Ever noticed how a trained musician, who spent hours and hours on one end practicing the same sonata can distinguish between subtle pitch and tonal differences that many others cannot. How a painter can tell between different strokes and how a jeweler can identify a real diamond from a fake one as easily.
There is no denying that with years and years of training and experience, the way someone processes a given specific chunk of data our environment has to offer us, diverges from the conventional methods.
There is a distinct way the architects (and also the designers) perceive the products, the world and the spaces that surround us. Why does this happen? And more importantly, what are these subtle changes one experiences through and after architecture?
Why Changed Perspective?
Experience of the spaces around us is a fine work of our mind. Our mind receives the information given to it in terms of sensory signals, and like all the other mental operations, it sorts and processes the information, sensory perception and memory.
The space is distinct and indisputably a physical entity, same for everyone, although the way we perceive it is not. Spatial perception like any either sense we engage is a part physical and a part psychological phenomenon. How we perceive space is largely determined by our biopsychology. So why the difference?
You see, there are cognitive layers in any process. At the very first level is a ‘general observation’, following which is ‘recognition’. At the deepest level is understanding. Once educated on any topic your ‘observation’ goes immediately to ‘recognition’ instead.
Thus, it would not come to you as a surprise that like any other of our abilities, we can ‘train our minds’ to perceive the three-dimensional world around us in a certain way.
With many years of training, countless experiences of travelling, and consciously focusing on certain elements that construct the built environment around us, anyone could ‘train’ themselves to see the world this way. We can become quicker and even more sensitive to that particular type of stimuli, and ‘see’ things more deeply.
What Architecture Makes Us ‘See’?
The space in architecture is not separate from an entity. It does not exist independently in the environment but in relation to other elements, physical or otherwise. The built spaces around us are there for a reason, they are designed for the ‘users’ and hence, they exist in collaboration with the users; the users; the scale and the spaces are perceived together, and not exclusive of each other.
The functionality of the space, whether or not the design meets its intended purpose is also one of the aspects which is important to the architects. Not only this but most times, this extends to even breaking down a design into its component and examining what works and what doesn’t.
Take a high rise apartment building as an example, it is not just the aesthetically appealing facades and the colour on the walls, that make for user satisfaction but also the position of elevators and the staircases, the amount of sunlight that enters each room and the cross breeze that is captured by opening the windows purposefully placed in the apartment, the functional. Architecture sensitizes a person to ‘seeing’ all these aspects and more.
Seeing Beyond What Is Visible
Like the users and the functionality, the context for space is also an inseparable part of the whole perception. Any space, like a park, for example, exists because of and for the people who visit it, the children, and their mothers and fathers, even the people who simply pass by on the streets and the streets themselves. The park exists “as a part of a whole”.
The ‘whole’ not only are the physical aspects, like the site surroundings and /or the people who make the space, but also the softer elements of the environment. These softer elements are sometimes intangible. They encompass the social settings and the cultural context of the place. Despite this, they are no less important, when we ‘see’ any space.
All these elements are the dimensions of a space.
When you see the Taj Mahal, you can’t not think about the great love story of Emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved beautiful wife Mumtaz. Because the story itself is a part of the built space. And every building has its own story, probably not as great and well known as that of the Taj Mahal.
Another equally essential dimension is time. Not only does time affect the design and style of construction depending on the era and socio-cultural context, but the values of society are also transformed through it. Time is interrelated with other concepts like experience and motion.
That is why it is an important element that is integrally integrated with the perception of space. The experience of a built environment, a public square let’s say, is strongly affected by the parameter of time.
Different senses are engaged in different experiences, architecture refines these senses to respond to the various stimuli available in the environment and the details, and makes the encounter a little bit different than it used to be before. Be it the colours or the material details or working of a design, in general, the experience becomes wholesome.