Being a child I was staring at glass skyscrapers reaching up to the sky and dreaming about designing similar forms in the future. Back then I did not know much about the work of an architect and even starting my studies many years later I still did not realize how broad is this field of science.
For me ‘architecture’ had a simple definition – ‘buildings’ and ‘urban planning’ was equal to “composition of buildings’. Much changed from that time and today equipped with architectural glasses and experience I can share observations of how the science of architecture changes perception.
Observation and Analysis
I used to judge architecture through the prism of visual effects – original form and suitable elevation materials seemed to be a key for a successful design. Imagine my amazement when in one of the design classes where I proudly presented the concept of a nice building to the professor in response I heard that I should try to create architecture without a building.
It is a kind of skill that can be worked out to look at architecture and not rate it superficially but to focus on what it influences.
For example, the perception of a newly designed skyscraper should raise important issues like how many users move in and around the building, if there is not too much traffic or if it does not disturb the harmony of existing historic buildings. Through the above analysis, we can conclude if this high-rise building provides sufficient value to its location or maybe lower buildings would be more suitable there.
Perceiving Architecture by Feelings
It was a great discovery for me that whether or not we are aware of it, the architecture we live in has a huge impact on our well-being. Taking a look at a residential building: its location, the distance from noisy streets, and sun conditions of individual apartments, those are design decisions that create the user’s feelings, their mood when they wake up or come home.
Similarly, the architecture of office space, lighting, use of bright colors, and connection with nature can determine worker’s productivity, concentration, and level of stress. Because our psychological state is linked to our health, perception of architecture by emotions is no less important than visual aspects.
The photo below presents the apartment building from Catalonia that initially did not delight me with its exterior architecture but evoked a lot of positive emotions when I was its user. This design includes expressive colors (interior is painted with blue, yellow, and brick red), adequate sunlight and shading, view openings, and cozy common spaces.
The Success of Public Space Design
Architecture research changed my perception of public spaces and helped me understand that they are not empty areas between buildings but elements necessary for city and social life. It is a challenge to design squares that people will want to use. When traveling and exploring the city you can have an impression of being perceived as a stranger in one place while in another you feel like at home. What creates the difference? People, culture but maybe also.. public space design?
There are dozens of unsuccessful projects that despite offering elements of outdoor architecture, don’t attract people and when finding yourself in a place like that you quicken your pace. The feeling of security and acceptance can be given by proper design. Space can affect you to be braver to talk to a stranger, get acclimatized, and feel like a part of a given community. Public areas can attract people with the atmosphere, location, and the offer of rest from the hustle and bustle of the city.
I have experienced all of this walking through Jardines del Turia in Valencia – a well designed and remarkably laid-out park that was created in a former bed after moving the route of a river.
Essence not Quantity
Designing an amazing building that will be recognized and described on social networking sites seemed to be one of the greatest goals that I can achieve in my professional career. The more I project the more I think that it is not the extraordinary architecture that should be the goal of the design but more the quality it will provide to the user. Thoughtful locations of the bench that provide a nice perspective can be a design success as well.
Living by the sea, I used to walk to the beach that was not the one closest to my living place but the other one. The sand, water, and sunset were the same in both places, but I observed that I wanted to go further just to see the nice green lighthouse which stands on the coast. This tiny architecture created all the atmosphere that I needed.
The situation with public utility buildings is similar to spaces. Is not your favorite restaurant always full of people? An example of a magical place that attracts crowds of people larger than it can accommodate and is a successful design is Café Regatta in Helsinki.
Summing up, architectural studying allowed me to look at the world from a different perspective and capture the depth and essence of architectural and urban planning design. Learning from existing projects, analyzing places that don’t invite people, and asking myself what mistakes had been made there can be a good exercise. Perception of architecture should consist of many factors, such as the assessment of adopted solutions and visual effects, but also catching the atmosphere and emotions evoked by a given project.