If These Walls Could Talk: The mental life of the built environment



    1. [Curator, Workshops; paper] (nealhpatel@google.com) is a Technical Program Lead with MMI/Google's Advanced Technology and Projects team. His ‘Project Oxygen’ research on effective management has been covered by the New York Times, HBR, and named one of HR Executive Magazine's Best HR Ideas of 2011. He is concurrently finishing doctoral studies in Sociology at the University of Chicago.1
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  • This paper solely expresses the opinions and ideas of the author and does not in any way represent, refer to, or opine on, the views or opinions of, Google, Inc., Motorola Mobility Inc. or Google/MMI personnel.


Renewing Henri Lefebvre's unfinished and overlooked science of ‘rhythmanalysis,’ I propose physical space becomes meaningful to us to the extent that it provides refuge from the ravages of time—specifically, the intersecting rhythms of everyday life. In other words, we develop affinity with space based upon its restorative function. Conflict between overlapping rhythms is mentally exhausting. There are cognitive costs associated with the work day's intrusion upon our sleep cycle, or extension into our evening leisure time. I will contend that we love our local bars, coffee shops, and hangouts because they are intermediary spaces, situated between cycles, thereby easing our transition and restoring our mental energy. I conclude with some examples of these dynamics at play in the urban life surrounding two peculiar Polish sausage stands on South Side of Chicago.