap often are the main considerations influencing the buildings and spaces by which you and I are surrounded.

I’m curious: what happens within us and to us when we spend most of our time in spaces built for financial profit rather than the connective needs of the humans who’ll use them? [continued..]


Your workplace


Think for a moment: how is your workplace set up? In my former workplace, we occupied a floor of a building the size on an aircraft hangar. I worked in a soulless cubicle farm. No plants were allowed, so there was nothing to absorb noise. This meant that, unless I wore noise-cancelling headphones, I could hear all the conversations, the typing, the general hub-bub of people working up to 50 metres in all directions. I found it overwhelming and maddening.

Did you notice what I had to do to help me focus and work? I had to wear headphones.

I had to cut myself off from the world. I had to disconnect and retreat into my own world. Most others did, too. Many reported that they achieved more when they worked from home when they had less distractions and a more comfortable environment to work in.

My former workplace was a space designed to minimise cost and provide the essentials required by law for a safe workplace.

And that’s just my former workplace. I wonder: What is your workplace like?


Your home


If you’re reading these words at home, have a look around. Does the design of the building you’re living in help you to connect? Do you feel connected when you’re at home?

Does it feel easy to meet your neighbours? Do you feel connected to the community beyond your front door?

Was your home designed with you and your needs as a human in mind? Or was it designed to maximise profit?


Are you paying the price while the property developer got the profit?

While all these questions are designed to make you think, they’re also a way to support you. Specifically, you can do a lot within yourself to help you learn from your loneliness and DO connection. But there are limits.


You are a product of your environment. And if your environment has been set up with your connection needs as a distant priority, then we can’t be surprised when you feel lonely and socially isolated.

My work guiding you and other gay men to feeling the type of soul-nourishing connection that you need can help you. But I feel we all need to appreciate that sometimes the environment you’re in has been designed to put your human connective needs behind financial profit.

Indeed, it feels to me that poor building design absolutely feeds your loneliness.

But that’s just my thoughts. I’d love to know yours.


And expert opinion is always a good thing to have to help our discussions. It's a very good thing that Shannon Battisson – the current National President of the Australian Institute of Architects – will be having a coffee and a chat with us on the next episode of my podcast. I can’t wait to share her thoughts and expertise with you.

Please, join Shannon and me from Thursday 10 November 2022 for a chat on Architecture and Human Connection.


Loneliness is awful and it’s tempting to try to solve it or fix it yourself. Trying to do this defeats the purpose of loneliness: you’re meant to reach out for help. Please, reach out to your partner, a friend or someone in your orbit who you know is trying to put themselves into the world just like you are. That could be me through my mentoring services. That could be a therapist or a counsellor – including a crisis counsellor. That could be a coach. It could be a combination of all.


Be sure to check out my services page if you need help.

 

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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the authors and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Services page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.



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