Special Edition Story: (the) Happy Spaces Project
Caseysimone Cooper, co-creator of (the) happy spaces project shares with us her ideas and thoughts of how happiness and contentment are projected through the lens of various people around the world. Through her project, she is able to unite people around the globe to share their ideas of happy spaces – and how they look like in their own perception. As one of the creative thinkers of (the) happy spaces project, she sees in the submission of photos and peoples’ ideas of what happy spaces are and how they influence the lives of everybody on earth! In every photograph being submitted and shared on her site, lies an understanding of one’s own space and how it creates a magnitude impact into the lives of many.
This is her story:
AMS: Tell us about yourself: your education, training and what you are currently involved in.
Caseysimone: I am currently completing my undergraduate studies in Design and Society at Bennington College, a liberal arts school in Vermont. I have worked for a public health non-profit, an architecture firm specializing in green building, an architecture firm specializing in mixed-use residential developments, and I am currently working for a freelance designer, Gong Szeto. I am now working on a user-sourced blog, (the) happy spaces project.
AMS: I love your (the) Happy Spaces Project so much, it’s like a free zone for everybody to express their own space through photography – did you create it and how did you come up with this idea?
Caseysimone: Together Gong and I developed the idea for (the) happy spaces project after discussing what I wanted to investigate during my seven-week internship with him. I have always felt that spaces are integral to my contentment, but I was curious if that was the case for others. Answering this felt key to informing my work and education as a designer keen on creating a “happier” society.
AMS: Tell us about how you started (the) Happy Spaces Project and its mission?
Caseysimone: The site launched on December 22, 2011 but was not advertised until the first week of January 2012. Submissions started coming in that week; users have submitted images from seven US states and 16 countries. The mission of the project is to create an opportunity for people to think critically about the spaces that make them happy and happiness in general, gather and compile information about the factors of space make people happy, gather information concerning people’s critical thinking about space and happiness and the relationship between the two, as well as serve as a resource to designers, architects, aesthetes, anyone interested in the development of spaces that foster happiness and well being.
AMS: Did you and CAPA fellow Gong Szeto know each other prior to creating this project? Tell us how the two of you ended up launching it together?
Caseysimone: Yes, Gong was a guest professor of mine my freshman year, he taught a class about modern finance and banking titled, Hedge Fund. When seeking an internship this winter I approached him about interning for him – he said yes almost immediately but explained that unlike typical internships we would create a project together, one which we would collaborate, I wouldn’t simply go out and get him coffee or do his busy work. After many conversations about the kind of project we wanted to do we settled on (the) happy spaces project, a two-stepped project. The first step: setting up the blog and having it be a self-sustaining crowd sourced blog. The second step: doing an analysis on the information gathered from the blog, we will be entering this phase in the next week.
AMS: What is your vision for (the) Happy Spaces Project?
Caseysimone: Though Gong and I will begin the analysis this week in greater depth, the intention is for the blog to be self-sufficient during and after this time. By this I mean, submissions will continue coming in, other bloggers will continue to be interested and continue the story, and designers will find unique and powerful ways to use the site’s contents as a resource. Since I will go back to being a full time student in March my own daily posts on the “blog” part of the blog will most likely cease though I will continue to post submissions and manage comments, inquiries, etc. At this point there are still endless directions in which the project could go, one of which might be a book or subsequent project that follows up on certain questions raised by the project.
AMS: You know I love writing and reading about being happy and being contented. How do you envision these two elements into your project?
Caseysimone: Essentially, the project is trying to draw focus to the ideas of happiness and contentment through space. The project encourages people to take time to think about and notice spaces that make them happy; through these acknowledgments hopefully people will have a better understanding of the kinds of situations that bring them the most happiness and contentment. For example, many people have submitted images and descriptions of their family dining table, perhaps family is a crucial factor in those people’s happiness; whereas others have submitted images of nature without other people, so perhaps solitude is an important factor in those people’s happiness.
AMS: How important is having a happy space to you in relation to living a good life?
