Why Being Caught at Residence – and Unable To Hold Out in Cafes and Bars – Drains Our Creativity
From Korydon Smith, University of Buffalo; Kelly Hayes McAlonie, University of Buffalo; and Rebecca Rotundo, University of Buffalo
While the pandemic has seen thousands of small businesses temporarily or permanently shut down, the corner cafe’s disappearance means more than just lost wages.
It’s also a collective loss of creativity.
Researchers have shown how simple habits like exercise, sleep, and reading can encourage creative thinking. Another catalyst is unplanned interactions with close friends, casual acquaintances, and complete strangers. With the closure of cafes – not to mention places like bars, libraries, gyms, and museums – those opportunities are disappearing.
Of course, not all chance meetings lead to brilliant ideas. Yet as we jump from place to place, every brief social encounter plants a small seed that can merge into a new idea or inspiration.
By missing accidental meetings and observations that stimulate our curiosity and trigger “a-ha!” Moments, new ideas, large and small, remain undiscovered.
It’s not the caffeine, it’s the people
Famous artists, writers, and scientists are often seen as if their ideas and work come from a unique mind. But that is misleading. The ideas of even the most withdrawn poet, mathematician, or theologian are part of larger peer-to-peer conversations or reactions and reactions to the world.
As writer Steven Johnson wrote in “Where Good Ideas Come From,” the “trick to having good ideas is not just sitting around in glorious isolation trying to think big.” Instead, he recommends that we “go for a walk,” “embrace serendipity,” and “frequent coffeehouses and other fluid networks”.
Just as today’s freelance writers might use coffee shops as a second office, it was the tea and coffee houses of London in the 18th century that spurred the Age of Enlightenment. Then as now, people knew intuitively that they were “more productive or more creative when they work in coffee shops,” said David Burkus, author of “The Myths of Creativity”. As research shows, it’s not the caffeine; It’s the people. Just being with other people who are working can motivate us to do the same.
In other words, creativity is social.
It’s also contextual. The built environment plays a hidden but crucial role. For example, architectural researchers in the UK found that classroom design affects the pace of learning for students. They found that classroom features like furniture and lighting affect learning as much as teachers do. Similar aspects of cafe design can encourage creativity.
Design for creativity
Buildings influence a variety of human functions. Temperature and humidity, for example, affect our ability to concentrate. Daylight is positively linked to productivity, stress management and immune functions. Air quality, which is determined by HVAC systems, as well as the chemical composition of furniture and interior materials such as carpets, affect both respiratory and mental health. Architectural design has even been associated with luck.
Likewise, a well-designed café can encourage creativity – where unplanned friction between people can spark sparks of innovation.
Two newly completed coffee shops, the Kilogram Coffee Shop in Indonesia and Buckminster’s Cat Cafe in Buffalo, New York, were designed with this type of interactivity in mind.
Each has open, horizontal layouts that actually create overload, encouraging chance encounters. Light and geometric furniture allows inmates to rearrange seating and accommodate groups of different sizes, for example if a friend unexpectedly arrives. There are views to the outside that encourage tranquility and offer more opportunities for daydreaming. And there is a moderate level of ambient noise – not too high or too low – that leads to cognitive impairment, a state of deep, reflective thinking.
Restore the soul of the coffee shop
Of course, not all coffee shops are closed. Many stores have reduced indoor seating, a limited number of outdoor seating, or limited take-out services just to stay open. They all faced the difficult task of implementing protective measures while maintaining the atmosphere of their facilities. Some design elements, such as lighting, can easily be retained despite social distancing and other security measures. Others, such as movable collaboration seats, are harder to reach safely.
While these tweaks allow companies to stay open and keep customers safe, they are wasting spaces of their soul.
The philosopher Michel de Certeau said that the spaces we occupy are a backdrop against which the “ensemble of possibilities” and the “improvisation” of everyday life take place.
When social life moves entirely into the digital realm, these possibilities are limited. Conversations are arranged while the side chats that take place before or after a meeting or event have been broken off. In video conferencing, participants either speak to the entire room or to no one.
The post-pandemic era cannot come soon enough for cafe owners, employees and customers. While customers reportedly stop by their local cafe for a caffeine hit, the real appeal of the place lies in its tactile and hectic atmosphere.
Korydon Smith, Professor of Architecture and Associate Director of Global Health Equity, University of Buffalo; Kelly Hayes McAlonie, Senior Lecturer in Architecture at Buffalo University; and Rebecca Rotundo, Assistant Director of Instructional Design at Buffalo University
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.