The Occupy London movement have taken over empty offices owned by the banking group UBS. The space – now called The Bank of Ideas – hosts workshops on everything from mindfulness meditation to alternative economics.
I joined a workshop on embodied stress management here on Saturday and was struck by how a space like this can be quickly transformed. Once there would have been clean white walls, ordered desks and computers. Now walls bright with inspiring graffiti frame fluid movement. A space previously filled with the efficient hum of business now echoes with the sound of drums and laughter.
Such transformations are simple enough. Anyone who has attended a training session arranged in a circle rather than rows of chairs can tell you that how we order space is crucial. Sitting in rows at a training session emphasises the a hierarchy of trainer/trainees and creates a strata with the ‘keen’ people at the front. Because we can all see each other when we sit in a circle, there’s more of a sense of community and less focus on stratified hierarchy. The trainer may still see themselves as leading the group, but the way our bodies are placed in the space works against that.
My experiences of the spaces within The Bank of Ideas exemplify the principle that much of our thinking is not only embodied but also situated. I’m not holding out for banks to start putting desks in circles rather than rows, but trainers at least are increasingly aware of the power of space.