ALS Topic 51 -  How Spaces Shape Us

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 51
Saturday, January 4, 2020 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Maximum 12 people. Please buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the chairs in this small business)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions

1. Some people seem much more affected by their surrounding physical environment than others. Where do you rate on this scale? How does it actually affect you?

2. Some people don't seem to be comfortable unless their room, or their home is a chaos of clutter. From the many share houses I've lived in, I recall one where the owner's bedroom (a woman) was a trash heap of clothes, papers, bags, thrown at random across the floor, but who insisted on strict order for the rest of the house. Other people go for extremes of putting everything in fixed spots. Some prefer almost monastic minimalism - no extra 'stuff' at all. What does this sort of thing say, if anything, about personality, intelligence and mental clarity? Where are you on the scale?

3. What are some ways to alter the sense of available space and mood in existing buildings?

4. It is widely agreed that being confined in a small isolation cell is one of the worst possible forms of punishment - for most (but not all) people. Yet a few individuals emerge from this sort of confinement strengthened. Famously a new method of calculation was formulated by Jakow Trachtenberg, confined in a brutal Nazi concentration camp cell. What quality did Trachtenberg have which is missing in most of us?

5. Open plan offices swept through architectural fashion a few years ago. They were sold as increasing productivity and creating a friendly. egalitarian worker environment. In fact, they have had the very opposite effect. What is going on here?

6. Australia has a small submarine fleet. A $50 billion extra submarine investment is underway. But in fact it has proved impossible to engage enough naval personnel who are willing and suitable to man the existing fleet. Claustrophobia is one major issue. What personal qualities are required in a submariner? Would you qualify?

7. One of the major ways in which cities (and towns and villages) differ is in the design, distribution and variety of buildings, roads & open spaces. There are cultural components in this, and even the influence of particular political regimes. What is your own recollection of how the design of cities & towns - in Australia and elsewhere - has shaped your feelings about them, and the people in them?

8. Town planners are often tempted to social engineering by putting people in different kinds of public and private spaces. Malls, for example, seem to have changed social behaviour. On the other hand, in some countries low income, high rise public housing has been a social disaster. How much planning should go into public spaces? Who should be consulted?

9. Australian cities are noted for an endless urban sprawl of houses and large back yards. In other countries the same population fits in a fraction of the space. (Zhengzhou, the last city where I worked in China, had a similar population - 4 million - to Sydney, yet I could walk from one side of Zhengzhou to the other in a couple of hours. Sydney north to south is about 75 km). What is the mental, social and physical effect on people of these very different urban environments?

10. How is the cultural personality and self image of people affected by the geographical size of the country they live in? For example, 25 million Australians have a whole continent to themselves (but mostly cringe in a few east coast cities). 50 million South Koreans cram into a space half the size of Victoria.


Anne Cutler and Rudolph McShane (1982) "The Story of Jakow Trachtenberg" @ (also, ebook on Amazon at  ) [Thor, comment: This is an inspiring story. I urge you to read it. Quote: "Trachtenberg, a brilliant engineer with an ingenious mind, originated his system of simplified mathematics while spending years in Hitler's concentration camps as a political prisoner".]

Thor May (2016) "Questions About Cities [meetup discussion topic]" @


Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar

Index of past discussion topics & questions:

Convenor : Thor May Personal website (legacy)
Articles  (.. about 147 articles by Thor)


How Spaces Shape Us (c) Thor May 2020 return to Ddiscussion