“The Sun never knew how great it was until it hit the side of a building.” – Louis Kahn

Architecture, and the form it takes, depends on its recipients. But when it comes to buildings, everyone from a child to a well-jaded professional admires the view a skyscraper-lined skyline presents. While one does not need to be aware of the intimate structural and functional working of the Burj Khalifa or the Golden Gate Bridge to appreciate its magnificence, there is a remarkable distinction in how experts and professionals perceive it. Architects and architecture students are oriented to observe and dissect the world around them, which significantly changes their perception of not just the design and constitution of spaces, but contrast, proportion, and balance as well. 

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Skyline of San Francisco_©Getty Images

However, when it comes to design, functionality, construction and aesthetics, the four walls of a studio can only go so far. For a practical understanding of the above, a person needs to explore the known (and unknown) world around them, appreciating the positives and learning from the negatives. 

Stacked to the Heavens

The shift in perspective, both literally and figuratively, comes from looking at skyscrapers simply as towering structures with probably a spectacular view to something much more in-depth and detailed and being able to think critically. Understanding and examining substructure and superstructure construction techniques and the materials used and why they were used is one of the first things that comes to mind as an architect. The materials used should preferably be locally available, and the construction techniques used should drive advancement and innovation, and increase efficiency.

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Worm’s eye view of skyscrapers _©Matthew Henry

The zoning of a structure includes the association of certain functions in certain areas. The horizontal and vertical circulation patterns and how the spaces act with respect to each other are what create the impression of the establishment on its recipients. 

The population demographic of the occupants and the history and culture of the structure and its surroundings make up the social aspect of the architecture and play an important part in the design and development of the structure.

Understanding the positive and negative qualities of the concept of the design help develop critical analysis skills in budding architects and help comprehend how these mistakes can be redeemed in future projects. 

Finally, examining the overall ecological impact of these massive structures is the last but not the least facet that comes into play with a deeper insight into architecture.

The Third Places

Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote about the informal “public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact.” Unlike a home which is the “first place” and the workplace the “second”, open spaces where people can relax and enjoy company are significantly essential. Public spaces fill the urban gaps with life, and good urban planning should be the rule rather than the exception.

The Power of Public Spaces _©Amanda Burden3
The Power of Public Spaces _©Amanda Burden

Though its inhabitants use public spaces regularly for things from commuting to leisure, they hardly give any thought to their design and functionality unless they cause any inconvenience to the populace. However, the quality of public spaces is what forms an impression of a city. A designer has to consider various aspects when it comes to the design of public spaces. 

The public spaces should have a diversity of uses in a way that encourages the coexistence and the permanence of people, thus increasing the factor of safety in said space. Well-oriented lighting, both natural and artificial, enhances the essence of public spaces, making them more inviting and appealing. As an urban space caters to the diversity of the population, it is essential that they be vital and appeal to the social dimension. Green areas, like parks, gardens, grounds, and lawns contribute positively not only to the environment but also to the mind space the users find themselves in while in the space.

The question that most budding architects learn very early on (both to ask and to answer), is “Why?” Why was there a need for a skyscraper at this location? Why was the structure formed this way? Why were these materials used and not something else? Why were the windows designed in such a manner? Why were the spaces zoned this way? And so on. Questioning why a thing was done the way it was (and learning to answer the question in and of itself) is what truly illustrates an architect’s perspective.

While any layperson can admire a space or a structure, an architect’s perspective sheds light on the aspects of the structure that are not visible to the naked eye. Architecture is not just creating a functioning structure or space. To visualise and analyse spaces radically while keeping in mind both the users and the viewers, along with the society in which it functions: that is architecture.

References

  • Meyer, C., 2022. 3 Keys To Creating Great “Good Places”. [online] Fast Company. Available at: <https://www.fastcompany.com/1665202/3-keys-to-creating-great-good-places> [Accessed 19 June 2022].
  • Pacheco, P., 2022. Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Connecting People and the Streets |. [online] TheCityFix. Available at: <https://thecityfix.com/blog/public-spaces-10-principles-for-connecting-people-and-the-streets-priscila-pacheco/> [Accessed 19 June 2022].
Author

Neha is a fourth-year student of architecture. An avid reader, she spent most of her childhood with her head buried in a book. Now, at the cusp of stepping into the profession, she is excited at the world she has to explore in front of her.

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