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Phrenology is the “science of the mind.” It’s the science of examining the physical characteristics of a person’s skull, by feeling the surface of one’s head to evaluate one’s personality and traits. All these abilities and attributes revealed from the examination can give one insight into how to pursue his or her best potential.
Phrenology began in the 19th century by Austrian physician Dr. Spurzheim, where he traveled to the U.S. on a lecture tour, making it very popular with the Americans. A man named Orson Fowler attended Dr. Spurzheim’s lecture in Boston, MA, where he became so fascinated with the theories and philosophy from the lecture, he ditched his previous career goals and pursued an internationally successful career as a Phrenologist.
Orson Fowler’s career soon made Phrenology so popular in 19th century America, that among his clients were President James Garfield and fifteen year old Clara Barton, who became the future founder of the American Red Cross. Phrenology’s attributes to the medical field helped shape psychology by the use of measuring and analyzing individual differences, and have also helped pave the way for mainstream science to accept the brain as an organ of the mind being composed of multiple distinct, innate faculties. But, what does Phrenology have to do with Octagon Houses?
Orson S. Fowler became well known in the 19th century as a Phrenologist, and seemed to be ahead of his time in the field of alternative and holistic health.
As a firm believer in advocating fresh air, exercise, early rising, good hygeine, a largely vegetarian diet, and refraining from alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco, his enthusiasm for the health of the body and the power of the mind, coupled with his Phrenological expertise, drew him into a new interest of designing houses using the Octagon Model of home design.
The Octagon Design was a superior model to that of the common rectangular build, because the “angles” of the octagon allowed for extra sunlight and better ventilation throughout the house, making it a healthier choice than the common housing model.
Orson’s passion for phrenology and holistic living led him to feel that a person’s home should correspond with one’s unique and special characteristics and traits, and therefore the houses they design and build should allow a person to improve oneself and quality of life. Mr. Fowler traveled giving lectures, publishing books and articles promoting his theories and plans for building Octagon Houses to improve our health and quality of life.
For over 10 years, Octagon Houses have flourished as a major 19th Century novelty throughout the United States, and although they have become very rare and exotic today, they are uniquely American in their architectural form.
The Octagon was a common preferred architecture for Arenas and Educational Establishments: within the Octagon’s shape, there is a “common arena,” where there is a field of awareness of experiences which must be balanced, absorbed and learned inside the constraints of meaning and purpose.