Politeness and Architecture

1. Civility – the act of showing regard for others
2. Niceness – a courteous manner that respects accepted social usage.

It’s a simple word and the principle of politeness is straightforward – just be nice to people, whoever they are and wherever they’re from. But increasingly we’re seeing a complete lack of politeness, whether it’s impatience walking down the street or the increase of the internet ‘troll’ on social media sites and online forums.

The key aspect of politeness is in the definition “that respects accepted social usage”; this is particularly difficult when interacting with a visitor from another country, a different racial group, a different sexuality for example – what may seem impolite to you may be the ‘accepted social usage’ for your overseas guest. What it means therefore is that it is not expected that you actually become identical to that person, just that you try and understand them and demonstrate politeness.

Now, what on earth does this have with ‘how design connects you to people, places, and ideas.’ ? The answer and the idea is straightforward – let’s first try and connect firstly with everybody that we meet, either in real life or in our virtual lives with a little bit more politeness.

But what can I do as an architect with the work that I produce?

Can I introduce politeness into my architecture?

Again, the answer is yes. It is forecast that in Ireland (due to the economic melt-down and the property crash) that the vast majority of architectural projects that are commenced this year will be extensions, renovations and refurbishments of existing properties. Where better for us to start being polite as architects than to show a little politeness to the property we are extending , renovating or refurbishing.

But what exactly does this mean? In the same way that we don’t need to be identical to the person we need to be polite to; we don’t need to slavishly copy the architecture of the existing property; all we need to do is to understand it and to show it a little politeness.

We need to accept the property as it is, and recognize it’s merits, understand it’s proportions, scale and context. And it is only then when we truly understand the building that we as architects can be polite with whatever changes we propose to extend or enhance.

Now, as an architect I speak of the ‘Politeness of Architecture’ but the same principles apply in whatever aspect of the built environment you are involved in; whether it’s urban design, landscape architecture, interior design, conservation – whatever, the same principles of ‘being polite’ apply.

View from rear

The square footage of the existing house has been increased by over 200% but the extensions understand the scale and proportion of the existing house. They are not trying to be identical but are just showing the existing cottage a little politeness.

CLICK HERE for more information on this ‘polite’ project.

So tomorrow, as you go about your everyday business, be a little more polite in your interactions with others and if you’re working in the built environment, make sure your work is showing politeness to what’s around it.

Mark Stephens RIBA MRIAI is a registered and Chartered architect in the UK and Ireland and is fully committed to being polite in his life and work.

Mark Stephens Architects
Foxford, County Mayo

For more information CONTACT ME

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