Why are airports so big? What’s the point of all those cavernous terminals with 60’ ceilings? It’s certainly not practical or efficient, so it must be for effect: to remind us that airlines are great and powerful, like the buildings they build.
It’s important to remember that the places we design will have an impact on the people who visit and use them, and to make sure that the impact they have is the one we actually want them to have. We might make a nature trail that winds and meanders, nestled seamlessly into the landscape it’s meant to celebrate and reveal, but if the urban child we hope will use it is terrified by the dangers she’s afraid might be lurking around the next bend she’s unlikely to feel much like exploring.
I remember visiting St. Peter’s Cathedral when I was 18 years old, midway through a year of solo wandering around Europe and Africa, trying to figure out who I was and who I might be when – or if – I ever grew up. I washed up in Rome exhausted and broke after hopscotching across the Mediterranean from Tripoli, Libya on a series of short-haul ferries, so I suppose I was already feeling a bit vulnerable. I went to St. Peter’s for the same reason most people do – because I was supposed to – and I was utterly overwhelmed. I literally felt small, not just insignificant but physically diminished. I felt like I might disappear. “That’s how you’re supposed to feel,” said the Italian architecture student who’d befriended me a week earlier in Sardinia. “That’s the whole point. You’re in the presence of God, and you’re meant to be awed by His works. It’s all a matter of scale.”