Everyone perceives the world through their unique lens. This distinctive lens combines cultural connotations and individual and collective memories. This, in turn, creates one’s worldview. When built forms blend in with all the above, they start to communicate with the space, which starts interacting with them. This wholesome process happens unconsciously or subconsciously through their primary sense of perception,, i.e. vision for most human beings. An architect can decode this process of perception at the sensorial, experiential, and association levels.
The Experiential, Associational, and Sensorial
In the book, Concepts of Space in Traditional Indian Architecture by Yatin Pandya; communication occurs at three levels – sensorial, experiential, and associational.
This communication happens as one moves through space. How a person feels as one moves through the space is the key to a wholesome experience.
Experiential perception is when one responds to the nuances of the built form’s space configurations, scale and proportion. Associational perception is how one interacts with the space through visual cues and symbols. This stems from one’s cultural connotations and individual and collective memories. They give deeper meaning and bind them to the space. Sensorial perception refers to how one’s body reacts to the built form as a result of experiential and associational perceptions. Depending on the reaction, one feels comfortable or uncomfortable in that space. This also depends on the climate of the place. An excellent example of these spaces is the traditional Indian Agraharam streets.
Traditional Indian Agraharam streets
Agraharams are Tamil Brahmin settlements with modest row housing, mostly two-storied on either side of the street, with the temple and the adjoining pond nearby. To a commoner, the streets are a part of their life itself. The built forms blend with life or cease to exist by themselves. To the architect, the streets here become an extension of the dwelling. The architect can decode the different levels of perception as one moves through the space, the movement being the quintessential element.
The Experiential Perception
Walking through the street, one can see the connected plinths of all the houses on the street edge act as threshold spaces. These threshold spaces are called the “thinnai”. These plinths facilitate comfortable sitting. The connected plinths are sometimes deliberately recessed near the steps. These threshold spaces act as the pause points for the tired traveller or visitor. In these spaces, a conversation is initiated or an idea is exchanged.
As one crosses some four to five houses, the connected plinths sometimes discontinue and then continue again or take a right-angled turn to form a seating niche where one can see a happy group of children doing an imaginative role-play. They played on the streets while the elders kept an eye on them and exchanged greetings with others. Sometimes a conversation strikes up with a stranger. One can also glimpse what is happening inside a dwelling while walking through the street. These once-pedestrianized roads give a fair glimpse of the double-storied houses across the street.
The Associational Perception | Indian Streets
Any occasion be it mourning or a wedding, happens in the street. During the event of a wedding, streets are adorned with colorful shamiana tents and festoons for the wedding. Part of the wedding festivities also happens on the street.
During the festivities, the streets transform into a place of celebration. The streets are adorned with decorations and symbols that identify with the culture of that place. Sometimes a widened street corner transforms into a small square where cultural activities such as singing and dancing are performed as a part of the festivities. Processions during the festivities also happen on the street.
This helps one identify with the place’s culture and makes an intangible bond with individual and collective memories. The spaces adorned with decorations and symbols give an identity to the space and interact with the people participating in them.
The Sensorial Perception
The dynamic nature of the streets heightens the sensorial perception as one continues to walk through. One could see at the far corner a vendor selling essential goods. Sometimes the streets are completely commercial or a mix of both residential and commercial, depending on the context of the place and its proximity to the temple. The vendors and commercial shops are also a part of the street. One could stop there for essential goods or a chit-chat with an acquaintance.
thingsman scale, the variety in the spaces, and the colourfulness render the entire street visually appealing to the eye. They make one feel at home in the space and make one extremely comfortable. The shaded thinnais, the steps, nooks, and the corners at the edges of the street add to the feeling of comfort.
Conclusion | Indian Streets
The three levels of perception together give a wholesome experience to the people who are participating in them. They blend with the street and become a part of them. The streets cease to exist without them. They communicate with the streets through movement, and the streets interact with them, giving a timeless quality. This transforms the space into a place where life happens, and to the architect, what is architecture if not a celebration of life?
Pandya, Y. (2016). Concepts of Space in Traditional Indian Architecture. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing.