Ideally, we browse around, hoping to capture something that might resonate with our frequency; our style, gestures, hobbies, and interests

Life can be dull and tedious. Days may seem monotonous, persistently repeating the same record day after day. Most of us wake up to juggle between mandatory tasks, navigating responsibilities with people we may not like or with whom we might not favor working. Our life is stuck in a cycle and a role that is informed by the rarely explicit and often subtle imposing opinions of society, family, friends, and the media. We may feel trapped by the loud external noise alongside the internal noise that doesn’t find the former entirely rational or in tune with whom we are.

Our lack of life satisfaction automatically makes us victims of foreign seduction. Some of us want to be seduced by something more alluring and enticing. We might walk in the street, secretly browsing around, looking for rare cues to release us from our habits. Sneakingly, our minds look for pattern interruptions; that extremely well-proportioned face, that charming aura, those uniquely designed pants, that floating counter, those overly protruding balconies, that elaborate sculpture, and breathtaking Zen garden.

We want to be caught up in something visually appealing and mentally outstanding. We want to be seduced and transported to a higher field of energy. We unknowingly seek that visual tension, perhaps so we could feel ourselves through the release that sometimes follows it.

Ideally, we browse around, hoping to capture something that might resonate with our frequency; our style, gestures, hobbies, and interests.

That similar frequency doesn’t have to be a person. It can be an object or a building. It could be a deconstructive black and gray interior that could reflect, for instance, our willingness to fight for our will and desires in life, as much as it could be a tall brunette with black eyes and a broad smile, in my case at least.

When we meet those targets, tension occurs. We want to be embraced by that edgy interior, that person, those clothes, or that car. Only then, perhaps, we may feel the release.


The interchange between the circle and the steep triangle creates tension. Our awareness realizes that the circle can’t possibly be stable in that position- Image: No attribution required


Release and stability - Image: No attribution required

Tension happens everywhere around us. When we listen to a live performance, the monotony at the song’s beginning often leads to a tense feeling that is usually released by a “drop”. That is when most beats kick in, forming a rapid alteration to the highly satisfying rhythm. Think of when you were driving the car while listening to one of your favorite songs. Once that drop comes in, everyone around you joins in singing along. The tension is gone, and everyone enjoys the release with you.

Release exists in social dynamics with those we love as well. Being far from a family member or a loved one for a long time demands us to schedule a time to meet them sometime soon. After a long buildup of stirring emotions that were previously denied access, hugging or kissing those we care about feels as if everything has been finally resolved.

Likewise, visual release occurs in architecture when a sudden contrast in space appears after a tense repetition of components. A great example is the Hill of the Buddha project that modernist architect Tadao Ando designed in Sapporo, Japan. One walks through a narrow and semi-dark 40-meters-long tunnel (tension). Suddenly, the ceiling opens up, and the visitor is astounded by a 13.5-meters-tall majestic Buddha statue in a vast circular space open to the sky at its center (release).

Movies similarly portray a story that must climax at a high tension point (often referred to as suspense) that a solution, a savior, or a vigilante often releases.

Thus, tension and release are patterns in social dynamics, music, cinema, architecture, and almost all other art forms.


Imagine viewing this after passing through a long narrow tunnel. That is tension and release in architectural design - Image: No attribution required

Another project that portrays tension and release, I think, is the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo. Stacks of modular units compile on top of each other, displaying a tension released by the two significant structures on the roof that contrast the repetitive units.


Tension and release at Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo - Image: No attribution required

Lempuyang Temple, also called The Gates of the Heaven, is a famous Hindi temple in Bali, Indonesia. Many would refer to it as an Instagram-worthy spot. I would refer to it as a tension spot.


Lempuyang Temple - Image: No attribution required

The two parts of the gate almost seem incomplete, as if they are about to touch each other. Tourists race to reach that point in between, perhaps not only to take a picture but also to feel the satisfaction and release of trying the join the two parts and fill the gap.

When mentioned at first, tension may sound unpleasant, and we may associate it with a negative connotation. However, living a life full of constant release (stability, relaxation, or pleasure), surprisingly, makes life grey.

Sigmund Freud implied that when he said: “We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things.” One of the paradoxes in life is that the state of always being relaxed and satisfied often ends up becoming unsatisfying. We hedonically adapt to the linear state of matter, which no longer becomes interesting. It is as if we need to be seduced by something we can’t temporarily attain. Our life requires challenges and tension so that we can appreciate the release later after. The tension can be gentle, not forceful, demonstrating an allure that wakes us up from our wearisome routines and makes us feel alive, alert, and ready to pounce in eagerness. Tension and release make up a philosophy that we could practice in the design of things along with our lives.