Imagine a typical metropolis, thronged with the characteristic urban scenario. Who are the protagonists of the scene? The towering skyscrapers, the labyrinth of intersections, the swarm of cars or are the human figures? Be it a city, a market, a school, or a house, architecture acquires meaning and value only if it is inhabited by humans, or else it is just an aggregate of building materials. An architectural design endeavor attains success only when there is healthy interaction and communication between the building and its users. Hence the buildings have to make their users a part of it, rather than making them mere spectators or surveyors.

“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”– This very famous quote by Winston Churchill implies the truth that humans and buildings are not isolated components of social life but symbiotic relatives. The people-centered or user-oriented architecture is a humanistic design approach in which the humans or the users are the nuclei of architects’ thoughts. Then how does architectural design become humane?

Architecture achieves humanity when it becomes experiential to its users or in other words, it influences the humans, psychologically and physically. When the causality of form with function is replaced with its congruence with the events occurring in a building or city, architecture conveys or communicates certain denotative and connotative meanings to users. This unfolding of events within a building or a city will form its spatial narratives.

A narrative is an abstract composition of the events or stories that have happened or have been happening in cities and our everyday lives. The construction of a narrative may have its genesis from the people’s collective memories and record of events. Humans don’t have a mental record of who we are until a narrative is present to give shape to it. Hence it could be inferred that architectural design becomes humanistic when the spaces narrate stories, weaving thoughts and creating patterns and formal languages for its users.

Despite the denotative meanings accommodated within the user-oriented architecture, the connotative meanings are the intangible attributes or the human qualities which are embedded within the spaces through narratives in various forms of the content of spaces. Architecture which expresses a narrative through its spatial contents makes the space unique and specific for the users with its tailored atmospheric qualities.

Buildings have to coax the users to work, accommodate, and participate with them through the substance of spaces that serve as the communicative media to express the spatial narrations. It is the materiality of spaces that forms its substance since the world is a complex continuity of material relationships running from our bodies across it. Materiality and gravity of spaces are what help humans to understand the physical phenomenon of nature, thereby living and actively discovering the world by narrating it through its environmental and textural sensation and response to natural forces.

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Holocaust tower commemorating Jewish victims of mass murder, Jewish Berlin Museum ©worldarchitecture.org
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Voids in Jewish Berlin Museum depicting the humans being reduced to ashes by the murder ©archdaily.com

A vivid interaction and experience of a built environment are possible when there is a bodily or multisensory perception of spaces as the human body is the vehicle through which humans experience the world. Rather than the buildings being ocular centric, the haptic, kinaesthetic, and even the olfactory perception of spaces make architecture a resonator of memory. This is generated by transforming narratives into spatial construction or configuration- the geometry of spaces, volume, scale, light, textures, etc which replaces perspectival perception of spaces with a peripheral perception. Narrating spaces through bodily experience enables the users to physically engage and unite with the spaces by promoting slowness and intimacy in its interpretation and proclaims the existential being.

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Pillared corridor of Rameswaram temple invoking a haptic sense of space ©in.pinterest.com
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The Weather Project by Studio Olafur Eliasson- exhibition at Tate Modern to experience Sun artificial ©in.pinterest.com

Human life on earth is characterized by temporality which ranges from the temporality of environmental conditions, time cycles in human physiology, arranging different kinds of human time through circulation, or directional routes to eras of history. As a narrative is a record of events of the past and that of everyday life, by embodying it in architectural design, it demonstrates collective memories of historical events, our existence at present, as well as the dynamic changes of the world with time.

A sense of belonging and ownership to the buildings is an essential aspect in user-oriented architecture which is achieved through a communal narrative matrix that manifests the collective identity of a certain group of people through spatial and material languages, thereby producing a shared system of users.

When it comes to a city or an urban space, spatial narratives forge connective fibers and collective thresholds by forming spaces in between the buildings, thereby socializing the public realm and bringing users to the center. They democratize the urban space by ensuring equality, safety, security, and comfort for the users. The imageability and legibility for the users of a city are attained by its narrative potentials, which symbolize the culture, legacy, and identity of its populace in the form of built fabric, open spaces, and landmarks that unfold as a sequence of events.

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Historic city of Warsaw Poland- The reconstructed city stands as the reminiscence of the history of 13th to 20th century Warsaw ©www.thecrazytourist.com

Moreover, humans are not living in a static and stagnant world, but a dynamic world of unprecedented changes which they have to perceive, participate, and experience at any time as that of now- the period of a worldwide pandemic. Such exceptional incidences will call for exceptional design moves as now the urban design has to ensure social distancing instead of social gathering.

Hence architecture proves justice to its users when it achieves humanity by involving a spatial narration knitted by materials and configuration with the essence of time that could stimulate the body and mind of them. The users understand, assimilate, and experience the world through the tales that the buildings and cities narrate through its walls, volumes, and views crafted and framed by the architect.

Abhiammu
Author

A student architect who is deeply interested in architectural journalism, research and education. She is a classical dancer along with a profound passion for music and literature. This ardent reader firmly believes in ones karma and strives to forge a self identity in her mastering domains.

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