The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness Hardcover – 23 June 2020
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An engaging survey of the science of buildings and a reported account of the quest to improve life by deliberate design . . . Anthes astutely distinguishes between design's anticipated potential and demonstrated benefit . . . A compelling, science-based argument for the wisdom of intelligent design. --David A. Shaywitz, The Wall Street Journal[Anthes] gamely reports on smart offices and smart homes and floating cities and proposed villages on the moon and the new field of "indoor ecology" (the study of subjects like the mites to be found in your pillow) . . . The recommendations of that research? 'Open a window. Get a dog.' --Jill Lepore, The New Yorker After months spent inside, The Great Indoors is uncannily relevant . . . [The] cool facts come fast and furious . . . The New York City subway, for example, is smothered in microbes associated with bare feet . . . Another WTF moment: Pillowcases and toilet-seat surfaces are apparently "strikingly similar" from a microbiological perspective. --Molly Young, Vulture The Great Indoors is a rollicking exploration of how everything from lighting to ventilation, noise levels to stairwells, shapes our physical health and mental well-being. --Christina Larson, Washington Monthly Anthes has taken on a wide-ranging topic, which she has turned into an accessible and delightful read . . . The Great Indoors is perfectly paced and well-researched, packed with compelling stories. --Christie Aschwanden, Undark If you're bored by the idea of spending yet more time locked down in your home, let science writer Emily Anthes convince you that it's at least an interesting place to be. Her new book, The Great Indoors, explores all manner of things that happen between walls, from the microscopic creatures that live in shower heads to the reasons it's healthy for bedrooms to have windows. --Shannon Palus, Slate Anthes encourages readers to reconsider the places where they spend most of their time and to ask themselves whether those places serve their needs. At a point when we are spending even more time than usual indoors, all of humanity could likely benefit from confronting such questions. --Barbara Brown, Science [The Great Indoors] is one timely read for 2020, arriving at a moment when we're all spending time at home more than ever, while increasingly assessing how to create healthier spaces . . . I found this book rebooted my perspective of the home with a more holistic and inclusive understanding of the microcosm of factors and influences, both seen and unseen, residing indoors. --Gregory Han, Design Milk [F]ascinating and well worth pondering. A sharp, eye-opening assessment of urgent architectural needs being fulfilled. --Kirkus Reviews [Emily Anthes] explores cutting-edge innovations in architecture and interior design in her enjoyable and educational work of pop science . . . This thoughtful work will prompt readers to more carefully consider the spaces they commonly inhabit but may rarely think about. --Publishers Weekly "What an eye-opening journey into a world we so often take for granted: our indoor spaces. From the tiniest indoor occupants (did you know just how many microscopic critters share your home?) to the largest (us), The Great Indoors is a study of how the elements of design can work to enhance our wellbeing and sense of self, from our homes, to our offices, to our schools, hospitals, and prisons. As we spend more and more of our lives inside, The Great Indoors is a perfect guide to this next frontier." Maria Konnikova, New York Times-bestselling author of The Confidence Game Many of us spend our days inside, but we don't realize how profoundly our lives are shaped by the places that contain us. Emily Anthes takes us on an astonishing and witty tour of indoor science, from schools and prisons, to workplaces and our future space colonies. Along the way, she reveals how much our health and well-being depend on little details, like the position of a window or the arrangement of food in a lunch room. But ultimately Anthes is asking the big questions, like how we want to organize our lives, and what it takes to rebuild our world for the better. A delightful, well-informed book that will utterly transform the way the way you see the complicated world that lurks behind every door. --Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous and Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction The Great Indoors is that rare book that remains both honest and optimistic about the problems we face, from pandemic disease to social isolation, and--even better--is ambitious enough to identify real potential for change surrounding us in the architecture of our daily lives. Inspiring. --Geoff Manaugh, New York Times-bestselling author of A Burglar's Guide to the City A trip into the great indoors with Emily Anthes is a journey into fascination, dismay, and the occasional jolt of pure wonder. --Deborah Blum, author of The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the 20th Century
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Emily's book, by contrast, is full of all these quirky and timely insights, and as I read it during this time of quarantine I couldn't help but marvel at the biodiversity of the indoor space I otherwise thought of as being pretty sterile.
Also good stuff in here about the psychological and health impacts of buildings on us. You can see some of this research in her pieces for various outlets (Washington Post etc.) but the bulk of it is here, in this book. Well worth a read.
All those hot words—Surprising Science ...Shape...Our Behavior...Health...etc—tell us we’re about to dive deep into a paean to Sheng fui and similar mysticisms.
Thankfully, Ms. Anthes is a journalist with a well-honed understanding of medicine and science.
She’s also, it should be said, possessed of a fluid and easy to follow writing style, no small achievement when dealing with complicated medical science issues.
Ms. Anthes lays out a sound case for believing the possible link between an innovative architecture style and human physiological and psychological health—even as she casts a skeptical eye on all the claims made in behalf of the architecture-health association.
In other words, in her visits to schools, prisons, workplaces she shows an appreciation for the efforts to change for the better their impact on the humans within them, even as she questions, at times, if the vaunted positive effects are real—or sustainable at all.
Her approach leaves the reader with an appreciation of the possibilities of architecture’s impact on our lives while also leaving us willing to wait for the clinching arguments.
Full disclosure: I am a friend of her parents, but I am also a journalist who spent much of 40 years writing articles and books about medical science.
That being said, I think the title could be a bit misleading. This isn't for casual reading and if someone picked up this book hoping for a really scientific, behavioral and health study then they'd be understandably disappointed. The book is more of a series of well researched design concepts and case studies that inhabit the current world of architecture/design/urban planning. These include residential microorganisms (the most scientific topic of the book), prison reform, aging in place, inhabitants with disabilities, childhood education and more, all as they relate to architecture and design. Most chapters are ripe with case studies that you can further research and find images and articles to delve into.
I've already recommended this to designers and architects I know, and will continue to do so.
I devoured the Kindle version so quickly that I was surprised when I reached the "Notes" section. I honestly expected and desperately wanted MORE. This is the mark of an excellent writer.
The analysis of different forms of indoor living - not just architecture, but inhabiting our spaces - was fascinating. As were the conclusions that making living accessible for some (read the chapter "Full Spectrum") can make it accessible and enjoyable for all.
Anthes isn't here to just rah-rah new technology, though. For all the falls prevented, the wired housing described for seniors can be a serious invasion of privacy. She describes all the benefits in detail, but gets to the drawbacks too. And she asks, in so many words, where do we make the trade off?
In some cases, there's no tradeoff necessary. In some, it's financial. The housing for people on the autism spectrum sounded just delightful, and like the answer to many parents prayers. But the cost associated with it could seem like a nightmare. Even in the schools designed to make kids healthier, cost control creeps in. But during this time of COVID isolation, working at home, schooling at home and remote everything, a thoughtful overview of our indoor spaces is just what we need.
I plan to read the book several more times, then start gifting it to people in city planning departments, and school departments. Anthes uncovered so many commonsense good ideas about indoor design and architecture that it must be shared.