Why we can’t hang out in cafes and bars draining our creativity – UB Now: News and ideas for UB faculty and staff

The Vision

Viking Artists Lunch at Café Ledoyen, Paris: Varnishing Day 1886, by Hugo Birger.

By encouraging random meetings and seamless conversation, coffee shops are the engines of innovation. Viking Artists Lunch at Café Ledoyen, Paris: Varnishing Day 1886, by Hugo Birger


Reprint from Conversation

Published 17 December 2020

While the pandemic has forced thousands of small businesses to close or close for a period of time, the demise of the corner coffee shop means more than a loss of wages.

It also represents a general loss of creativity.

Researchers have shown how creative thinking can be cultivated with simple practices such as exercise, sleep and reading. But another catapult is unplanned interaction with close friends, casual acquaintances and complete strangers. With the closure of coffee shops – not to mention places like bars, libraries, gyms and museums – these opportunities are gone.

Of course, not all opportunity meetings lead to brilliant ideas. But as we kick from place to place, each short social encounter sows a small seed that may be a new idea or inspiration.

By missing out on opportunity meetings and ideas that raise our curiosity and press “a-ha! ”Times, new ideas, big and small, go undetected.

It’s not the caffeine; it’s the people

Well-known artists, novelists and scientists are often seen as having their ideas and work come from a single mind. But this is false. The ideas of even the most intriguing poets, mathematicians or theologians are part of larger conversations among peers, or are reactions and responses to the world.

As author Steven Johnson wrote in “Where Good Ideas Come From,” the trick is to get good ideas without sitting around in glorious loneliness and trying to come up with great ideas. thinking. ”Instead, he suggests that we“ go on tour, ”“ accept serendipity ”and“ frequent coffee shops and other smelting networks. ”

Just as modern freelance writers could use coffee shops as a second office, the Enlightenment was inspired by 18th century London tea and coffee shops. Then, as now, people knew intuitively that they were “more productive or creative when working from coffee shops,” according to David Burkus, author of “Myths of Creativity.” As research shows, it’s not the caffeine; it’s the people. Just being around other people at work can motivate us to do the same.

In other words, there is social creativity.

It is also contextual. The built environment has a hidden but vital place. For example, architecture researchers in the UK have found that classroom design affects the pace at which students learn. They found that classroom features, such as furniture and lighting, have such an impact on learning as teachers. Sides like cafe design can add creativity.

Cafe in Davos - Oil on canvas - 72 x 92 cm - Museumslandschaft Hessen, Kassel, 1928 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Coffee shops are full, chaotic – and full of excitement. Cafe in Davos – Oil on canvas – 72 x 92 cm – Museumslandschaft Hessen, Kassel, 1928 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Designing for creativity

Buildings affect a wide range of human activities. Temperature and humidity, for example, affect our ability to concentrate. Daylight is positively associated with productivity, weight management and immune functions. And air quality, determined by HVAC systems as well as the chemical combination of furniture and interior materials such as carpet, affects both respiratory and mental health. Architectural design has even been associated with happiness.

Likewise, a well-designed coffee shop can enable creativity – where the unplanned freezing between people can ignite sparks of innovation.

Two newly completed coffee shops, Kilogram Coffee Shop in Indonesia and Buckminster Cat Cafe in Buffalo, were designed with this type of interaction in mind.

Each has an open, horizontal design that encourages density, which encourages opportunity. Lightweight and geometric furniture allows residents to rearrange seats and accommodate groups of different sizes, such as when an unexpected friend arrives. There are exterior views, which encourage relaxation and provide more opportunities for day work. And there is a moderate level of noise around – not too high or low – which causes mental intolerance, a state of deep, contemplative thinking.

Renewing the soul of the coffee shop

In fact, not all coffee shops have closed. Many shops have reduced indoor seating capacity, supporters are limited to outdoor seating or services are restricted to open access only. They have all taken on the difficult task of implementing safeguards while maintaining the feel of their premises. Some design elements, such as lighting, are easily kept amidst social distance and other safety measures. Others, like portable seats for collaboration, are more difficult to achieve safely.

While these tweaks allow businesses to stay open and ensure the safety of customers, they are spouting the places of the souls.

Philosopher Michel de Certeau said that the places we live in are the backdrop to which the “ensemble of abilities” and “improvisation” of everyday life take place.

As social life moves into the digital realm, those opportunities become limited. Conversations become preordained, while side conversations that occur before or after a meeting or event are eliminated. In video meetings, participants talk to the whole room or to anyone.

For cafe owners, employees and customers, the post-pandemic time can’t come fast enough. After all, while shoppers seem to stop by their local coffee shop for a jolt of caffeine, the real attraction of the place is the spirit of attraction and relaxation.

Editor’s note: Korydon Smith is an associate professor of architecture and associate director of the Global Health Equality Community of Excellence. Kelly Hayes McAlonie is an architecture educator and director of campus design. Rebecca Rotundo is associate director of educational planning at the Center for Educational Innovation.