The Psychology of the Corridor

alice

“There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.”

Lewis Carroll knew the power of the corridor.

And in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ we are invited to take part in his private joke: mucking about with perspective.

For every corridor should, by rights, be predictable. It should, to our eyes, start as big as we are where we stand, and dwindle, using comfortable mathematics used for millennia, to a vanishing point. The Renaissance artists got it all sorted out: around 1400, Leon Battista Alberti wrote down what others had begun experimenting with. You get a horizontal line where the sky meets the ground. There’s a ‘vanishing point’ near the centre of the horizontal line. And then you get these beckoning ‘visual rays’ which lead you from the edges of the canvas to the vanishing point.

Picture from loc.gov

Picture from loc.gov

What more elevated buffoonery could there be than messing about with that ordered by the Renaissance men?

So in her corridor, Alice has very big doors but also a very small door. And she herself gets bigger and smaller, observing the changes along the way. “What a curious feeling!” said Alice “I must be shutting up like a telescope!”

Messing with perspective is funny. Cut to Father Ted,  the Irish priest stranded in a God-awful house on Craggy Island with his challenged sidekick, Dougal. They are sitting, in a tiny holiday caravan, contemplating some plastic toy cows on the table. “Now concentrate this time, Dougal,”  Father Ted admonishes, sternly to the eternally vacant curate, “these…” – gesturing to the plastic cows- “are very small, and those…” -pointing to the cows outside in the field – “are far away.”

And trust William Hogarth to lampoon perspective within the four wooden sides of a frame.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Playing with perspective is hilarious. Which makes one wonder if perspective itself can be used to do the polar opposite. Perhaps perspective can be used to oppress.

I’ll tell you what set me thinking. Every weekend Side View sets a theme, and this weekend the theme was a visual one.

Photo by Wini Esterhuizen courtesy of viewfromtheside.wordpress.com

Photo by Wini Esterhuizen courtesy of viewfromtheside.wordpress.com

Now, tell me, does that empower or cower? Perhaps I have seen too many places like it: for many of our prisons and mental hospitals were built in a similar style, though with hard, unforgiving floors.

In the Victorian years, institutions such as these were made to instil values from outside: iron-spined Christian values, paternalistic judgement enshrined in bricks and mortar:

Picure from Warwick.ac.uk

Picure from Warwick.ac.uk

And the architecture is now inextricably linked with the tales that went hand in hand with these places. Tales of human cruelty and terror; of blood-letting, purging and physical restraints, of patients at the mercy of the theories of the time. Of brutality in the name of discipline. Which came first, I wonder: unease induced by the unforgiving perspective, or fear begotten of what happened in the rooms which opened off these corridors?

And so I am on a new hunt, now: for corridor architecture which does not aim to awe, nor cow, nor to subdue; but to make people happy.

Let us see what transpires.

You can find Side View’s Theme for the week here

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44 thoughts on “The Psychology of the Corridor

  1. Truly excellent ‘perspective’ on Sidey’s suggestion – how much our visual experience affects our emotional world – or, as you so superbly put it, is imposed on those deemed bad/sinful/crazy etc. Great post.

  2. Thank you.
    Oddly I found the corridor here a friendly one, believing interesting rooms on either side, big ones on the shady side and smaller ones on the sunny side. Maybe because i have never been in jail or an old style looney bin,

    1. ….or maybe you haven’t had the legacy we have had in Britain, Sidey. Some of our most monumenta; architecture of the 19th century was deployed for hospitals and prisons. And you know where Oscar Wilde said they could put their prison architecture.

  3. Corridor architecture that makes people happy. Oh Kate, I love the way that you are challenging yourself. It reminds me of a local woman here who is VERY wealthy and who takes on challenges like these. Mind you, she has her own curator just for things like this. Anxious to see what you will come across.

  4. I loved Father Ted, and I have always been attracted to corridors, the long ones in big old farm houses from the front door to the back door with wide wooden floors, these are the corridors that make me feel comfortable and happy. c

  5. Wide-ranging thoughts indeed. You used it as a corridor of opportunity!
    I’m afraid my adaptation does nothing to add to your search for a passage to happiness.

