The Architecture of Life: Emotional Architecture III

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Emotional Architecture III

(Third post is a series of three.)

The first post is here.

Here are some facts about how your brain works that illustrate what I am saying.

Modern Neuropsychology suggests that less than five per cent of human actions are determined by planned, conscious thought.

The remaining 95% of human behavior is strongly impacted by emotion, feeling (sensory and somatic), and other unconscious influences.

Decisions about homes are particularly vulnerable to these types of "irrational" decisions as homes serve an ancient and instinctive role in human life, one that has substantial unconscious cultural and instinctive underpinnings.

In real practice, though consumers give lip service to rationality when changing their living space, their decisions are often highly influenced by factors that are beyond their conscious awareness. They are motivated by developmental or instinctive environmental cues in memory associated with past experiences. Those memories and instincts elicit neurotransmitter and/or hormone stimulated emotional response.

In other words, they make most of their decisions based largely on how they feel, while being reasonably certain they are making thoughtful, rational, conscious choices.

Evidence of this fact is that the home improvement industry in the U. S. is perennially the largest source of consumer complaints by industry sector.

Real estate agents - despite their central role in the largest sector of the U. S. economy outside of government - are consistently rated amongst the "least trusted" professionals in the nation.

According to a May 2006 Harris Poll survey, only 7% of those polled trust real estate agents completely, while 20% trust them not at all. Among 13 types of professionals, only stockbroker advice was trusted less than that of real estate agents.

The custom home building and home improvement sectors are enormously fragmented and inefficient given the vast scope of their activities. Building a single home typically involves as many a twenty or more distinct installation and service businesses - all with separate management, employees, policies and procedures - involved directly in the manufacture on a single small building. Hundreds and even thousands of products are involved, most with an enormous overlap in their functions.

No other industry of that stature has escaped what is typically an inevitable centralization of providers in the marketplace, despite the obvious economic advantages involved.

Most consumers now assume there is no holistic way to approach altering their living space and for the most part, they are right.

On the home front, interpersonal issues between co-habitants during the planning and construction of home improvement projects are so common as to reach the threshold of legendary.

Everyone on the street knows someone, or has heard of someone, who had a traumatic or at least highly-stressful experience with building or home improvement.

Couples are often unaware of the impact that architectural issues have on small incompatibilities in their relationship.

I sometimes tell a story about a couple for whom I designed a project a while back. It was an addition that included a master suite. As I usually do when designing a master bath for a couple, I had drawn a vanity with "his and her" sinks. They liked the design but the wife assured me they did not need to go to the expense of having an extra sink installed in their bath. She said they were used to a single sink and that was all they would need. I played devil's advocate and began to ask them about their habits in the mornings.

After a while, I discovered they had an argument almost every day while preparing for work. However - the wife explained - their conflict had nothing to do with the sink.

It was her husband's fault. He always left his whiskers in the basin when he shaved!

Neither of them had been able to see that it is much easier to add a sink to a bath than to change the habits of a spouse! That may seem obvious, but I have found that such oversights are common.

Almost all of us find it hard to separate the forest from the trees when it comes to our immediate surroundings.

In this same vein, I had a customer who refused to design in appropriate storage because his wife would "stack things everywhere anyway." That's what's called a "self-fulfilling prophecy.

All of this tumult, inefficiency and disorganization is caused in large part by a misunderstanding about the true nature of a home.

A home is not a building. It is an emotional experience. The old saying "a house does not make a home" illustrates this fact.

Intuitively, people are aware of this reality, but in general business practice, this fact is largely ignored.

For years we offered the methods we learned in our firm to solve this problem in a manual workshop, but now we have created an automated web-based software product. My partner and I were on the brink on offering consumers and professionals the fruits of almost a decade of work.

We are now able to predict for each individual and family, what features in the architecture, location and style of a house will actually produce for them the emotional experience of "home."

That experience is close to the heart, inextricably intertwined with safety and comfort and family. Complicated emotions come into play when the issue of home is on the table. Decisions about the design and cost of our homes are often the single most significant financial choices of our lives.

The pressure is on when you take on a major project. The emotional fire is hot. Building and remodeling our homes can lead to considerable stress. But the story can have a happy ending. Sometimes dreams do come true...and dream homes.

In our hearts is a special place. Surrounded by the memories, special attachments and fond impressions that create our emotional a warm and comfortable sanctuary just waiting to be discovered.

It's called "home."


The Rocketaholic said...

Hi Chris,

Thank you for the feedback. I will save your blog to my favorites. I
was visiting my dad before I had re-deployed to Iraq on my second of
four tours when I read your article. I loved it and I could relate to
it quite well. I lived in Bay Colony and subdivision of Shore Acres.
It was a housing area not too far from the Johnson Space Center in
Clear lake City. I grew up with Bob Crippens youngest daughter and I
had mowed their yard a couple of times. I had the space bug ever
since I had witnessed the Apollo 16 launch.

Thank you:-)


Thw rocketaholic

Chris Travis said...

Dear R/S,

Thanks for replying. I got the bug when I was young too, but I bet that was long before you did.

I am 57 and for me it was Tom Swift and especially Tom Corbett and the Space Rangers.

(But then I guess you know that from the article – but since I tend to let me imagination get the better of me and turn reality into fiction – I thought you should know all that part of the story was true.)

I spent my entire childhood reading science fiction. I would say now that is the better part of my education.

And on another issue – thanks for what you are doing (of have done since I don’t know if you are still serving) over in Iraq. I know the “thin grey line” is a real thing.

I want you to know that whatever people’s opinions about the political wisdom of the Iraq war, anyone with any sense appreciates what you folks are doing for those of us who are sitting here on our butts and taking advantage of it.

And I am jealous you knew a “real” astronaut.

You take real good care of yourself.

Unknown said...

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Anonymous said...

"Evidence of this fact is that the home improvement industry in the U. S. is perennially the largest source of consumer complaints by industry sector."

Or it's just evidence that homes and renovations are, by far, some of the costliest and most complicated expenses that a person will be involved with over their lifespan.