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The Bronx, Art Deco, and Neuroscience

Posted by on Thursday, 16 July, 2009

By Constance Rosenblum

The other day I visited the Art Deco apartment of José Diaz-Oyola, a nursing supervisor who lives on the Grand Concourse overlooking Joyce Kilmer Park. I made the visit so I could write about Mr. Diaz-Oyola for the Habitats column of The New York Times. The article will be published in the Real Estate section on Sunday, July 19.

The apartment had all the amenities associated with these buildings — the sunken living room, the wraparound windows — but what particularly impressed me was the sense of flow from one room to another and how open the space seemed to feel. It was a far cry from the claustrophobic railroad flats of old, with their tiny rooms branching off from a single narrow hallway. These mid-century architects clearly knew a thing or two about the design of interior spaces. Even though Mr. Diaz-Oyola’s apartment was not vast in terms of square feet, it felt awfully livable.

I was thinking about the issue a few days later when I read a review in The Times of a book called You Are Here: Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon, but Get Lost in the Mall by a Canadian behavioral neuroscientist named Colin Ellard. When I was writing Boulevard of Dreams, my history of the Grand Concourse to be published by NYU Press next month, I spent a lot of time pondering what made the buildings of the Grand Concourse so appealing. And so I was particularly struck by what Ellard had to say about housing design.
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