    1. I loved your version, Col. Your imagination never fails to amaze me. I suppose that – and that insatiable enthusiasm for vocabulary – is one of the reasons you have achieved the Holy Grail of being paid to write….

  6. I look forward to seeing what transpires.

    The new trend in hospitals around here these days is long, long corridors with closed doors, whether for patients, administrators, whatever. While it sounds all nice and neat and tidy, it is a problem for nursing and patient and care. The nurses have to traverse long corridors to get patients and, as we found out with my sister’s recent long hospital stay, hard to hear when someone is in danger.

    1. That’s an interesting perspective, Penny. Here our NHS hospitals are still srranged in wards: incredibly regimented, but if something happens one is never far from a nurse.
      I hope your sister is recovering well now? A tough experience for you all.

  7. Fascinating!

    I found Sidey’s photo both benevolent and enticing . . . drawing me in and forward to peer a bit closer at the door at the end of the sandy corridor.

    The prison photo you shared had exactly the opposite affect on me . . . despite its parallel lines.

    As Alice might note, “Curiouser and curiouser.” ;)

    1. Indeed. And even curiouser that I have unwittingly brought to Sideys picture my own associations, and those of most British people. The mind is an amazing thing, Nancy.

  8. The View from the Side photo actually reminded me of an outdoor corridor in a Spanish villa, with interior rooms on the shaded side and a sunny courtyard opening opposite them.

    I had a summer art class in high school that taught perspective. It seemed too precise, geometrical, and constraining at the time, and yet it makes all the difference in a picture. If the artist gets it wrong, it throws everything out of kilter. I’ve always been grateful for the lesson.

    1. A Spanish villa! It sounds like if I can get a picture of the interior of one of those I might have a happy corridor to start my collection off, PT.

      Perspective: can’t live without it. And it brings order.But I still think if it is not softened it can be imposing and unsettling.

  9. Corridors have a lot in common with tunnels, don’t they? Tunnels can lead to freedom. Or wind up as death traps. I remember the movie The Great Escape, in which James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen and a cast of thousands tunneled out of the German prison camp. Happy ending for some, not so happy for others. How come I can forget so many things but can still remember that Attenborough’s character was called “Big X” and McQueen was the “Cooler King?”

    1. I have never watched the Great Escape: must put it on my list, Gale. The White Cliffs are honeycombed with miles of tunnels, some Napoleonic, some twentieth century; and having been under the juristiction of the military, they have been laid to corridor. Sometimes burrowing is the only way out.

  10. And who can forget the old movie comedies where people keep popping in and out of doors in a corridor, missing each other. From the above responses, it does seem that peoples’ feelings about corridors depend somewhat on their corridor experiences.

  11. What a fascinating, intriguing read. No. 1, I love psychology. No. 2, I am not learned of psychology. No. 3, I love clear writing.

    EXCELLENT : thank you for the chill.

    1. Noeleen, thank you for taking the time to come along to read, and apologies for not replying earlier! I am not learned of psychology either :-D But enough musing round the edges usually brings some conclusions.

  12. Very interesting indeed! I think about how perspective rules our emotions. I’m frequently fascinated with the way circumstances are experienced differently dependent upon our individual perspectives,, but I don’t often consider architectural or structural perspective. I am really eager to see where you take us from here! You find the most amazing ways to link with Sidey’s weekend challenges, Kate!

  13. I love (because they make me smile) the concept of false or ‘forced perspective’ corridors which appear longer than they actually are because the pillars or side windows are actually made smaller to create the illusion of depth and distance.

    I remember regretfully rushing past one in a hurry in some Italian city, but it’s often done here in Britain by planting smaller and smaller trees closer together in avenues or, for the suburban gardener, that flat arched trellis work that suggests a receding pergola.

    We bought a wonderfully imposing bronze mask (http://www.sculptureheaven.co.uk/acatalog/—-TITAN–Bronze-Finish-39.html#SID=1) when we saw it used as a focal point at the end of a corridor in a gallery. Sadly, we didn’t have the equivalent corridor at home to recreate the effect…

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