Handrails

…Frank Gehry’s buildings, which from the outside look like they might not have windows, but in fact, he’s very careful to put in what he calls “handrails” so that wherever you are in the building you get a sight of view of the outside so you can orient yourself, and you can navigate more easily.

On ABC National Radio’s All in the Mind podcast, Ester Sternberg discusses the science of stress, place and wellbeing. The whole interview is fascinating, but her description of Gehry’s idea of handrails jumped out at me.

I haven’t come across Gehry’s concept of handrails before, but it appeals to me. It turns out that it’s a broader concept than Sternberg implies in her interview. The best definition I’ve found is in Karl E. Weick’s essay Designing for Thrownness:

Handrails are familiar details in an otherwise strange setting that give people a feeling of safety and heighten their willingness to wade into someone else’s preinterpreted world and try to become more attuned to what is already underway in it.

In the articles and interview I’ve found online, Gehry refers to handrails as the reason for the the symmetry of Walt Disney Concert Hall and his use of brick in The Strata Center.

Handrails. What a fantastic metaphor for providing people with a familiar guide in unfamiliar territory.