Friday, November 23, 2007

The world becomes what we want
   A sense of place with a side of longing

If you land at JFK airport and come through Terminal 8 or 9 you may notice that the 60 or so shops food courts, kiosks, newsstands, duty-free stores, etc., etc.—aren’t quite the same as those in, say, New Orleans or San Francisco. You see, these shops are “visually related to each other through design elements inspired by the 1930s New York streetscape.”

This provides a “sense of place,” the designer said. So between the taxi lanes and the portable tunnels to climb aboard planes, this corridor is given the atmosphere of a recognizable time and place. Though the terminal as a whole is designed to sort us and move us like so many widgets past uniforms and signs through a total administrative state of loudspeakers and smokeless fast food joints, the murals, signs and plastic cutouts promote a feeling of ease as we negotiate the minimum security nowhere to which we have consigned ourselves. This noisy chute to anywhere offers the stylized charm of a retail environment complete with the comfort of familiar brands.

The plan worked. The decor increased per passenger spending by fifty percent, the designer said. This, the designer said, was because it gave passengers a sense of place.

A sense of place. Not a sense of a real place, but a sense of it like the image of a candle just blown out. A sense of London haunts the Pizza Hut, evoked by wallpaper images of nineteenth century England.

To my way of thinking, the designer thinking about how to make more people spend more money isn’t a problem. Really, the New York streetscape is an improvement over Soviet cafeterias designed by political appointees who don’t care what makes us happy.

It’s only a small example of a large trend: the world is being redesigned toward what we want. Increasingly, the world is what we collectively want it to be.

Almost a century ago John Dewey observed that the highest outcome of a good education was intelligent desire. This would be a good time to talk about what desires are intelligent and how they might be taught.

This would be a good time.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/23 at 05:10 PM
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© 2007 Michael L. Umphrey
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