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49 of 61 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Questionable concept but read the book anyway., December 13, 2005
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This review is from: Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places (Paperback)
I'm rarely uncertain about my reviews but I am with this one. I've gone through Toby's recommended process of discovery and I think it is partially valid but either incomplete or on the wrong track. Her questionnaires and analysis of past experiences with "home" are the basis of her theory and book.

From Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness "It is difficult to find even small effects of childhood events on adult personality, and there is no evidence at all of large effects." (I happen to be reading this article with this quote, I haven't read the book yet: [...])

I just don't see a childhood environment influence in my design preferences. I suspect that we are influenced much more by what we are exposed to that we remember. If a child sees a dome in a house and happens to remember 30 years later that a dome can be used in a house design then that designer is more likely to use a dome. My understanding of Toby's theory is that the designer would use a dome feature if they had a happy environment with a dome in the home in their previous experience. I see this as more coincidental than part of the psychological make-up of the designer.

I grew up in an old California mining town and my parent's house had bats in the attic. The bats were amusing but I don't recall the urge to design my homes with accomodations for bats.

An Amazon review is no place to get into a full academic discussion but I believe I've seen enough decent research that works against her theory and that my personal experience combined with her approach does not work at all. It would take a book to refute her theory properly but at least don't accept it without question.

What value has this book, theory, and process to architectural and interior design? I found that the insight into the thinking and histories of the three superb architects she interviews was worth my time and money. Also, her process should work at least some of the time, and possibly more often than not. It can't hurt to know the client better and her technique is not burdensome.

I recommend reading the book if you are doing design and want another theoretical reference point.

- jim
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 23, 2006 12:59:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 23, 2006 1:05:26 PM PDT
HCS says:
A Sense of Home and A Sense of Self Goes Way Back

Your comment about the bats seemed to be missing the point; it's not the specific subject (i.e. bats), but long-held feelings about your childhood (both good and bad) that shape how you create your space. And, these memories may exist in the body or through emotions before language is developed (Siegel, 1999).

As a therapist and academic whose interests include emotional regulation and the brain, and helping clients find a sense of self and home (often in their bodies first), I think Israel's book is an interesting and fun twist on the well-validated idea that a sense of self forms early in development through the environment (Bowlby, 1969; Main &Solomon, 1986; Tronick, 1989).

In fact, current neuroscience research suggest that early experiences literally affect your
current biochemistry and neural pathways in the brain (Schore, 2003). These experiences also shape who you are and affect others in contact with you (Siegel, 1999).

Perhaps that comment from Martin Seligman was taken out of context; after all, that was in a local
newspaper article. Or, perhaps he's claiming it's possible to triumph over past experiences; which in fact, is also supported by recent neurological research. But, to say that early events do not shape one's personality is to ignore extensive neurological and attachment research on the formation of the brain in interpersonal relationships. For more info, check out Allan Schore's, Daniel Siegel's and Daniel Stern's books -- all on

For Reference

Bowlby, J.. Attachment and loss, Vol. 1: Attachment. New York: Basic Books; & Hogarth Press. 1969

Main, M. and J. Solomon (1986). Discovery of an insecure-disorganized/ disoriented attachment pattern. In T. B. Brazelton and M. W. Yogman, Affective
development in infancy. Nowrood, NJ, Ablex Publishing.

Schore, Alan (2003). Affect regulation and the repair of the self. New York: W.W. Norton and Co,

Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York: Guilford Press.

Stern, Daniel (1985). The interpersonal world of the infant. N.Y.: Basic Books.

Tronick, E. (1989). Emotions and emotional communication in infants. American Psychologist, 44, 112–119.

Posted on Sep 26, 2006 1:19:55 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 26, 2006 1:26:51 AM PDT
I just wanted to expose a little experience I had during my bachelors degree schooling that has affected my understanding of design and designers throughout my life and I think is very appropriate to this discussion...

While in school I took a studio course where the teacher, on the first day, in the first 15 minutes of class asked everyone to do an exercise. The exercise was to design and present (in sketch form) a park.

