How does design influence culture?

The interaction between life and design is like a vicious circle, a Yin and a Yang, each influencing each other. While designing cities and spaces based on lifestyle and culture is a fairly well-detailed and researched concept, the back-effect of it is still in its infancy.

Each space, the way it is designed, built, maintained and kept clean or dirty exudes a certain culture. It is this culture that determines the behavior and life of the people occupying the space, whether it is a family, office workers or visitors.

Palace and prayers

If how a space is built and maintained can determine how people behave there, then can’t we consciously design spaces to cultivate a certain culture and behavior? Yes. The closest examples of this are found in the designs of palaces and places of worship.

Whether it is the Bahai Temple in Delhi or inside the main hall of the Bull Temple in Bangalore – various design elements like the play of colors, the sound of bells, the pillars, the landscape and the smell of incense give a feeling of positivity and admiration.

Famous palaces across India are enhanced by specific design techniques. Jaali’s work lets in natural light and the soft colors used in the interiors give a sense of calm to the place.

Take Diwan-e-Aam at the Red Fort as an example. It is made of soft natural stone to give a feeling of simplicity and comfort to the room where the common man had an audience with the king. Compare this to Diwan-e-Khas, where the king met state guests – decorated with rich marbles and ornate carvings.

Even the Durbar Hall of Mysore Palace is done in rich, luminous shades of blue and gold, which exude grandeur, power and control.

Easily adaptable

Our homes, as well as commercial spaces, can utilize this power of design by aligning its five main elements – layout, furniture, lighting, colors or paint and furnishings – for a specific aura.

A feeling of stability and power is reflected when browns are combined with earthy elements like gold, leather and stone. Combine the same brown with white and the space will feel open and airy.

A reading corner in the children’s room can encourage children to develop a habit of reading, a climbing wall on the other hand can inspire them with the spirit of adventure.

We experience spaces through our four senses: sight, smell, hearing and touch. Well-designed spaces like retail outlets, malls, and showrooms integrate the engagement of all of these senses in a well-planned way to create a certain mood. The distinct smell of many large retail outlets encourages spending, and places like Las Vegas casinos are known to use scents that encourage gambling.

In fact, scent marketing is now a formal business term with a lot of research behind it. In homes, central spaces like the “puja” room with the incense stick or a diffuser can create a nostalgic “home smell”. The type of music that is played in their store and the way a display is laid out add to the sense of sound and touch, which creates a unique aura and culture for the business.

So, when designing a space, one should not only create beautiful spaces, but also organize a culture of space, which will make you feel a certain way when you reside there.

(The author is an interior designer and founder of The Studio by Nandita Manwani)

About Gertrude H. Kerr

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