Caseysimone: This question, though seemingly simple is actually quite complex, for a “happy space” is different for different kinds of people. I hesitate to say that a “happy space” is different for everyone, for what I have been noticing through the submissions is that there are many commonalities in the kinds of spaces that make people happy. So, though I can not tell you that there is a space that could ever be built that would make everyone happy, I do think it is important that people feel like the spaces they work, play, and live in are ones that bring them happiness, contentment, and joy. I feel that it is the acknowledgment of what makes us happy in a space rather than the materiality of a space that translates into having a good life. By this I mean, appreciating what does work with pleasure and not just adding more stuff or thinking that someone else’s version of space is better arbitrarily will lead to a better life.
AMS: What is your happy space? Would you describe it to us?
Caseysimone: Through this project I have been learning a lot about the spaces that make me happy, some aesthetic, others practical. I was raised by an American and a Dutchman and traveled to many places growing up but returned to few. As such, I have realized that I don’t have a “happy space” that is permanent, i.e. a room that I can always return to, but rather there are qualities that define spaces I feel comfortable, content, and happy in. They are spaces that are full of sunlight, that have delicate shadows, that have furniture that begs a sitter, that have character, that are full of design intention, and aren’t afraid of being lived in. I find that this is most often the case in bedrooms and living rooms, but I would love to see more of it in kitchens, dining rooms, and offices.
AMS: Where do you think the happiest space on earth is, other than the Internet?
Caseysimone: Though I think that the Internet is an incredible platform for discussion and information it is not a physical space. As a digital space the Internet is my favorite, though I am not sure how much happiness it brings me. I don’t know where the happiest space on earth is, I don’t even know that I have a favorite space. I do know that many of my friends have spaces they love and call “their favorite spot on earth.”
AMS: As a fellow blogger/writer would you share with us the most important skills/qualities one must have in order to stand out and become successful in this field?
Caseysimone: The only blogs I have maintained are ones with a very focused purpose. I think in terms of creating a following, or a readership, making sure that your blog’s aim is clear and that the posts speak to that aim in a focused way is key to a blog’s success. Very practically, I have found that finding as much analog content (books, interviews, photographs, conversations, drawings) as you can is important to maintaining an interesting and compelling blog – it also keeps your eyes away from a computer screen, which is incredibly important. Lastly, content that is clear and well-written is important to a blog’s success; blogs that have clear intentions but have meandering, un-focused posts make it difficult for a reader to derive the intended by the blogger. This is not to say that posts should be works of impeccable literature, they can be, but more importantly they should be clear and compelling to the purpose of the blog. I am still learning and applying these concepts myself and through every post have attempted to link the ideas of happiness and space more succinctly in a way that encourages readers to think about those ideas as well.
AMS: Have you always been involved in photography and design?
Caseysimone: I have had a camera since I was 15, a Nikon D40, and have been designing buildings, objects, and systems since I can remember. I love taking images, but have never taken any courses in photography. I have, however, taken many classes in design, mostly in the form of studio architecture classes.
AMS: Who or what inspired you to be who you are? Who are/were your motivators?
Caseysimone: My family certainly inspired me to take a continued interest in design, though I am not clear if it is not simply a part of my nature to be spatially aware. Both of my parents are incredibly spatial as well, my dad is a contractor and built our family home, my mom has always decorated with an incredible eye for detail, contrast, color, and form. Seeing them choose the careers that made them happiest and develop their businesses in to successful ventures while growing up was certainly, and continues to be, a constant source of motivation. I have also been extremely motivated by my employers, for they have all given me a glimpse into the potential that lies ahead in the field.
AMS: What are your next goals for yourself and for (the) Happy Spaces Project?
Caseysimone: Designing a space, not a hypothetical space, as is often the case in architecture studios, but a space that comes to fruition. I hope for the (the) happy spaces project to continue to receive submissions and inspire more people to think about how space might be a part of happiness, especially designers, architects, and planners who often think of efficiency, elegance, aesthetic value, and intrigue but rarely throw around the concept of happiness.
AMS: Finally, what is your definition of success?
Caseysimone: I think success, like happiness, is often a fleeting sensation, but that through the acknowledgement of our success, big and small, we can derive satisfaction and contentment from our success and I feel that is the most important result of success. Success that brings unhappiness or discontent is no success at all.
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