“In Europe and the US, the average person spends 84 per cent of their life indoors: that is, inside architecture. Much of the rest of the time are spent around buildings, even if we’re not paying them a great deal of attention.
Despite this constant exposure we’re not that ambitious about what the building looks like. We tend to assume that the buildings we live around won’t be anything special and that there’s nothing to to be done about this.

We come to imagine that ‘great buildings’ are unique and very expensive creations of genius-architects.
You might travel and visit places of great architecture on holiday, or for special occasions, but it’s hardly viewed to be expected as ‘standard’ at home.”

– Great Thinkers, The School of Life

You Are ‘Great’!
Using architecture as a metaphor for our own physical and mental wellbeing, and given that we spend 100% of our time with ourselves, what attention are you giving yourself?

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Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was an Italian Architect. For most of his career he had a mix of profesional successes and setbacks; though during his sixties he finally emerged as the top architect in Venice – at the time, the richest and most powerful city in the world.

Palladio held the views on architecture almost entirely opposite to those that are current today. His attitude can be summarised by two central ideas. First, architecture has a clear purpose, which is to help us be better people.
And second, there are rules for good building. He was convinced that ‘great architecture’ is more of a craft that an art: it isn’t necessarily expensive and it is for everyday life, for farms, barns and offices, not only for the occasional glamorous project.

Again, given that we live with ourselves 100% of the time, how we craft and manage the ‘bulk of our day’ will only help us establish our own clear-purpose and help us to become better individuals.

Palladio held that architecture has an important purpose – above and beyond the provision of floors, walls and ceiling. He thought that we should build in order to encourage good states of mind in ourselves and others.
In particular, he thought architecture could help us with three psychological virtues: calm, harmony and dignity.

Calm – the serenity of the space is designed to calm us down; it is not trying to surprise or excite us. It invites us to focus and concentrate, to be less distracted.

Harmony – Palladio was obsessed with making sure every element of a building ‘fitted-perfectly’. “A fine building ought to appear as an entire and perfect body, wherein every member agrees with it’s fellow, and each so well with the whole, that it may seem absolutely necessary.”

Dignity – one of Palladio’s ambitions was to give greater dignity to parts of life that had been, unfairly, regarded as unworthy. And that, in his eyes, lacked the prestige they properly deserved.

In directing architecture towards these psychological states, Palladio wasn’t flattering us. He wasn’t pretending that his buildings were reflecting what we’re normally like. He knew perfectly well that people tend to be (then as now) irate and agitated; that dignity is a mask that slips; that we get despondent.
He believed that buildings should try to compensate for our weaknesses; encouraging us to be more collected, poised and measured than we manage to be day-to-day.

The task of architecture is to provide us with the environment that continuously reminds us about – and encourages us to becomes – who we really want to be…our calmest most dignified selves.
[Ref: Great Thinkers, School of Life]

Could it be that simple?
To construct a ‘great-life’ for ourselves, would focusing the majority of our attention to our immediate environment, the macro-everyday aspects of our life, be the key to achieving the life we want for ourselves?
If our mental and physical foundations are poorly laid and maintained, our fragile state we will be ‘attracted & distracted’ by the pursuit of ‘theoccasional’‘the immediate’, and more glamorous endeavours...fleeting endeavours that only further corrode ones capacity to hold-steadfast, and exercise discipline to the essential task-at-hand…maintaining our environment.

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We have to be architects and gate-keeper of our environment, for it’s our environment that will either provide a sanctuary that supports calm, harmony and dignity, or…left unprotected, our minds will be populated and furnished with behaviours & actions that bankrupt any desire to seek refuge in ourselves, whilst being distracted and falsely influenced by the louder voices we allow from our modern culture.

The most damaging voice in your life is the one in your head…
What goes on in our heads can bash us up, decimate our capacity for self-kindness, crush our purpose and demolish our calm…
The solid foundations we require to design an optimal life for ourselves is neither a mystery, nor expensive…in fact it’s pretty much free, yet requires the challenging and often intimidating exercise of looking where we don’t want to look…hence the propensity to pursue the glamorous, the chic, the ‘easy-fix’ and the numbing agents to void our own reflection.

Following Palladio architectural design philosophy the source to ourselves is hiding in plain sight, they’re found in the everyday, in the outhouses (what & how much you consume), the barns (sleep quality), the offices (how much you move), and the foundations…walls, floors and ceiling (your physical, psychological and philosophical strength).

If it is indeed our environment that moulds and influences our actions and choices, then in effect we need to be our own architects, by developing and building the required skill-sets to better enable us to inhabit ourselves, and deflect the noise that persistently barges into our environment. 

Your personal blueprint for optimal living hasn’t changed for millennia, what has changed is the amount of louder, distracting voices we permit into our life that distract, distort and confuse what ultimately is a simple act in self-care.

Giving yourself the attention you need is the best resource and greatest act of self-care. 
How you look after yourself requires attention…everyday.

Till next week…

Luke