I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last newsletter. It has been a month. I hope you and your loved ones are all healthy, safe, and well, and that you’ve found at least a small way to celebrate the upcoming holiday during this very strange year.
Let’s get to it!
I’m thrilled to share that I’m on the new episode of 99% Invisible, which is out today. You can listen to it here: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-great-indoors/. 99% Invisible has long been one of my favorite podcasts, and it was a delight to talk with Roman Mars about The Great Indoors. (If you’re new to 99% Invisible, there’s a helpful guide to the show here, including a list of some recommended episodes.)
As I wrote in my book, I am, without a doubt, “indoorsy.” So I was somewhat chagrined to discover, in the course of my research, that one of the absolute best ways to create a healthy indoor environment is to find ways to incorporate elements of the outdoor one; bringing fresh air, daylight, and elements of nature into our buildings can pay enormous dividends for both our physical and mental health. But over the course of the 20th century, we actually moved in the wrong direction in this regard—our buildings became hermetically sealed boxes, and the division between the indoor world and the outdoor world became starker. (This was partly driven by improvements in building technology and partly by a drive for energy-efficiency.)
Even before the pandemic hit, however, the pendulum had finally begun to swing back in the other direction. And as we design and redesign buildings in the future, I think we need to figure out how to create structures that are more permeable to the outdoors. That’s why I was so intrigued to see this Fast Company article, “Mid-doors: The zone between inside and outside that could change building design.” As Erik Olsen writes, “Rather than thinking of indoors and outdoors as a binary condition, we need to acknowledge there is a spectrum from indoors to outdoors.” He goes on:
Let’s use a new term for the middle ground of indoors: mid-doors. Despite the lack of vocabulary, the mid-doors is quite common and includes many of our favorite urban spaces. Most mid-doors spaces have some elements fully controlled, while others are uncontrolled or partially controlled. Well-designed atriums—such as the originator of contemporary atriums, the Ford Foundation in New York—provide protection from rain and sound, but allow in more sunlight and allow more temperature fluctuation than a fully conditioned space. Grand European train stations provide protection from the sun and some rain at the platform, with an enclosed but mostly unheated waiting hall. Colorful covered markets protect from the rain and sun only. Indoor shopping malls fell out of favor, replaced by outdoor shopping centers, often with partially sheltered “streets.”
Olsen urges designers and planners to create more of these in-between places, noting that “there are explicit benefits to mid-doors spaces,” which can help reduce our stress, boost our cognition, and improve our mood (and save energy, to boot). I think the “mid-doors” concept is a helpful way of thinking about this idea of permeability between the indoors and the outdoors, and one that’s especially relevant right now, when a lot of us are seeking safer alternatives to congregating indoors. I hope it’s an idea that takes off.
Did you know that there are secret (now abandoned) apartments above many New York Public Library buildings?
This is a really cool study, which provides support for the idea that exposure to a rich diversity of microbes early in life can help kids develop healthy immune systems: “What Forest Floor Playgrounds Teach Us About Kids and Germs”
Another great story from 99% Invisible: How the Great Depression fueled a boom in miniature golf.
I love this: “The Case for Edible Public Spaces in Cities”
How to create “an oasis” at home this winter.
Even so, however, it’s worth keeping in mind: “In any fantasy, at any scale, one building — ultimately, just four foundational walls — will never be enough to host what we know to be a full life.”
What is the future of hotel design?
“The Algorithm That Could Get You Back in the Office: How open is too open? To help employers reduce outbreak risks after bringing workers back, new tech tools can juggle schedules and map office hot spots.”
Two great sets of photos: 1. “Architecture Without People: the Built Environment of Machines” 2. “If You Were To Leave Earth Right Now, This Is Where You Would Live”
The pandemic is prompting seniors to rethink where they want to live
TikTok houses are also a nightmare
Bonus Interspecies Animal Content
And because it’s been a long month, here’s a bonus bonus, courtesy of The New York Times: “The Best Live Animal Feeds From Around the World.”
The Great Indoors is now out! You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound, or your local independent bookstore. (And if you’ve already read the book, please consider leaving an Amazon rating or review!)