The spaces around us are a blend consisting of an orchestra of sound, painting of the view, buffet of the smell, the texture that is clothing the space, and a mixture of an array of other senses. 

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Many think that it is us who control space, but few know that space also controls us. The familiar texture of softness calms us. The darkness makes us quiet and focuses on the other senses. The beats in a rhythm make us bounce. The smell of the wood gives off a warm feeling. Our brain, the supercomputer, takes in as much information as it can through sensory organs. And respond to the situation or space depending on the information.

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multi-sensory design _©www.re-thinkingthefuture.com

The vision is the most prominent tool to gather information. So much so that it has become the only tool to advertise the space. But no matter how visually pleasing the space is, if the other senses don’t feel pleased, the human won’t be comfortable. For example, the well-furnished houses in the building of today’s era, opening up to the main road with constant traffic will let in the noise and pollution inside the house. 

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On the contrary, the typical inward-looking courtyard houses from traditional India cut the outer disturbance and create a separate world from the outside. A space we call a shelter. A space where we can relax. A place where we don’t need to close all the fenestration and create an artificially controlled climate to be comfortable.

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Courtyard in a Kerala house ©www.re-thinkingthefuture.com

Focus

The smallest changes in texture, material, colour, plan can change the experience in the structure entirely. The clay or mud floor makes it so much more comfortable to sit on the floor directly as opposed to a tiled floor. Or the effect of having a water body flowing through internal parts of the house like traditional east Asian culture helps nature to become one with the dwelling. 

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This doesn’t just affect the climate of the house; it also gives character to it. A character that is created by the combined effect of the information it feeds to all the human senses. A sense of not being alone yet not being disturbed. A feeling of co-existence. 

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water body inside the house _©Andy Serrano

Use of spaces

The basic design of an Indian temple has some interesting spaces. The mandapa, the outermost area of the temple, has ample light. The large area is for festivals, for people to gather, full of noise, adorn with the texture of decorative artwork. In short, depicting life. 

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The garbhagriha is the innermost part of the temple. Small, quiet, intimate, with relatively less temperature than outside. Smelling pleasant smells of flowers and scented incense, the shape echoes every sound to create a more mysterious atmosphere. Adorned with as little ornamentation as possible other than the statues of the figure the temple belongs to—a simple-looking room. Yet, the place (the garbha) makes us aware of our inner self. As its name and purpose suggest, the two entirely different spaces of the same structure used for different purposes are represented by affecting all the senses.

Time 

Our needs change with time. The space changes with needs. The architecture changes with changes in spaces. In Europe, The commoner’s houses of the dark era were simple, small and made out of easily available material like wood and mud. Built crudely, they were devoid of much light and were used as a shelter at night. 

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But as the financial and political stability arrived, the material changed to the more stable material—to a combination of stones, wood, and bricks. The construction becomes more structurally stable. The ornamentation started to adorn the structure, and the houses changed from means to survive to more about enjoying life. 

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Stirling Castle_www.historicenvironment.scot

Similarly, the earlier houses of the rich and powerful families were more of the fortress. That still today gives off the feeling of military power it once held. The simplicity and dependence on the functionality later became less desirable as the ‘power’ took the form of wealth. Hence the ornamented mansions with glass windows, colourful ornaments, use of different textures, tall rooms that made humans intimidated started to become popular. 

From the fortress made to stay alert to the mansion made for celebrations and parties, the architecture changed drastically. The change wasn’t just visual, but the entire feel of the space changed. 

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Few interesting structures are made to focus on one scene of the visitors. For instance consider, The church of light; The How Wine Became Modern exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 172-acre Central Park in Taichung; and The Yale School of Architecture with its Bush Hammered Concrete texture. 

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church-of-the-light_gokodama.com
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Smelling station exhibits at “How Wine Became Modern  Design + Wine, 1976 to Now” ©www.re-thinkingthefuture.com
Yale School of Architecture with Bush Hammered Concrete textured walls _ ©Paul Rudolph

The space is similar to a person. It is recognized by the ocular characteristics. As the change in one quality changes the person, the same goes for the space. Hence even if some spaces are built strongly around one character, the other character needs to support that for the structure to come to life.

Author

Gargi is an Architect by degree and a tinker by heart. As a recent graduate, she is yet to find out what alley of architecture she would like to explore further in her life. Writing is a tool for her to analyze and discuss her exploration.

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