Rainbow sightings and joy in the natural vs. built environment

6 March 2009

This morning’s joy discovery: a whole site dedicated to pictures of rainbow sightings! There is something so charming about the artist’s desire to establish a collective forum for appreciating these evanescent displays of pure color.

I think the rainbow is one of the truest symbols of joy. Though we know the conditions that produce it, its emergence is always unexpected, and at any age feels somewhat magical. I think this is because it is a visual disruption of the laws that govern our everyday visual experience of the world.

One thing I’ve been wrestling with lately is the way in which joy is so often triggered by natural events and phenomena, both at the macro and micro levels. How then do we create things that bring joy? But it follows that if joy results from a pleasurable disruption of natural laws, then perhaps there is a parallel in the built environment, where joy results from a departure from the laws that govern the designed world. To some extent, these laws are the same. The built environment resides within the natural environment, so both are subject to laws of physics and to the limits of our perceptual capabilities. However, there are conventions that govern the behavior of the built environment, and perhaps unlocking some of these codes will suggest ways to integrate more joyful patterns of design.