According to a poll conducted by the Dialogue Institute and Tel-Aviv University, 42 percent of Israelis have never met a Palestinian person. When the two groups are so far apart that many have never even met, it could be difficult to imagine the two groups coming together, let alone exchanging ideas for peace. Yes, the internet has a massive effect on communication, but research shows that there’s nothing quite like a face-to-face conversation.
For years, researchers have noted the effect of proximity and conversation on the formulation of ideas. At its roots, it’s a simple principle: when you put a few people together in a common area and encourage them to chat, even casually, that’s where ideas begin to take shape. One person says something, another person adds to it, and it snowballs into something meaningful, significant, and even actionable.
The root of this process has a name. It’s called “the proximity principle,” where people tend to associate items or people located close together as part of the same group. We see ourselves as part of that group as well – our seatmates, our officemates, whomever – and we form associations and even bonds based on that proximity.
What about that space we mentioned earlier? Does the actual room or area matter when it comes to the proximity principle? While there hasn’t been a lot of research on the effects on the space on this principle, there are some commonalities emerging.
We see the proximity principle in play in the business world. In the workplace, dozens of people from different backgrounds, locations, religions, personal experiences, ages and the like come together for the same goal: to get work done. Placement in the same office groups these employees together, and with so many different supposed differences, finding commonality beyond work may not be a given right away. How can the office space encourage conversation – and better yet, ideas that would improve the company – among this new group of people?
Most importantly, people are encouraged to mingle – sit where they feel comfortable, chat with their neighbor. If there’s a cubicle wall between them or if they’re in separate rooms, that inhibits the free flow of conversation which can lead to big ideas.
Communal space is also important. Whether that means a shared break area, open stairways, or a communal kitchen in the center of it all, these designated “non-working” spaces further encourage banter and small talk while not thinking about work. Letting the mind wander in these non-work spaces builds in space for a much-needed “break” from working on a project.
The office space is a perfect parallel to the Menorah Islands – a group of people of wildly-varying ages, backgrounds and economic status, coming together because they’re united by our mission to encourage peace through economic collaboration, environmental conservation and education.
Bringing people to the table isn’t the same as getting them to talk, though. With more than 40 percent of Israelis going their whole lives without meeting a Palestinian, it may take some non-verbal cues from their surroundings to encourage conversations. That’s why we designed a space at the center of each island designated to the free exchange of ideas.
At the center of each of the seven artificial islands is a tower which houses a different field of study. Around each tower is a designated zone designed for the free exchange of ideas. A borderless, sunshine-drenched area encourages co-mingling, productivity, and even taking a break to get to know one another. These sacred spaces are a core part of driving our mission here at the Menorah Islands, built right in to our architectural plans.