Architecture has a major role apart from catering a specific need: to stimulate our spatial senses. Every notorious architectural work has brought an aesthetic contribution to architecture history and we can easily date it by just recognising its most characteristic features. However, modern design seems to avoid stimulation by using simple geometries, smooth surfaces and neutral colors. Everything is kept to its simplest expression and the rest is eliminated. Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley refer to it in their book “are we human?” by tiltling one of their chapters “Good design is an anaesthetic”.
To anaesthetise is to “deprive of feeling or awareness”, so is modern design really pretending to have absolutely no impact on our perception? Charles and Ray Eames famously defined design as a “shock absorber” of the horror lived after the World War II, stating that : “The house must make no insistent demands for itself, but rather aid as a background for life in work… and as re-orientator and ‘shock absorber’” The Eames were imagining their work as a way to calm people’s pain, as an anaesthetic.
But is it really necessary to anesthesise architecture to act as an anaestheitic? Isn’t it the opposite? In past centuries kings would use the most opulent designs in order to distract the plebeian from their hard daily lives. Nowadays it works differently, austerity seems to be soothing our state of mind. The days in which any element of a construction would be used as a canvas to explore with textures and ornaments are long gone, we seem to be willing to return to the blank canvas or rather to the white canvas, just as Robert Rauschenberg and his White Painting (1951). Colomina and Wigley state: “A well-designed object is one that does ever more good to ever more people”. Because times are changing the notion of good is evolving as well, nowadays it seems that to do good, objects have to act as a palliatives.
Never before the society has registered a higher level of stress and a more hectic life, and designers are responding to it by imagining every object that surrounds us as an anaesthetic. An environment of minimalism is being created around us to calm us and remove ourselves from the constant stimulation of our brains by anaesthetising us.