A conversation with colleagues and an unrelated news article have come together in a surprising twist this week.

Over lunch yesterday, Nick, Erin, Critter and I discussed the issue of transparency versus translucency in government and business practices (is it really transparent if what you’re doing is just a free-for-all data dump?) and today I read an article on material success versus happiness (http://nyti.ms/cYokeR.)

If we consider how concepts of openness, exchange, material luxury and happiness connect philosophically, it’s not difficult to extrapolate that to the built environment. What is it about certain places that make us feel happy or uncomfortable? Why do some places encourage open exchange versus false appearances? Do we feel more successful and happy in some places? Do we feel more comfortable or exposed? Why and how do other places allow for more modesty or increased delight?

As soon as we step out of our front door in the morning, we begin a ritual of layers all suited to the physical places we’re about to visit. We cover our naked selves with clothing and accessories to fit the day’s agenda, we fix (or don’t fix) our hair and makeup, we equip ourselves with briefcases and hand-carried accoutrements, and we elect an attitude that is socially acceptable in proportion to the venue—whether it is how we truly feel or not.

Admittedly, some of us are more challenged than others when it comes to disguising displeasure and/or glee, given the circumstance, yet it’s curious to see a certain net fall over all of our needs, desires, emotions, feelings, expressions, exchanges and reactions—and it’s certainly a sliding scale depending upon time of day, the physical construct (or lack thereof), materiality, and the people similarly drawn there.

Therein, too, lies a question of public versus private; in some cases, individuals find more freedom in the public realm that one would assume anyone could discover in the private realm. Depending upon the architects of these environments (physical, structural, emotional, interior, natural, etc.), we may or may not have control over any of the walls that house us throughout the course of our day.

Which are we more comfortable with—the personae we’ve constructed or the one that inherently resides within?

People and places are irrevocably related; how do we go about finding the places that evoke happiness and authenticity in the unique expression of ourselves? What are the elements inherent in those places?

Is it more important to fit into someone else’s construct (or the places in which you hoped you’d assimilate) rather than create your own? Is it possible to be truly transparent, if not translucent, even part of the time? What’s the value of that transparency and how does it shape the built environment and the people around you?

Existentially, do we create our environments—or do our environments create us?