“I can’t wait for this toxic workday to get over so I can go home and start dreading tomorrow!” says almost every 24 years old these days, trying to fit into today’s extremely hostile work environment. People are working 12-14 hours a day in a dingy artificial cubicle with no connection to the outside world, which is increasing claustrophobia, anxiety, and depression in them.
The working and living lifestyle of people nowadays is a reflection of this cubical civilization and the development of these compact apartments, offices, and schools, which depict the extreme imbalance in today’s architecture.
As we all know, architecture plays an important role in shaping up to our society and its people. The environment that we’re surrounded by has a huge impact on our mental well-being. Be it in an office, a school, or our very own homes, the walls that we’re enclosed by, or the volume that we live in, give a sense of restriction on our thoughts and ideas. One window opening or a skylight can drastically affect our frame of mind towards life! Our mind opens up to endless possibilities and we are filled with positivity as soon as we are connected to the outside world. So imagine the influence that the idea of blending open spaces in architectural design can have on our lifestyle, feelings, and attitude towards life.
As architects, we’re presumed to design and plan mainly the indoor spaces, giving less importance to the open patches. Any space is eventually designed with the ‘maximum comfort of the end-user’ being one of the topmost priorities. Hence, architects and architectural students should be encouraged to weave outdoor spaces into their designs to create the balance and enhance the quality of the experience that the user has.
“Perfectly balanced, as all things should be” – Thanos, Avengers Endgame.
It is important to balance the amount of open and closed spaces in a structure because, without any open breakout spaces, the building starts to seem more claustrophobic, creating a negative impact on the brain. According to studies, children tend to learn and grow faster in an open environment which helps in developing their creativity and imagination. Regardless of age, a natural and outdoorsy environment is healthy for everybody.
Furthermore, this balance reduces the amount of energy used in the structure, making it more ecologically sound and sustainable. Incorporating outdoor spaces is a passive technique, which helps in providing natural light and ventilation to the indoor spaces. Creating a natural setting enveloping the built structure can help in improving the quality of the air that enters through cross-ventilation. Using passive techniques like the courtyard effect and evaporative cooling can further add to it. This eventually reduces the need for mechanical lighting and HVAC systems, making the structure much more sustainable, which is the need of the hour.
There are various ways in which an Outdoor space can be integrated into a design, depending on the typology of the project.
The ancient type of residential architecture in India included the concept of having an “aangan”, or a courtyard, as it encouraged the social interaction between the members of the joint families.
This concept of courtyard planning can still be incorporated into various other types of projects such as shopping malls, college or school campuses, offices and commercial buildings, residential complexes, etc. They can act as multi-functional spaces that can be used for gatherings, exhibitions, or could be turned into a garden, with a proper plantation, landscaping elements, and some patio furniture! These courtyards will not only help in the Natural ventilation of the structure (avoiding the need for HVAC systems) but will also encourage social interaction and positivity.
Another way of incorporating the ‘outdoorsy vibe’ into a structure is by converting the transitional spaces into an open environment. Having outdoor pathways, bridges over gardens or water bodies, exterior staircases, boulevards, etc. are some of the many ways in which two indoor spaces can be connected by an outdoor space.
Balancing the proportion of indoor and outdoor spaces does not just stop at adding outdoor multi-functional spaces, as the connection between the two is just as important.
The connection of the indoor and outdoor spaces doesn’t only mean that they need to be connected physically. Visual connection is a major segment wherein, the outdoor environment of the project acts like a frame for the indoor space, which can be visually connected via windows or Glass partitions. This helps in improving the ambiance of the indoor space. The planning and orientation of the openings play an important role as well.
For eg.: in residences, a cozy family room can be visually connected to the garden or the swimming pool in the backyard, divided by the means of a wall consisting of glass sliding-folding doors. This gives privacy, as well as a positive vibe to the indoor space, while simultaneously giving flexibility of converting the indoor space into a semi-outdoor space whenever required.
The transition from an indoor to an outdoor space in a design needs to be smooth as it affects the overall vibe of the space. For example, in an office, the enclosed spaces have a more formal feel which can include spaces like meeting rooms, cabins, workstations, etc., whereas the open/semi-open spaces incorporated in the design can be used as breakout spaces or transitional areas, which have a more relaxing and informal vibe, encouraging recreation and reduction of stress.
The harmony and balance between the indoor and outdoor spaces help in perceiving the unification of the project and enhancing its design. This can be achieved by giving importance to the proportions, the materials and colors that are being used inside and outside, and the overall spatial arrangements in the design.