Daydreaming was the first thing that you ever had confiscated at school. The rectangular walls and hard desks of the classroom commission your attention forward, to a teacher, to a board, away from distraction and away from the alternative wonderland of your own thoughts.

The classroom is then perhaps the first and most obvious manifestation of an architecture of attention; that rooms and buildings can be designed to manage and control the way that we think; that they discourage or encourage certain forms of thought over other forms of thought.

Think of the windowless university lecture theatre as an in extremis extension of the principles established in the infant school. It is a drill-hall for the practiced mind with its sentry-like rows and the commandant of a 5,000 lumen projector issuing instructions forward. Every lecture says very much the same thing. It says, ‘focus, focus, focus here.’

Think of other alternatives, of more examples of the architecture of thinking, of the opera house, the church, the art gallery and the shopping arcade; all are ushers to thought, to different forms of thought. In each type of building see how the planes of light, space and dimension are used to massage our thinking, to allow or disallow the free association and meandering of daydreaming, to create mood.

Your relationship with physical space is also a relationship with thought. Then, when architecture reaches its limits, social rules are added in order to protect silence or to discourage it, to determine which kinds of sitting, standing and moving are permissible, to protect or prohibit a stillness in the mind.

These social rules are customised to finish the process that the architecture starts. We pity then the child who on first entering the classroom mistakenly assumes that the windows might be there for the pleasures of looking through them, away to the clouds and the morning sky. Such child will soon be brought to heel by the teacher and will learn that in the classroom, windows are solely reserved for the functionalism of providing light and not for inducing any kind of creative thinking. You must solely look to the board. Your mind must not wander.

Though most of us remain troubled by our relationship with daydreaming, and would not much admit to ever engaging in it, there are others who pass into another kind of relationship with it and who find its value. Daniel Levitin again: “The mind-wandering mode is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable by making connections among things that we didn’t previously see as connected.”

Artists and designers are conspicuous for the investment that they make in daydreaming; that time and space are found so that daydreaming is cultivated and shepherded into some act of creation. Let free, the wandering mind will begin to fold itself into a spiral, visiting and revisiting anew. Soon the artist will be moved to work and will stay for days in a kind of cognitive dance, wandering and focusing, until the work is done. The artist’s studio is the intersection of this process. It must both admit the creative crest of the wandering mind and facilitate the return to focus.

Artists, their spaces and the habits built around them are manifestations of the dance; and many of us who are locked into other rituals – the frenetic rituals of the smartphone, the deadline, and the project management metre – will arrive to them in some wonder and some stark contrast. Many of us will at some point take as tourists to the late artist’s studio, to hear how Ernest Hemingway chose to stand whilst he wrote sharpened sentences into notebooks, of how Francis Bacon stole himself to a darkened cupboard already crowded with canvas, or to step over the sidewalk outside 57 Great Jones to somehow seek or to sense the crosscurrents that laced the loft where Jean-Michel Basquiat brooded, lived, worked and died.

When we study the spaces and rituals of artists in this way we find this imprint of how they worked and what drove them to work. Remaining in these spaces is a kind of analogue of the daydreaming that inspired them and which lit them to action. As we spend time in the artist’s studio we begin to additionally detect some trace of the tasks further down through the labour of creation, how they worked and how they rested until that moment of resolution when, maybe, a work was done.

Reservations are required and there is no public parking at the former home of Charles and Ray Eames in Pacific Palisades, California. But we suppose that the light is the same as it ever was, and that the clement heat of California still invites the patio doors to be opened in the same way as Charles and Ray liked to keep them. The house was developed as a case study for Arts & Architecture Magazine and completed quickly in 1949 when Charles was in his early 40’s and Ray was in her late 30’s. Always designated as home and studio for its designers, the Eames House gently acknowledges that its occupants spend their “life in work.” Its light and harmonics are there to nurture ideas as much as the roof and frames are there to provide a living-station for human beings. The interior is fulfilled by the designers’ own work but also “a wonderful clutter”: Charles and Ray saw life as an act of design that was partly fulfilled through the assembly of gifts for or from friends. A walk amongst the meadow awaits, and will reveal the way that its celebrated designers integrated the house into the hillside. It still conveys the same suggestion of ease and connection. The Pacific Ocean is a constant presence, not just seen, but absorbed into the rhythms and aspect of the house and studio.

