Milan – Google’s exhibition during this year’s Milan Design Week sounded innocent enough. VP of Design Ivy Ross and her team would be using a wearable armband to measure the body’s reactions to conceived spaces, and use that data to determine which home environments make visitors feel more at ease.
What I got, instead, was a class in socioeconomic conditioning.
In Latin America, where I’m originally from, post-colonialism is alive and well. The Spaniards and the Portuguese left behind a human Pantone scale that, while not as (ahem) black-and-white as the divisions seen in the American South and South Africa, does create invisible lines that keep darker-skinned individuals from shopping, lounging, eating or just being in certain beautifully designed spaces.
A Space for Being has three judiciously designed living rooms, created in collaboration with architect Suchi Reddy of Reddymade. To help the armband have enough time to measure giveaways such as heart rate and reactive skin porousness, they are lined up in a sequence of five-minute stays. The first belongs to a dream of New Mexico chic, with warm brown tones, rustic walls and a generous serving of wool; the room’s shape seen from above mimics the calming rounded corners of the Google Home Max speaker. The second is a splashy sea of blue and pink, from the furniture to the wall panels; books fit for curious children are set on the dining table for free perusal and a citrusy scent fills the air. The third features wooden artwork and walls covered in a fascinatingly elegant marble-like micro-paper compound material, produced by Paper Factor. I was mesmerized by the first and the last; I couldn’t get out of the second one fast enough.
And yet this is where the data pointed to me feeling most comfortable, with punctilious precision.
Why would my body equate ease with dislike? Because my mind knew something my biodata didn’t: as a mixed-race Latin American woman, I have been conditioned to not feel comfortable in elegantly considered spaces. That’s where the white elite belongs. Not me.
My mind knew something my biodata didn’t
Sadder even is the reason why my physiological responses flatlined in the second room: as I didn’t find the décor as enticing to my self-professed elegantly considered interests, I mentally checked out. The laughable design snob I carry inside thought this room was beneath me.