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Editorial: Could architecture play a role in curing loneliness?

hiroshi nakamura and nap

Despite the nagging affirmations of online social networking, the internet is failing us

Friended, shared, favourited and liked, but we have never felt more alone.

Loneliness is described as an epidemic in Britain, with 83 per cent of 18-24 year olds saying they are sometimes, often or always lonely, according to a recent UK study by Opinium. In contrast, half of those aged 55 and over say they never feel lonely.

The cure for loneliness, according to a recent study by Houston University, is authenticity: being true to oneself. This makes you more resilient to the physical effects of loneliness, while acting superficial makes it worse – no small matter when feeling lonely is said to be as bad for your health as smoking 13 cigarettes a day.

Could architecture play a role in curing loneliness? Among the nearly 300 projects submitted to this year’s Emerging Architecture Awards, the judges were instinctively drawn to projects that encourage people to gather, play, interact and connect in new ways. The jury, composed of David Adjaye, Odile Decq and Peter Cook, sought out places with a haptic quality, or that included an element of social experimentation. The resulting list of 15 projects is eclectic, bumpy, not Apple-slick, from the oddness of Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP’s Sayama Forest Chapel to the spatial eclecticism of Yamazaki Kentaro’s stepped free-flow nursery.

‘To combat our collective loneliness, we must be enticed by our natural curiosity to find each other in real space and real time’

As for the winner of the £10,000 prize, it went to Supermachine Studio for its striking attempt to spark play between adults and children with the 10 Cal Tower. To discourage parents from simply standing on the sidelines of playgrounds watching their kids, the 10 Cal staircase – so named for the number of calories you burn in one circuit of the tower – was designed to help parents and children explore and have fun together. In the end, the staircase has enticed all walks and all ages of people to climb and experience its heights. Only if it were a ramp and not a stair could its social impact be greater.

The real world can feel like a scary place to venture into – events such as the terror attacks in Paris have made some wary of leaving the virtual womb for the physical unpredictability of face-to-face. But loneliness is a health risk, not simply a benign malaise.

‘The cure for loneliness, according to a recent study by Houston University, is authenticity: being true to oneself’

Over their 17-year history, the Emerging Architecture Awards have anticipated the social drivers of change in architectural design. The projects featured in this edition address the emerging and increasingly critical need for an architecture that connects; that provides a social experience, as well as a tactile and spatial one.

To combat our collective loneliness, we must be enticed by our natural curiosity to find each other in real space and real time, in places that inspire us to power down and really connect.

 

 

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