The artistic demeanor of architecture, fashion, musical presentations, and other arts at play

Though my intention that night was to check out a specific music store I had been seeking out for a while, there were a few enabling conditions that, perhaps unintentionally, seduced me on my way back home to change my path. My mind wanted to go back home, but my legs towed me into this narrow uncrowded, and humble-looking alley, which contrasted the other loud urban surroundings. It was well-scented, mysteriously dark, and lit with pleasantly hung lanterns.

I changed my way.

It is challenging for people to bring their intentions into line with their actions. While their intent may seem rigid and firm to them, it may soon be averted by an instance of unforeseen beauty. When something charms us and plays with our senses, there seems to be an unintended propensity to act towards it. Our minds are, away from logic, enchanted, causing our feet to take the lead in the body’s motion.

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People’s senses taken away by music in a concert - Image: No attribution required

Walls, like lines of pine trees on the roadsides, set a path. From a human-eye point of view, the linear road appears like a pointy arrow indicating a forward direction. In the same way, physical matter, with the boundaries it sets up and forms it creates, can direct our human bodies. That is how design might frame manufactured diversions and can change your ways.

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By-laws of perspective, roads look like arrows pointing toward the way - Image: No attribution required

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The curvature in the design might seduce you to the entrance - Mudec museum of culture, Milano, Italy - Image: No attribution required

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It would be hard to come across a space like this without being led to climbing the stairs - Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in Seoul, South Korea - Image: No attribution required

Nevertheless, the things that lead us can be pretty much psychological. Pine trees (or boundaries) can be –not only trees– but also the margins encouraged by particular works of art. Art in elaborate basilicas is, like propaganda, full of monuments that force us to pause and think. One may expect that books (like the holy Bible or the Quran) can alone influence the mind. However, beautiful works of art and architecture often strongly back up those ideas. Books alone don’t change our path. Nonetheless, when thought is coupled with the forces of art: good architecture, fashion, music, static and performance arts, it changes our ways. Beauty has always been a seductive talisman from which people begin to accept ideas. Beautiful art is the true religion that entertains our senses and steers our ways.

One can realize the power of nudging design by interpreting religious buildings. Think of when you enter a cathedral, mosque, temple, or shrine. In many cases, the experience is pretty similar. The breeze of the well-air-conditioned space caresses your hair as you walk on the cozy rug, gazing at the immense details of the interior; stained glass windows displaying icons with rays of sunlight shining through and detailed sculptures of thousands of hours of work. Suddenly a chorus gently echoes emotional melodies and seduces your ears, the smell of the incense grabs onto your nostrils, and unique pieces of fashion –and tremendously bizarre hats– awaken your eyes. All the senses are overwhelmed and elevated. How can someone not be religious then or believe in a holy book? It is beauty that is convincing. It is the artistic demeanor of architecture, fashion, musical presentations, and other arts at play.

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The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa, Canada - Image: No attribution require

As a result, entering a place of worship can be almost risky, simply because the beauty of the arts combined –before any verbal exhibition of thought– can be so overwhelming that one might doubt their path and reconsider their beliefs!

The beauty of presentation wins most of the battles. Gaze at loads of available information today. Those presented nicely, not those most important, tend to leave most of the impressions. Thus, beauty is many times confused with significance. Think about the YouTube video views of the music performances of Doja Cat (in the millions), which massively exceed, for instance, those of Larry page’s commencement speech (in the thousands).

Art and design can be drivers of behavior, which nudge our senses to react to the charming cues, eventually convincing our minds to comply. In that way, the artist and the designer –whether an architect, decorator, fashion designer, UX designer, musician, or incense maker– are all magicians trained to charm with their luring arts.

Karen Glandrup, an independent Dutch architect who lives in Kobe city of Japan, has spent the past five years working on educational projects. She talks about her experience renovating the Canadian Academy International School in Kobe.

“I spent many hours conversing with teachers to try and define the desired habit changes we found necessary before initiating the design phase. Those ‘user meetings’ are the basis for reaching intended user behavior. Architects need to wear the empathy hat in the preliminary phase and put user understanding first before getting into execution aside,” Glandrup observed.

Glandrup focuses on friendly human-scale proportions and natural materials to create a welcoming ambiance that turns heads and brings in more people. For example, the library space in the former project was dominated by straight paths and tall bookshelves, making the place dark. The new design lowered the shelves, brought in more daylight, introduced curved pathways guided by bamboo, introduced more lively colors, and eased navigation between areas, which led to more kids flocking into the renovated space.

“Another goal in this project was to stimulate different ways of learning. One of the solutions,” said Glandrup, “was to differentiate areas via clear furniture archetypes to alter the perception of every space. A few Japanese elements, like stepping stones, and light filtering down a bamboo forest, were a great inspiration for this. I believe all designers are responsible for driving positive habit changes,” advised Glandrup.

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A curved bamboo path guides students into the world of books at the Canadian Academy International School in Kobe - Image supplied by Karen Glandrup

Our environments undoubtedly influence our choices. Within a well-designed framework, artists can move themselves and others towards more constructive ways and better lives.