Architecture and the built environment are mentors more than anything else. Studying architecture is an eye-opening experience, and provides the viewer with a unique lens that makes visible realms its students were oblivious to otherwise.
The road often taken
The sheer power of viewing with a purpose, an understanding, and a perspective in mind is unimaginable.
One can realize this by looking at redundant places that are ignored and usually live in the subconscious. A road traveled every day for example. Walking down the same road taken for decades, a change in perspective can transform it into a whole new image. Not much will have changed, but everything will.
Is a space witnessed, or observed like it is supposed to be? As insignificant as it might sound, this question can unlock a new portal in an architect’s brain and somehow, the inner student will suddenly be very aware – of this change in their perception of viewing spaces. More often than they realize, how an architect absorbs and views space and its energy, is ever evolving and improving.
Keeping this in mind, as a student of architecture, the road that I took to school, on foot or on the wheel, was no longer just a road for me. It was alive, it had meaning, a presence. I saw the very sidewalks I left my footprints on and read “Eyes on the Street” sprawled on a projector screen during a boring lecture. It was an “aha!” moment, almost euphoric when I could finally see the “intricate ballet” Jane Jacobs had been so passionate about.
It does not stop there. Everywhere, designers, architects, or planners go, they view the space with a different set of eyes. In the mall where everyone is so busy shopping, using escalators and elevators to find their way from one sale to the next, they have their senses detect where the light is coming from, what the scale is, and how the proportion makes them feel. They experience the space, try to build a connection, and either get drawn to it in awe or back away in aversion.
To sense, these intangible qualities are innate in any individual, but the perception of a space and how it is viewed is acquired knowledge. A train station, for example, is not merely a mundane pitstop in this fast-paced, ever-accelerating schedule of ours. The very fact that a well-lit, populated, clean, and safe station will instantly resonate with us has alot to do with how our perception has evolved during the course of being students of architecture.
It’s not just significant and large-scale spaces. Over the years, in my observation as an architect, stalls and kiosks along busy roads, haphazardly parked motorbikes, and cars make a colorful illustration in my brain showing me so much potential of what can possibly be achieved with the environment in front of me. Parks and public places void of the presence of women are like an already-painted canvas that desperately needs a few final strokes to reach perfection.
Observing the use of any human-occupied space, be it a small urban pocket under a fly-over bridge or a soaring high skyscraper, brings with it the consciousness that its existence is not independent of our own – that our perception is key to the confirmation of all the sensory data that forms our thoughts, memories, and experiences.
Transience and permanence
The ever-evolving nature of space and its use is beautifully contrasted with the permanence of the built environment it surrounds. Unintentionally and subconsciously we determine the use of all built designs according to our comfort. The attention to these patterns and languages is what I have been made aware of and has changed my perception of public spaces, pathways, buildings, parking lots, restaurants, and shopping malls. All this data, however, is directed at the eye level. There is a world above and beyond too.
How many times have we tilted our head backward and taken a deep breath? Just a little elevation of the eyes and we witness something more. It holds so much meaning that our view of the built environment is merged and entangled with the sky. The setting and rising sun, the moving clouds, and the changing seasons are always a backdrop for the permanent buildings we add to our skyline.
What’s interesting here is the dynamic and transitory nature of this union of the city and the sky. It’s like everyone has a different, personal horizon, even if they’re in the same city. Watching the sunset from my rooftop will be so different from someone who lives just a few blocks away. It’s so unique and yet so collective at the same time.
If it were not for my changed perception I would be as dispossessed from the anthropocosmic ties that Architecture has allowed me to see as the next adult in his internet-soaked life.
Considering how much architecture impacts our environment and behavior, built or otherwise, it is astounding how humans are least perceptive towards it. Viewing it as a physical entity, the only definitions given to architecture are its aesthetics. Starchitects who attained somewhat of a celebrity status have, intentionally or not, massively affected how architecture is viewed and perceived all over the world. The iconic and Avant-gardist novelty assigned to such architecture has stripped off any real thought or perception associated with it.
Our perception is how we decode things, it is a mindset that determines what is real for us and is also subject to change. Architecture has greatly impacted this perception of mine. Just like a poet can summarize a picturesque universe in one line, Architecture can summarize all my feelings, experiences, and memories in a glimpse. My perception of time, space, and matter has strengthened and allowed me to see a fusion of these phenomena in everything I witness.
Corrigan, M. (2016) ‘eyes on the street’ details Jane Jacobs’ efforts to put cities first, NPR. NPR. Available at: https://www.npr.org/2016/09/28/495615064/eyes-on-the-street-details-jane-jacobs-efforts-to-put-cities-first (Accessed: October 9, 2022).
Aamodt, M. (2019) The metaphysics of time, space and architecture, Medium. The Slow Space Movement. Available at: https://medium.com/the-slow-space-movement/the-metaphysics-of-time-space-and-architecture-a0e46859ad7#:~:text=Slow%20Space%20combines%20Slow%20Architecture,centered%2C%20and%20last%20100%20years. (Accessed: October 9, 2022).
Bachelard, G. (2014) “the house from cellar to garret,” in The poetics of space. Penguin Books.