For the last few weeks, we’ve been featuring some of the speakers who will appear at the first TEDxDayton event, Nov. 15 at the Victoria Theatre downtown. Architecture and design are topics often discussed in TED talks, and Springfielder Marta Wojcik, the executive director/curator of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Westcott House will examine how urban planning, public space and the aesthetics of the places we inhabit affect how we think and live. We caught up with her recently to talk about TEDxDayton. To learn more about the event, visit TEDxDayton.com.
Q: What made you want to be a TEDx speaker?
A: Like everyone else, I’ve been watching TED talks for a long time. They can be so emotionally charged, and make you feel you’ve experienced this awakening, to the point that you can be pretty annoying to other people because you want to share. I always bug my husband with them. But they make you a better person, and more aware. Whether it’s Sir Kenneth Robinson talking about education, or Brene Brown talking about vulnerability, there are all these people in the talks who shake you. A lot of the talks are about things you kind of had an intuition about, that you kind of knew, but they connect you to the idea in a way that makes you see it differently. I hope that’s what we’ll accomplish in Dayton.
Q: You live and work in Springfield. Do you think people there will snap into the event?
A: I really hope so. It’s a Miami Valley-wide event, pulling in resources from the whole area. I’m going to recruit some people from here. It’s going to be incredible to be able to experience such a diversity of speakers, from all different paths of life, and spend a whole day with such creative people.
Q: So, what will your talk be about?
A: I’m very interested in exploring the idea of how the place we choose affects our lifestyle and other choices we make. Being a transplant from Krakow, Poland, to Springfield via Chicago, my perspective has evolved on this. I feel in general that so many of our public spaces stink, and this has a real psychological impact. So many communities across the United States have become places where the car dominates everything, and you have a lack of green spaces, seas of ugly parking lots, huge box stores that dominate and diminish the character of the place. And this isn’t just an American problem — there are plenty of places around the world where you find ugly, depressing architecture. Really, we’ve all been scarred in some way by bad urban planning and some of the really horrible decisions that have been made over the years. But this affects how people perform and live and interact with each other.
Q: Did you become interested in this subject before you moved to the U.S.?
A: I did. What I experienced in Poland growing up was Communism, and the way public spaces were transformed by the regime. They put up huge sculptures of Lenin and Stalin, and they used public spaces to manipulate people. It was interesting how much effort they put into designing places where people might congregate. After 1989, those statues disappeared, and spaces were transformed to truly reflect the spirit of the country, which has so much beautiful medieval and Renaissance architecture. It meant a lot to me.
Q: What about here?
A: Well, you can discover and experience the impact of spaces anywhere — whether it’s historic architecture, new architecture, festivals, open space, the things that make an area special. I feel really fortunate to be in Springfield and Dayton during a time when there’s a strong movement toward historic preservation, where people are working to save important buildings and really taking care to emphasize and enhance the distinct character of a place.
Q: Any place in the U.S. where they’re doing it right?
A: Well, there is currently a lot of buzz in the design community about Cleveland, the development of their theater district, and some very strong public-spaces initiatives. So right here in Ohio, you can look how to engage people with interesting public art. One famous example, of course, is Chicago’s Millennium Park, with the Bean — you can see there how you can introduce some new surfaces, some water, some projections, and all the sudden take this dead piece of land and infuse it with so much life. It’s unbelievable how successful it’s been there. I see this happening on some levels in our area, but Dayton and Springfield still need more of this.
Q: Do you think most people think much about these issues?
A: I don’t know. When we give tours of architectural landmarks, people often say, “Oh, I never noticed that, and I go by it all the time.” Still, architecture unconsciously touches you — it affects your mood, it may encourage you to interact with other people, or it may discourage you from doing so. I don’t think people realize it enough, or feel empowered to do anything about it, just thinking — well, that’s for urban planners or for the city to take care of. But we need to pay more attention to planning issues and participate — and voice our opinions on what we like and don’t like. If you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that we travel to destinations where we plan to experience beautiful places and things, and then we subject ourselves the rest of the time to not thinking about how to get pleasure from the surroundings we’re in most of the time. People will pay attention to their own home, sure, but we need to think bigger — to think of our communities as something we can actively shape. And on a policy or government level, aesthetics and art are often an afterthought — but they need to be part of the conversation from the get-go.
Q: How should people go about learning what they like and don’t?
A: It’s all about education. I think we all need to spend some time and learn. For instance, start by thinking about the products you buy and use every day — their aesthetics and their function. It’s one of the things we try to do at the Westcott House, programs and events and art to make people more aware of their city and community and the spaces they inhabit.
Q: Do you think artists see themselves as leaders on this sort of community issue?
A: I wonder about that — but they truly are. By the nature of their work, they’re usually self-employed, they’re interpreters. They’re often entrepreneurs. That should be acknowledged more. But really, we need to recognize that we all have a role to play in the decisions that affect our communities and the way they evolve. How can we affect and inspire social change, or behave in a positive way?
Q: Relate Wright’s work to these ideas.
A: Wright was interesting because he had this strong idea that everyone should be able to have a well-designed house, with a little land. He lived in different times, before the age when the consequences of the automobile had such a big impact on our communities. But he was very vocal about the role of architecture in transforming a community, and the responsibility that comes from being an architect or an artist about educating people about design and society.
Q: What do you hope will be the main takeaway for your talk?
A: That each one of us can play a role in the way our communities grow and change. Support local initiatives that are good. Be more aware of the arts and culture in your own community, and take a stand on things that matter to you. Actively participate. Pay attention. Appreciation of your places grows as you learn more about the place where you live. We all need to explore the place we live.