Donald Judd was born in Missouri in 1928. He is regarded as an inspiration to the development of Minimalism, though he always rejected that label and all others that were applied to his work. He wanted his artwork to stand, for it to stand in three dimensions, for it to be uninterrupted, and for it to be representative of nothing but itself. To this end, he took over a building at 101 Spring Street in Lower Manhattan and converted it into house and studio. It is, today, the last single occupancy building in SoHo. It has an unusual physique, fairly narrow with a corner position, and with windows taking up approximately two thirds of the entire façade. Of five storeys, Judd envisaged that he would be able to install his work and that of other artists. No doubt the task engrossed him, and the result remains one of the seminal spaces of contemporary art, but he quickly found the building too small. Or maybe the dimensions of the dream were too great. There is no edge to a Judd artwork. His vocabulary of forms had no limiting measure nor weight. Retaining the SoHo studio, Judd also took to the desert at Marfa in Texas. There he bought and converted two ranches of 100,000 acres between them, created fifteen outdoor works in concrete, and installed one hundred aluminium works in two renovated artillery sheds. His work still stands under the beholding seams of the desert sky.

“Silence is so accurate.” So spoke Mark Rothko.

The last studio of Mark Rothko is at 157 East 69th Street on the Upper East Side,
New York. It is said that his paintings became darker whilst he was there, that he draped a parachute over the skylight so as to dim the mood of the space. And it was a great space. The Upper East Side studio was big enough to hang his great works, to walk amongst them, to move them into closer arrangement with each other, to contemplate, and to look up at the windows and to see that the Manhattan sky had so soon become ashen. And yes, it was here on 25th February 1970 that Mark shot himself. He was sixty-six. Perhaps at that moment the New York springtime still seemed a long way away. Mark did not live to see the completion of his Rothko Chapel in Houston. The chapel contains fourteen of his paintings, his black paintings, though actually made up of multiple dark hues and texture effects. Visitors to the chapel have cried to find the walls taking hold of them. For Rothko, art was a mission of contemplation, some sort of process of absorption or rub of realisation. The famous works that adorn the Rothko Chapel or galleries like the Tate in London, stand in hue and depth and saturation. Huge in scale, but confined in space, their effect is to be intimate to the human, to transmit rather than just to be seen. Once upon a time, Rothko painted in the style of childrens books; light, compact and fresh with untutored emotion. By the end of his life, the figures had gone, the titles had gone, words were expelled, the paint was translucent, and the colours were indistinguishable from the shapes. His painting had accessed the mythic, the transcendant.

* * *

The artist Joseph Beuys was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1921. His most famous performance work is “How To Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.” It is itself something like a dream. Beuys wrote, “Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives.” In “How to Explain”, the artist carries the dead hare between the walls and pictures of a small room. The hare responds. The artist’s head is covered in gold leaf and honey. The scene is like a dream. A lament for human artistry. Every human being. An artist. Every human being. A daydreamer, sensemaker, spiritualiser, wanderer, breather. The hare bounds to the pictures. Chemical, chimeric and connecting. Lament. The human loss, the prison of his thinking, the mediocrity of his words and the conditioned, contained responses. Human thinking become less a conduit than a dead hare … In that dead hare we see more expression, more nobility, and more appeal to raw intuition than in the predictable quizzicality of the onlookers. The tragedy is more the greater because it should not be so … The human head is gilded with the honey of ideas. If only we would let it so. The human head is gilded with the honey of ideas. If only we would let it so.

A four23 Exhibition Series

As the Sputnik satellite launched in 1957, somewhere in Canada, a 46 year-old scholar named Marshall McLuhan looked up at the sky and foresaw that Sputnik was the first of many. Soon the whole Earth would be like a theatre enclosed in an arch of satellites. Asked what this might mean, McLuhan declared that the whole population of the planet would become actors in a new kind of performance.

