“Architecture is a primary instrument in relating us with space and time and domesticate limitless space and endless time to be tolerated inhabited and understood by humankind”
- Juhani Pallasmaa
In everyday life, our experiences are shaped by the immediate surroundings we find ourselves in. Different kinds of spaces tend to make us feel differently. The top of a skyscraper feels drastically different from a deck by the lake. Also, the way one associates with space may vary for the other. The perceptions seem to differ with multiple relations between said spaces and the events that occur with them. So, what are the impacts which architecture has on people while creating such diverse spaces and atmospheres?
Influence of space
In his book, Architecture, and Disjunction, Bernard Tschumi examines how architecture creates an impact as a conceptual discipline and also as an experience concentrating on the senses. Space being an essential architectural tool is the key to understanding this. He writes, to define space means both “to make space distinct” and “to state the precise nature of space”. Let us imagine ourselves inside an enclosed space with the same height and width, i.e. a cube. One would either see a corner or an edge or touch a face but not perceive the entire form all at once. All these smaller experiences inside the cube cumulatively help us comprehend the form of the entire cube. Architecture in this way impacts each one of us personally and differently, presenting us with nuances of such experiences which then together create a larger image for the society.
Space tends to have a formal and a functional feature where the former refers to architectural structure and the functionality of space gets into its performance and effect, which then is a very individualistic notion and is based on personal experience and expectations. The resulting meaning usually is always in the totality of both of these spatial aspects. The impact of space through everyday events always expands to a larger rather urban scale where space, in general, is the common framework for everything that happens in a community. For example, the city of Shenzhen, China has undergone some major transformation in the past four decades from an agricultural village to a modern metropolis. One can only imagine the drastic impact it would have had on its population.
Difference in Perspectives
The narrative of architectural impact is different when an architect or a designer looks at space. It becomes a composition, a construct that is constantly being evaluated and is perceived differently than a common person/user of the space. The interpretation is not only aesthetic in terms of experience but turns out to be far deeper in terms of imagination. Any space communicates a very comprehensive and intense story to them which is different from what a normal person experiences. To the latter, the impact becomes more subjective and qualitative to one’s expectations. Users are influenced by the spaces they are surrounded with as much as they influence it themselves. It is an interdependent relationship where one always adds value to the other. This spatial perception and influence are rather psychologically induced on them through manipulation of space, light, material, and form.
Yale Art and Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph is a perfect example to look into this understanding of the interdependence between a user and the building. The flowing spaces and the movement patterns governed through the architectural details of the building create the essence of the structure. These details to Rudolph were as important as the structure itself and were responsible for the experience developed by the user. Pallasmaa explains this subjectivity as “Architectural atmosphere is thus bound to be a reflection of the designer’s synthetic existential sense, or sensitive feeling for being, which fuses all the sense stimuli into a singular embodied experience.” Spaces don’t always function as the architect originally imagined them to, but it does allow the user to develop their interpretation through the original vision.
“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us”
- Winston Churchill
In our attempt to understand how architecture constitutes the reality of experience and the impact it has in our lives, we realize how we are a part of it as much as it is. Living in a world that is constantly transforming itself, inducing new concepts and scenarios every day, architecture tends to become one of the defining components of the socioeconomic structure of society. It can be considered as one of the strongest tools of representation which is for people by the people. It has been a strong asset to people’s personalities where it suggests things about people who inhabit a ‘place’ without actually knowing them. Even when created with a specific intention, it induces multiple perspectives of a single place. While we understand that the impact becomes very subjective in these varying perspectives, it is the vital catalyst for bringing change.
Tschumi, B., 2001. Architecture and disjunction. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
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