Can A Building Have A Soul?

Why does it matter? Can we build a soul?

Whenever I walk around new cities for the first time I’m always taken in by the mystery of the buildings I pass by.

There are unlimited stories in the lives of the thousands who have lived behind those doors, created works of beauty and suffered deep tragedy.

We can build soul in places, often we can’t help but.

I remember reading the following piece in The Tent by Margaret Atwood in my early twenties and it shattered everything I thought I knew about souls.

No More Photos by Margaret Atwood from Goodreads

We seek evidence and information to give us a firm idea of what is. But the best tool we have are stories, and stories are subjective. The variation that subjectivity brings also gives us the beauty.

Around the UK we have blue plaques on buildings that were home to culturally significant people, or places they stayed at crucial moments in history. Why is this important? Everyone has to live or work somewhere.

We know that those buildings were occupied, we know they’re hundreds of years old, but we can’t easily imagine those stories ourselves.

What even is a soul in this setting?

It’s the stories embedded in people, that may or may not be retold and may or may not give us a glimpse of what role that building played in a bigger tale.

When we open new spaces we work hard to build soul into these buildings. Some buildings that already have a story to uncover, some who already tell their stories and some that are so new that they don’t have a story yet.

By giving people an experience, memories, a version of events, we can build soul. Every time they walk past a building that was otherwise unremarkable, or that they’d never even noticed before, they’re taken back to a moment.

Those stories give a building a reason to be meaningful to people, to communities, to towns and cities. Bricks and mortar that means more.

It’s that feeling in your belly when you drive past the house you grew up in, or that your grandparents’ house from your youth. A house that looks like any other to someone else, but to you means the world. The happy birthdays, the scraped knees, the first pets, the first mourning.

We’re currently working to create a space in an old nightclub building and it is really brilliant when you hear stories from people who remember what it was like as a nightclub during their formative youth.

There was another story when we announced we were opening a space in the White Collar Factory and one of our original members in Caerphilly told us that her Dad used to work at the original building.

We can build soul by creating events and occasions, but more effectively to give people turning points and transformation.

I’ll write about rituals and temples and their importance in community building in a future post, but the soul is a more foundational element.

If our intention is to help build something bigger and more significant for a community through our actions, then the building will benefit. The legend can grow, and become a beacon for potential, opportunities, new ways of thinking and new value.

If we are really seeking to create the new palaces for the people then we need to make sure our buildings create that deeper sense of meaning.

Create ways for people to create memories in buildings and you create soul. You can’t guarantee the soul, but if you consider deeply the creation of meaning then you have a good chance.

Is there a particular building that you think has soul? Do you think people would see it the same way?

Thanks for the love last week — I managed to make Hector Kolonas’ top 3 clicks in the excellent “This Week in Coworking” — go subscribe if you’ve got an interest in the world of coworking.

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Gareth I. Jones

Gareth I. Jones

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Founder of TownSq, focused on building communities of entrepreneurs, supporting startups and B Corps - businesses that are better for the planet.