Vision is a mysterious thing; at a young age, one only has the ability to focus on the small rooms in which they are confined. While as one grows up, not only the world becomes larger, but the added memories of the past also start to shape our perception of space. Throughout the years, architectural perspective of space has changed from the substantial to the imaginative. From small rooms to the entirety of a city, there are many ways to perceive space, but one of the most impactful ways finds its roots in emotional perception.
The Image of the City | Architectural Perspective
We’re all too familiar with Kevin Lynch’s image of the city, and how certain elements combine to create our physical perception of space. These elements, paths, nodes, edges, districts, and landmarks make up the basis of how we see the city (Lynch, 1979). These have been used for analyzing how users navigate through the city. Each experience formulates unique mind maps for us to follow. Furthermore, every mind map gives us an insight into one’s daily routine. The organization of a city reflects in these mind maps. In a small-town village, the image of the city might look like stacked low-rise houses surrounded by farmlands. In contrast, a city where half of your day consists of traveling to your destination might look like people enveloped around a singular pathway. A missing factor within this way of looking at architecture is the lack of intangibles involved. There can be two images occurring from looking outside your window, one that you see, and one that you feel. The emotional perception of space is not only important in molding one’s experience, but also in architectural design and analysis.
An Architect’s Vision
The best way to visualize a space while designing is by stepping in the user’s shoes. The moment architects immersive themselves through imagination, they start seeing an empty room turn as lively as possible. So, it’s essential to utilize not only the physical vision but also the imaginative vision. According to Louis Kahn: The room is the place of the mind.
To get away from the physical notions, Louis Kahn approaches architecture from a singular block, the room. Kahn believes that the essence of the building is related to human desires (Kahn, 1971). The aspect that helps us situate ourselves in different rooms is far more than its physical traits. It is the emotional perception that acts as a stimulant. Let’s take an example of a kitchen. Your hometown kitchen may remind you of the freshly baked bread from your home, your parents cooking in the kitchen, you trying to learn a recipe with a friend, or just simply moving dishes from the kitchen to the dining table. Within those haptic senses, the movement within the kitchen, and the interactions associated with it, lies the uniqueness of space.
Thus, on a larger scale, Kahn describes the city as a society of rooms, where each room has a particular characteristic and can be recognized by its inhabitants. This enabled Kahn to design multifunctional spaces which allow three kinds of activities – living, working, and learning to take place together.
Life of the City | Architectural Perspective
This idea of multifunctionality is what differentiates one place from another. A threat to this uniqueness of space was challenged in the 1950s, in the form of globalization. We even see trinkets of globalization seeping into the unique spaces we know today. Jane Jacobs was one of the first to speak out against this issue through her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She fought against orthodox city planning and proposed ideas from close observation of city life rather than a visual lens of master planning. Close-grained diversity of users, buildings, and people is essential to space planning (Jacobs, 1961). The importance of these factors is not just to get a different feel of the space but also to create tight-knit communal engagement. A lively community generates safe environments for all age groups. Urban planners now reference Jacob’s use of Eyes on the Street as one of the basic principles of designing neighborhoods (Wendt, 2009). Connected neighborhoods provide better environments for living, and interacting and thus fostering development. On the contrary, vertical concrete jungles may be effective for efficient space-saving but might end up isolating communities if not planned efficiently.
In conclusion, where Kevin Lynch may provide us insight into the image of the city, Jane Jacob’s views give us an insight into the life of the city. It is within the emotional perception of space that bridges the gap between the physical and the imaginative. Once spaces are seen as a system rather than separate elements, we can truly understand a place’s character. So, the next time you’re in a room, make sure to not only look at your surroundings but also look for the emotions associated with them.
Lynch, K. (1979) The image of the city. Cambridge, MA: MIT Pr.
Ross , A. (ed.) (2009) The Room is the place of the Mind , Louis Kahn: The making of a room. University of
Pennsylvania. Available at: http://www.arthistory.upenn.edu/themakingofaroom/catalogue/section4.htm (Accessed: November 27, 2022).
Jacobs , J. (1961) The death and life of great american cities. Pelican Books, NewYork: Random House.
Wendt, M. (2009). The Importance of Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs to the profession of Urban Planning. New Visions for Public Affairs, Volume 1, pp. 1-21. Available from: https://smartnet.niua.org/content/c5a51942-ee6e-4e95-becb-053ff6d45f34 [Accessed: 26 November 2022].