Venice for Pleasure
Joe Links was not a part of the travel industry – he did not arrange or book passage, lodging, meals, or entertainment. He was however a perennial tourist who had the good fortune to travel to Venice for his honeymoon in 1945 with his bride Mary Lutyens and to return there dozens of times over the next five decades. His delightful travelogue ‘Venice for Pleasure’ describes 4 long walks in the city, the other islands of the Laguna Veneta, and traveling with children. Although he certainly highlights all of the great sights and popular excursions, the purpose of his writing is to convince the reader that the pleasure of Venice is to be had in experiencing it: feeling the moisture in the morning air, seeing the attractiveness of canals, buildings and people illuminated by the phenomenal light, enjoying an alfresco meal while discussing the centuries of history and living that has occurred in this most unusual and magical of places. For Links the pleasure of Venice is not in the museums, churches, palazzo, or art that they contain, but in riding the vaporetti, wandering down narrow pathways, discovering hidden campo and observing how life has and has not changed for its citizens. To do this well requires time, attention and a willingness to stop for a cup of coffee or glass of wine often.
Epicurus, Lucretius & Jefferson
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus believed that it was self-evident that pleasure was preferable to pain and that the highest order of being was a state of tranquility defined by freedom from fear, the absence of pain and the presence of modest, sustainable pleasure.
For the Roman poet Lucretius it was clear that the root of most human fear and pain was derived from a misunderstanding of death and the relationship of the soul to corporeal existence. He believed that close observation particularly through touch combined with disciplined reason and untarnished by religious dogma and superstition naturally leads to a deep understanding of the physical world which in turn relieves us of fear and allows us to experience pleasure.
To a contemporary American, pleasure’s equivalency to the absence of pain seems wholly insufficient. Thomas Jefferson who considered himself an Enlightenment Epicurean comes closer to our current understanding. He believed in no small measure that happiness was the aim of life and that its pursuit was an intrinsic part of humanity. This belief was strong enough for Jefferson to include the “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence to describe one of the foundational attributes endowed by the creator to all human beings.
But pleasure and happiness are not the same - pleasure is emotional and sensorial whereas happiness is a state of contentment. Still, they are intricately related and it is difficult to imagine happiness without a sufficient quantity of pleasure.
What is the DNA of a pleasurable experience? Infatuation, novelty, surprise, nostalgia, excitement, expectation, arousal, indulgence, joy, satisfaction… The possible components are quite varied but the opportunity for human pleasure always requires presence in the moment, experiential context, and surrender to an emotional reaction.
Can Architecture be pleasurable? To the architect, certainly. But to the rest of us, at the very least, it has the capacity to provoke and enhance pleasurable experiences. Architectural form and space can be unique, perplexing, awesome, inspiring, reassuring and comforting. Materials, fixtures and furniture can be severe, luxurious, tactile, familiar, and even challenging.
Most people report that their favorite pleasures are simple ones like hugging a child, watching a movie or the big game with friends, preparing a meal for a special person, the smell and taste of hot coffee or tea in the morning, a long steamy shower after a tough day, petting an animal with its head on ones lap, passionately singing along to a song from yesteryear. All well designed buildings not only support but also seek to enhance pleasurable experiences for their inhabitants. The thorough architect considers how space, form, light, color, texture, rhythm and composition might emotionally effect the humans who experience them. Although complete orchestration of reactions are not usually possible or even desirable properly setting the stage for pleasure is one of the defining characteristics of a meaningful built environment.