It’s important to create spaces that people like to be in, that are humanistic. ~ Frank Gehry
Once a colleague and I spent one working week taking a ‘holiday’ in our own workplace. Looking at our everyday space with fresh eyes, each day we found a place we could envisage as a vacation destination, and took a photo of ourselves there. At the end of the week we printed a collage of the photos on A4 postcards, signed off ‘wish you were here’ and gave them to our colleagues. We were looking for ways to experience the expected in unexpected ways, to find magic in our own backyard, to discover new ways of seeing our daily environment.
I was asked today at a barbeque how I ‘find the time’ for all the things I am doing: parenting, teaching, implementing a strategic school initiative, blogging, PhD thesis writing and all the life-and-relationships stuff. Partly, I think, doing-all-the-things works because I have found ways to feel like each of these bits is a little holiday from the other bits. And part of that is around choosing to be in places which make me feel grounded, inspired or joyful.
My favourite place to go with my two pre-school age kids is somewhere in nature. In winter that means muddy puddly bushwalky places, and now, in summer, it means the beach. Do I love parenting at the beach because it’s enjoyable, free, feels good and keeps the kids busy? Yes. But also because hippie ideas like ‘grounding’ resonate with me, as do educational theories of nature play, play-based learning and maker education (where creating and tinkering are central to learning and problem solving).
Watching my children experiment with sand and water is joyful for me. I see them building while figuring out the impacts of the environment and of themselves. They work together to develop systems for creation (and destruction). They discover critters and examine shells for their beauty and individuality. They clamber, climb and explore, being careful and daring, inquisitive, and sensitive. At the beach my children learn through play while being active and getting the vitamin D, fresh air, ocean salts, and the exhilaration and balance which comes from curling your toes in the sand, digging with your bare hands and feeling the silky ocean against your skin.
So how might all this beach frolicking relate to work or academic writing? It comes down to designing and finding spaces which work for individual and purpose. Schools are being inspired by incredible offices like those of Google’s Engineering Hub, Zurich; LEGO in Denmark; Skype, Palo Alto; Innocent ‘Fruit Towers, London; Capital One, Virginia; Saatchi & Saatchi, Bangkok; and Palotta Teamworks, Los Angeles. In contemporary work and school spaces, some of which I have had the pleasure of co-designing and furbishing, there are choices for individuals and flexible furniture arrangements (much of this based on the work of Prakash Nair and Randall Fielding). High benches for those who like to perch, low couches and beanbags for those who like to lounge, collaborative campfire spaces for working together, quiet nooks and cave-like spaces for nestling into lone thinking (Bianca Hewes explains this nicely from a teacher perspective; ‘match the physical space to the mental space’). The SCIL building at Northern Beaches Christian College in Sydney and the Green School in Bali are worth a look for interesting school spaces.
Personally, when I want to do my work or academic writing, I try to find my own inspiring, grounding or playful space.
I talked on the PhD Talk blog about my thesis as sacred ‘me time’, and one of the things I do to make it so is to write in places which feel like an indulgence. I have favourite cafés with the right amount of people-buzz, good tunes, quirky touches and sometimes a view. These make me feel like I’m sitting down to a treat in which to luxuriate, instead of an arduous slog which must be endured. I order a good coffee, find a comfy spot and start to work. Today was on a daybed in this outdoor courtyard with mellow lounge music, waterfalls, buddhas and frangipani trees:
Other favourite writing café spots are pictured here (I do love a good coffee and a good view):
One of my favourite spots is a cushioned bench seat in a café housed in an old hardware store. Above the seat is painted: ‘Not the sharpest tool in the shed.’ Perfectly ironic for PhD writing, don’t you think?
So – where do you find the space for your intention? Where are your sacred, inspiring or playful places? How do you choose your physical place to transform your mental space?