Donald M. Rattner, AIA, is the author of My Creative Space and the principal of Donald M. Rattner, Architect. As a consultant he draws on scientific research to help individuals and organizations maximize occupant creativity in workplace, residential, wellness, hospitality and retail environments.
Educator and author as well as practitioner, Rattner's publications include The Creativity Catalog, Parallel of the Classical Orders of Architecture, entries in professional reference books, and numerous contributions to print and online channels.
He has taught at the University of Illinois, New York Academy of Art, New York University, Parsons School of Design, and online. Workshop and lecture venues include NeoCon, Creative Mornings, Creative Problem Solving Institute, and many others. His work has been featured on CNN and in such publications as The New York Times, Town & Country, Robb Report, Builder, Traditional Building Magazine, Residential Architect, L-Magazine, Better Humans, Design Milk, and Work Design Magazine. He holds a Bachelor's degree in art history from Columbia and a Masters of Architecture from Princeton. For more, visit DonaldRattner.com.
Your home is more than a castle; it's a catalyst for creative ideas. In this inspiring series based on his book My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation, award-winning architect, author, and educator Donald M. Rattner explains how simple and accessible techniques for shaping your home can boost creativity and spark innovation. Drawing on the latest research in psychology and productivity, Rattner offers a first of its kind how-to guide for unlocking home's hidden power to promote insight and imagination regardless of size, type, style, or location.
Environmental psychology studies the influence of the built and natural environments on how we think, feel, and act. Among its goals are to replace intuitive inferences with scientifically verified deductions, and to raise the quality of life by solving real-world problems.
Establish a consistent place at home for pursuing your creative interests. A well-defined idea space can actuate divergent thinking, increase motivation, reinforce routine, and jumpstart productivity. Includes a chart of the daily routines of famous creatives who found different ways to balance work and play.
Write it down. Draw it up. Writing and drawing help you retain, develop, and execute ideas. Includes the story behind the invention of the flexible drinking straw conceived by Joseph B. Friedman in response to a problem at a San Francisco soda fountain, and an exploration in the four functions in fueling imagination.
1. What's your name?
2. Where are you from?
I was born and raised on the north shore of Long Island. I moved to New York City to attend Columbia and lived there for about forty years before moving north to greener pastures (literally).
3. Who are you today?
In my professional life, I am an architect, author, and educator.
4. What do you do? (Elevator speech)
I help individuals and organizations optimize creativity by drawing on scientific research in the psychology of space.
5. What's your story (how did you get here)?
I'd been running a firm focused primarily on custom residential design when I got a project that called for modular construction. This is a method for constructing buildings where multiple 'boxes' are assembled in a nearby factory, then trucked to the building site, lowered by crane on foundations, bolted together, and finished off. Once the work is done, you can't tell a modular building from one constructed piece by piece on the site, which is how most structures are realized.
This was a lightbulb moment for me. It was as if somebody had taken away my box of crayons and sketchpad, given me a set of LEGOs in their place, and then told me I still had to make a building, but I could only do it using interlocking bricks of a predetermined size and shape. Those are two totally different approaches to conceiving and constructing a work of architecture.
This got me thinking about what it means to be creative, at least within the architectural sphere. I started to explore the issue by reading anything I could get my hands on. In doing so, I began to stumble on a lot of research on the psychological connections between creativity and built space. It might have been because I was using certain terms to search the Internet for material.
I soon realized that there was an enormous amount of experimental data out there linking our built surroundings to our ability to be creative. However, nobody had synthesized the material to tell a coherent story, or made it accessible to non-scientists and non-designers. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew I was writing My Creative Space!
6. Why is creativity important to you?
Creativity is what makes us human. It also makes life worth living. On a personal level, I've long felt the need to channel my creative interests to a positive end. I think it's in my genes, courtesy of my parents, both of whom had creative interests — Dad was a sometimes playwright, Mom an architectural historian and aficionado.
7. When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I'd say it first made itself manifest around college age. In fact, the principal reason I went to Columbia and lived in New York for many years afterward so I could participate in the city's intensely creative culture.
8. How did you embrace it?
I lived a creative life!
9. How did that feel?
Pretty darned good, I'd say.
10. Where has your journey taken you?
Literally, everywhere. Figuratively, everywhere.
11. What challenges have you faced?
Living the creative life often entails sacrifices. Like being compelled to take up residence in a different zip code than all your college buddies who went to law school, or who bought Apple at $7 a share. Not to mention the usual hurdles to making oneself heard, like getting a literary agent and publisher to buy into your vision for a book, along with a few people to read it besides your in-laws.
12. What worked for you?
13. What didn't work for you?
I'm still trying to figure out social media.
14. What three tips can you share with those starting on a similar path?
15. What are you working on now?
I'm putting together a proposal for my next book. It's going to be about the psychology of safe space — how to shape the built environment to satisfy our subconscious need to feel protected in our surroundings. It draws a lot from my research for My Creative Space — not surprising, since creativity and psychological safety go hand-in-hand.
Think about it: creativity by its nature requires us to have the courage to do what we do. After all, it's often very risky to pursue an idea that's never been tested, never been done before. Since you can't predict the outcome, you're automatically exposing yourself to failure, rejection, censure, even ridicule. That's why it's so important that creatives operate in a psychologically safe climate, one in which people feel empowered to advance new ideas without being afraid of getting labeled the office or class 'kook', being held back from advancement, or suffer some other personal or professional degradation.
16. What's coming up for you in the next year?
After I get a publisher contract for the aforementioned book, I have to write it!
17. What else do you desire/dream to do?
Writing a book will surely keep me busy enough, especially when there's nowhere to go (thanks Covid). But of course, one also has a personal life to enjoy. I'm looking forward to the day when I can travel the globe again. Any creative worth his or her salt is a natural explorer.
18. How will you make that happen?
Get out more? I guess I'd have to invent a Covid vaccine. But I'll leave that to others. Or do you mean writing the book? That's where the perseverance part comes in.
19. What question would you like to answer that hasn't been asked?
Q: If there are three things you would advise every creative to think about in fitting out their work space, what would they be?
A: SNB, pronounced "snob."
S = Spaciousness, meaning that you feel the space to be expansive. That doesn't mean it has to be big; it simply means that you shouldn't feel hemmed in. The reason is that science shows that the more open we feel the space around us to be, the more open we are to new ideas, new ways of doing things, new ways of looking at the world. The more hemmed in we feel, the more close-minded we become instead. Simple ways to do this include having access to a window or opening to the outside; artwork showing deep space, like a landscape photo; or turning your desk so you look into the surrounding space rather than directly at a wall.
N = Nature. Bring elements from the organic world into your creative space to tap into our affinity for all things natural. Desk plants, the color green on your walls or computer background, and that landscape print have all been found by researchers to boost idea flow.
B = Beauty. Beauty is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Neuroimaging studies prove as much. And not only does being exposed to beautiful things promote creativity on a psychological level, but if you make your space appealing to yourself, you're going to want to spend more time in it, which will make your more productive.
20. Where can we find you online?
My website offers a number of resources for creatives, including online courses, links to books, podcasts, events and educational outlets, and a blog, all focusing on creativity. Check it out at DonaldRattner.com. I'm also on all the usual social media channels, e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.