Beyond the Bubble: architecture, the art that surrounds us

by Andrea Nease | 3/9/15 7:30pm

We are taught in our elementary school art classes that red is a warm color, that blue and orange are complementary colors and that if we mix red and yellow we will end up with orange.

We learn about pointillism, cubism and impressionism. We learn that art can make us feel things, affect our emotions and give us goose bumps.

I know that staring at a Monet is going to make me feel more at peace than staring at the warm, almost violent, palette and destructive brush strokes of a work by Egon Schiele. Quite recently I have stopped applying this understanding of aesthetics to solely painting because, in reality, paintings or works in a museum are not the type of art we most frequently engage with and should not be viewed as the only emotionally impactful type of art.

Another, bigger art form it is subject to our daily engagement, and it is the most soft-spoken influence in our lives — architecture. The physical structures around us are more important than most people care to realize. Red chalk-like brick walls accented with white shutters and a tin roof, tinted glass walls welcoming in the sun, worn wooden stairs creaking under your weight — not one of these descriptions is longer than a few words, yet each description provides a feeling.

Within architecture, the power of color and style we learn in elementary school is working on a scale exponentially larger than a painter’s canvas. Every aesthetic element of a building contributes to its function and the feeling of its space.

It amazes me that more energy is not put into educating students on the power of architecture and its relevance as a form of commonplace, even, inescapable art. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was a catalyst for a generation of more artistically-aware architects and saw the importance of buildings as art, writhing that an ideal home is, “a complete work of art, in itself as expressive and beautiful and more intimately related to life, than anything detached such as sculpture or painting,” he wrote in 1955 for the magazine House Beautiful .

Few people think of how walking through an old wood door differs from walking through a polished glass door with stainless steel handles. On the flip side, we all know that the feeling of a Eugène Delacroix battle scene differs from the feeling of a soft and classical nude by Sandro Botticelli — for us distinguishing feelings between paintings is intuitive, whereas feelings about architecture seem automatically ignored.

These seemingly mundane architectural choices are capable of producing a spectrum of feelings and emotional responses just like painting and sculpture can. Architects decide how a structure will interact with its environment and how its interior will facilitate the building’s purpose while remaining faithful to the unified feeling.

Buildings are much more than we give them credit for — each design choice was purposefully made, resulting in the environment in which we currently reside. Architectural design accounts for textiles, furnishings, wallpaper and paneling, material choice of almost every surface, lighting, spatial delineation and, what we are most aware of, the structural integrity and purpose of a space. A home versus an office, a museum versus a university — each space attempts to manipulate these design choices to evoke a feeling, an aesthetic and a style.

Dartmouth is about to witness the architectural design process and its impact on student interaction up close with renovated spaces in the coming years. The Hood Museum of Art will soon begin to undergo an expansion, which will require the additional renovation of the adjacent Wilson Hall. The College has called the expansion a solution for housing the Hood’s growing collection of almost 70,000 works and a step toward creating a unified and welcoming Arts District.

The Hood plans on increasing space while making the area more student-friendly through its architectural choices. With the current architecture, only one percent of the museum’s works can be shown and its only classroom holds 18 students.

By identifying the impact that structural elements have on the attitude and feelings of students towards the Hood, the museum and Dartmouth at large are ultimately identifying the intimate importance architecture has on us each day. So while we are waiting for the Hood’s new look to determine what sort of impact it will have on our environment, let’s think about how the varied architecture present at Dartmouth already influences our daily lives.

Think about how the Black Family Visual Arts Center has a different feel than Dartmouth Hall. Think about Baker compared to Berry. Why do we feel more comfortable in certain buildings? Is it because the windows are positioned a certain way or the color palette feels at perfect harmony?

Buidings give more than structure. It is more than shelter. It is the most relevant form of impactful — yet overlooked — art that you encounter nearly every minute of every day.