A little less than a decade later, the BBC executive Aubrey Singer pressed the ‘live’ button on ‘Our World.’ This was the first ever live, international, satellite television production. Largely conjured from the imagination of Singer, close to four hundred million people tuned in to watch transmissions from nineteen different nations. Under Singer’s instructions, no politician was allowed to appear. He required that each participating nation would be represented only by an artist or cultural figure. The Greeks showcased Maria Callas and the Spanish featured Pablo Picasso. But the whole show was stolen at 8.54pm GMT when the transmission switched to London and the world’s three Intelsat satellites carried the first bars of The Beatles performing ‘All You Need Is Love.’ 

Eighteen years later, jarred into life by newsreel of poverty in Ethiopia, Live Aid became a global satellite event with simultaneous concerts in London and Philadelphia. Live Aid was watched by an estimated global audience of one and a half billion viewers and McLuhan’s prophecy of a global theatre was tangibly real.

Live Aid was a technological tour de force with thirteen satellites co-opted to beam images around the world, but even as it was broadcast, technology was changing again. Media was close to the end of one incarnation and close to the beginning of another. It was unknown to most, but the Internet was already a reality at the time of Live Aid. Already used by military and academic organizations, by the end of the 1980s it would be liberated by the work of Tim Berners-Lee at the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN). Berners-Lee invented the software protocols of the World Wide Web (WWW) and through this he gave millions access to the Internet and thereby unshackled the whole process of media. The WWW democratized access to the means of production, it democratized access to the means of distribution and it also democratized access to satellites. A digital world began.

Now, already, we have changed again. What once was digital is now just the world, now just the way we do things. That qualifier ‘digital’ has already been assimilated. Those videos, blogs, smartphones, wikis, apps, and the vast topologies of the social networks; they are all just part of how we organize, what we do, who we are, and who we care about.

This dualism between the human and the technological is what Wanda Orlikowski, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), calls ‘sociomateriality’. To our grandparents, or our great-grandparents, a refrigerator or television was ‘tech.’ To their grandparents; electricity was unfathomable in its possibilities. Once, all things were new. To us, now, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are ‘tech’. But soon they won’t be. They will be just another part of the material of life. We’ll have utilised them, integrated them and made some sense of them. And we will have changed something of ourselves in that process.

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context, a chair in a room, a room in a house”

Eliel Saarinen

An installation by four23 at designjunction


Daydreaming, that loose ability to find associations. The neuroscientist Daniel Levitin calls it ‘mind wandering mode’ – the neural reset wherein the mind unpicks its shackles and meanders awhile. Daydreaming seems sometimes like our easiest state to enter, maybe the first state we ever knew, and yet we have a troubled relationship with it.


Using the words of Eliel Saarinen as a foundation, adopted later by Charles and Ray Eames, ‘always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context, a chair in a room, a room in a house.’ – the immersive exhibition explored the relationship between our physical surroundings and our ability to think, daydream and create.


1 Granary Square / King’s Cross
London, N1C 4AA

Taking cue from Eliel, have created a room within a Red House – inside which sat a single, simple chair. The design of the space referenced the workspace of the artist Mark Rothko.

Rothko’s daughter describes his work as “Sort of a window to beyond. He said the bright colours sort of stop your vision at the canvas, where dark colours go beyond. And definitely you’re looking at the beyond. You’re looking at the infinite.”

The Chair In A Room In A House invited the visitor to look beyond the canvas and into the infinite, through a playful, interactive installation.

Take a seat in the chair, place on the Virtual Reality headset and let your mind drift into its wandering state, a thought process that allows the brain to make new associations and connections.

When we reach this state, we can imagine things that do not yet exist:

“Certainly she was losing consciousness of outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things… her mind kept throwing up from its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas, like a fountain spurting.”

Virginia Woolf,
excerpt from ‘To The Lighthouse’


The four23 exhibition series explores the roles of communication and technology in an increasingly connected world.