There were no design restrictions placed on anyone in the 30+ studio class. No restrictions on size, codes, scope, aesthetics, budget, etc., etc. The presentation was to be anything that was necessary to convey the design, consisting of plans, perspectives, sections, etc. all done in quick sketch form. The only limitation was that it had to be done within 5 minutes! (design and presentation). Basically there was no time to think too much about it. Needless to say, it was a very focused 5 minute session.

The results were amazing! Although nobody knew it at first... We all presented and when we were done, the teacher exposed a very curious aspect to all of our designs. Every one of us had subconsciously and unknowingly designed a park that reflected a park almost exactly from our childhood. Most designed typical parks but unique, and one from New York City had designed a concrete park with jungle gyms, swings etc... I specifically remembered that one because at first I could not understand how someone who had no design limitations could have designed a park without any grass or landscape, other than a relatively small number of trees placed in square planters?...

After realizing this was accurate with my own 5 minute spontaneous design, I was amazed! Throughout my design experience in school I became aware of the fact that many people including myself would (unfortunately) start out the design process with a mental preconception of what their project design was going to be and spend the rest of the semester working to justify that design. As a designer you may also notice that we often come full circle in a design process back to an initial design concept, not unlike the 5 minute park design exercise some of us experienced that day.

In conclusion, I find it very likely that our childhood has an enormous effect on our design process whether it is unconscious or conscious (unlikely).

Posted on Nov 17, 2007 6:42:40 AM PST
D. Farrell says:
Your choice to focus on a total & literal recreation of your childhood home seems a tad batty to me -- maybe you carry those bats in the attic with you.

Posted on Aug 15, 2010 6:08:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 15, 2010 6:13:57 PM PDT
J. A. Samet says:
I totally disagree with you Jim. I am an interior designer, and when I looked back on my childhood memories, and other memories of happy environments, I realized that subconciously I had re-created many of those aspects in my present home. I don't think "bats" qualify as "happy memory", but to each his own. Personally, I do remember that the only place in my childhood home that was "happy" was my cozy little bedroom. Coincidentally(?), my present office is painted the same color? As well as the exterior of my present home? Coincidence? Don't think so. Dr. Israel's exercises allow the invidividual to find the answers to their quest for the "ideal home" within themselves, rather than looking "outside" to find the answers. In doing so, we, who design spaces for them, get a keener insight into places that made them happy. If you acquaint yourself with psychoneuroimmunology, you will find that environment plays an extremely important part in maintaining good mental, physical and emotional health. In fact, environment in the PNI model is the stimulus for beneficial secretion of neurotransmitters. Research confirms this. Hospitals are using these tools to heal their patients, and thus I disagree with you. Happy environments that suit the individual are key to their good health, and as designers we have an obligation to use the elements of design to provide those individuals with the most comfortable, ("comfort" being a personal factor) and aesthetically pleasing (also personal) environments that we can provide. And, those answers are found only within the individual we are designing spaces for; and those answers are also found in their "history of happiest places". I strongly suggest you read Clare Cooper Marcus,(an Environmental Psychologist who has spent her life researching the deeper meaning of home), "House as Mirror of Self", and you will find that she too confirms the importance of happy memories beginning in childhood. Of course, you may still disagree with me, but do so with some qualified reading material beneath your belt before you doubt the importance of Dr. Israel's methodology.

Posted on Sep 14, 2010 8:26:39 PM PDT
There are some fallacies in your argument. First off, you wrote that it doesn't apply to you. Assuming it is 100% true in your case, it still doesn't mean it isn't true for most brains. It will need a proper experiment, two groups of people, and a lot of questions. The second - but more important - thing is, there are many studies on decision-making processes that have shown how at least some portions of the decision-making processes are unknown to the subject whose brain is performing them. Therefore, rather than insisting in the false dichotomy between Freudian psychology and cognitive psychology, it is better to realize that it's because some decision-making processes are indeed "unconscious" we can not trust introspection (yours included) and it's precisely for the same reason that we should trust behaviours instead.
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