As the analytical and intelligent beings that we are, we are very quick to find patterns in our environment. In some cases we find patterns where they don’t even exist. This may sound odd, but the reason why you might find the Wolkswagen Beetle cute, is because you subconsciously associate its chubby, roundish shape, with a small child. Same goes for muscle cars such as the Hummer with its powerful and somewhat square build, which resembles the facial features of a masculine man. The fact alone that we can describe a physical, inanimate object with human features such as cute, manly or feminine, proves that we easily create relationships with our objects and buildings.
In fact, this phenomenon has become a whole area for scientific research and goes under the name Pareidoila; to see human features and patterns where they doesn’t exist. Pareidoila is also the reason why people has reported to finding the face of Jesus in a piece of toast. Why we do this, is because our imagination affects our perception of the world much more than we think. When our eyes observe a visual stimuli, our brains are responsible for interpreting and understanding what we see. This interpretation is then partly affected by our past experiences, values and our expectations of what we are going to see. One of the theories that tries to explain this, goes back to the beginning of mankind where our understanding of the world stopped at what we could see and observe. What we didn’t quite understand, we tried to explain from what we actually do know and often that meant explaining things from a perspective of human conditions. Everything from a bolt of lightning, to something as abstract as death or our own reflection in water could be explained by human like causes. This is in turn what started religion and spirituality; Gods, mythical creatures and curses- all are explanations of the world through what we already know.
So now we have went in depth into our ability to find human patterns in our environment and how we go through our lives interpreting and understanding physical places and buildings by projecting human features on them. In this sense we give our buildings a soul, since we project traits like femininity, dominance, wisdom and power to them. Take the Empire State Building for example, a high and mighty construction, that rises through the skyline of Manhattan, in a way that closely resembles a confident businessman. As Alain de Botton says in his book Architecture of Happiness, all buildings we like or dislike, is simply a reflection of what we like or dislike in a person.
”What we search for in a work of architecture is in the end not so far from what we search for in a friend. The objects we describe as beautiful are versions of the people we love.”
The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton