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Is Facial Plastic Surgery Like Architecture?

I noticed the following excerpt from the personal essay I wrote for my facial plastic surgery fellowship application when looking through old email folders:

"My passion for facial plastic and reconstructive surgery in many ways parallels my interest in modern architecture. Irving Gill, one of my favorite architects and a 'premonitory prophet of rationalist modernism' in early twentieth century Southern California, designed residential structures which predated the popularity of the modernist style by decades. I recognize the importance of the qualities he possessed in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. These qualities include an appreciation of context, a creativity bound by the limits of material and structure, and an obsession with detail.

A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Gill was heavily influenced by his mentor’s appreciation of how the environment communicated with his designs. Gill’s work, as exemplified by the Dodge House, demonstrated a deep understanding of the historical, social, and environmental context in which it was constructed. Similarly, I appreciate the importance of context in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. I am fascinated by the concept of the face as a vehicle for communicating emotions and health. I wish to better understand the context in which patients negotiate their surroundings through their appearance in order to provide a surgical result which best matches how they see themselves.

The first rhinoplasty I participated in clarified the challenge of understanding how the limits imposed by tissue and anatomy affect cosmesis, just as Gill created residences that were not only fireproof and earthquake resistant but also beautiful. It was a formative experience for me, because it was the first opportunity I had to realize both a cosmetic and functional outcome for a patient. What excited me about facial plastic and reconstructive surgery was how this concept carried through the field."

Architecture remains my favorite art form and a passion. In fact, if you look at the shelving behind my practice manager’s desk you will see a book titled Architecture of the Sun: Los Angeles Modernism 1900 – 1970 by Thomas S. Hines, a famous architectural historian who taught at UCLA. I remain proud of the above portion of my essay, not only because I believe my argument holds true, but also because I believe architecture is not an art form - like sculpture - many have confidently argued has parallels with facial plastic surgery.

Admittedly, the rest of my essay was uninspired. The remaining text included all the statements we are taught we are supposed to write in order to check the necessary boxes for fellowship directors.

Irving Gill remains one of my favorite architects, not necessarily because his homes are the most beautiful, but because of the way he maintained the vernacular of Southern California while still pushing forward innovations in design, materials, and construction methods long before they became popular and widely adopted.

This essay is meaningful to me because it freezes a moment in time prior to my embarking on the journey to become a facial plastic surgeon. I can reflect on my thinking then - which, of course, has changed - and contemplate the future.

We Subconsciously Respond to Similar Features in Faces and the Built Environment

The book Cognitive Architecture: Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment by Anne Sussman and Justin Hollander provides additional insights into how facial plastic surgery and architecture relate. Human cognition includes a subconscious component which developed as an evolutionary survival mechanism to allow a rapid assessment of nearby dangers. Humans are hardwired to search for faces everywhere, including in the built environment. As a result, car designers design the front of vehicles look like human faces. It is also why humans tend to react more positively to buildings with a hint of an appearance of a human face. Humans intuitively feel more secure in environments with other humans nearby whose facial expressions are recognizable. As a result, humans intuitively prefer narrower streets because they feel safer. Humans prefer symmetry, balance, and gentle curves when looking at human faces. They prefer this in buildings as well.

These features of the human subconscious were intuitively understood by traditional architects. They were elucidated and measured only recently using modern biometric tools such as eye tracking which measures how frequently the human eye subconsciously focuses on areas in the visual field. A well-designed building elicits a positive emotional experience due to these subconscious processing mechanisms. Certain facial features elicit the same response. I believe one of the goals of facial plastic surgery is to elicit such a subconscious positive response in others.

Trust Your Face to a Facial Plastic Surgeon

It is important to seek a fellowship-trained specialist in plastic surgery of the face and neck when you have concerns about age-related changes to your face and/or neck.

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Request a consultation with Dr. Harmon at Harmon Facial Plastic Surgery in Cincinnati. Visit our clinic. You will learn more about Dr. Harmon’s credentials, style and approach. Build a relationship with our dedicated team. Do not stop at searching “plastic surgery near me.” Get in touch with us today to learn more!

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