Architecture is incomplete and meaningless without its inhabitants; they share a unique relationship with each other. For example, a house designed for a particular family can never be used by some other in the exact same way. Or a building designed as an institute can never be used without alterations, as an office space. Every user or group of users has a defined and unique set of requirements that are taken care of by only that particular architectural space or form. 

We move in and out of numerous public and private spaces. We come across various types of spatial forms, vibes, and energies from these. We come across people from different backgrounds. Our response to space depends on its usage. We are all at some point, part of these spaces, and the architecture that surrounds us, in some or the other way. We visit religious spaces as pilgrims and worshippers, we go to recreational spaces to get entertained, we are a part of educational institutes for our studies, we are employees at our office, all of these are different spaces in themselves yet a part of us. And we at different times, are a part of them. Evolution says architecture is incomplete without man and man without architecture. Architecture in this context doesn’t mean just buildings. Open spaces, public plazas, playgrounds, promenades, streets, squares, markets, and bazaars, also a part of our architectural environment. 

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Architecture without inhabitants ©Author

1. Genesis of architecture

Architecture primarily meant a roof; protection from the climatic conditions and the wilderness. It meant a place to rest, while on the nomadic trail. It meant safety, it meant assurance. It gave hope to protect and raise the family and to expand the same eventually. It gave privacy wherever required, in whichever form required. And thus architecture became a part of man’s life. It took forms of shelter, a place of gathering, a place to worship, a place to eat, a place to celebrate, a place to mourn, etc. 

2. Man-architecture relationship

We get attached to the space that we inhabit, a space that we grow into, a space that becomes our own. We get accustomed to the elements in that space; they become ours. The moment we enter into a new space, we start looking for areas or elements that make us feel warm or welcome. Elements that we can relate to. That’s our first interaction with that particular space. We start arranging that space as per our comfort and needs and convenience. We make it a space of our own. We start developing ownership towards that space. This not only gives the space a character but also increases our responsibility towards that space. 

The moment we realize we are responsible for the wear and tear of that space, we automatically happen to use it more carefully. For instance, our table at the office will always reflect a part of our personality. We will always keep it clean and things will be arranged as per our needs and convenience. Our house is another example. Every house will be different from the other. The family members are different, their choices, priorities, likes and dislikes, conveniences and comforts, lifestyle, number of people, age groups, etc. will all be different and hence it will always reflect on the way their house is. A joint family will display a particular picture of a house and it will be very different from what a nuclear family would reside in. 

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Man-architecture relationship ©Author

3. Public spaces 

It is also observed that while being in a public space, we humans tend to relate to a particular part of the whole space. For example, a particular bench in the garden, a part of the promenade, a step on the amphitheater, an eating joint on the sidewalk where we like to sit for a while on the way back home from work, etc. The only difference is that we do not use these spaces for a longer duration and we are not the only inhabitants here. Public spaces are used by one and all. Thus everyone relates to some of the other parts of the space. It might be quite possible that multiple people are drawn to the same part of public space. It’s a different relationship that we share with such spaces, wherein many others like us are also a part of. It is also observed that this shared relationship brings along like-minded people and thus the formation of society begins. People who go for morning walks, happen to meet at a particular place and thus, a group is formed. They use, sit, surround that part of the public space in a particular manner and eventually, that corner or that part starts getting a character. This works pretty similarly to all public spaces. While booking a ticket for a movie or a play, we always prefer having a particular part of the cinema hall. We have our reasons for that choice. Mentally we are comfortable in a particular space and we can relate with it more than the other pockets. That part of the public space thus becomes a part of our daily lives. 

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Image 3 – Public Spaces © Author

4. Character of spaces 

A space that we inhabit or use, develops a character eventually, which is specific to us or the set of people using that space. The area we occupy, the utensils we use, the water we need, the electricity we consume, and all of those resources, are a part of the architecture around us and we all are components of the same. At the same time, while we become a part of multiple architectural spaces, built or unbuilt, our perspective or our behavior towards each of these spaces varies spontaneously. 

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Character of Spaces ©Author

5. User and architecture 

An architect must study the user before designing a space for the same. He must understand the psychology of people varying with age, gender space they are in, and many other such factors. Every single individual has a different response to a particular space. For example, at times a space functions well when it is designed formally and exhibits a strict vibe to follow the architecture it is designed with. On the other hand, some spaces need to flow organic, which needs freedom, which needs to be informal and slightly open-ended in terms of its usage. For instance, an office needs a more formally designed space. There are rules and decorums to be followed. Officials are coming in all the time and there is a certain amount of neatness expected out of the space. On the contrary, an institute can be designed more informally. It caters to students and teachers and other staff, that need not be stuffed into suffocating boxes. An institute needs more open spaces, more interactive spaces so that the students can learn even outside the four walls. It overall can lead to a better way of learning, with better interaction between the professors and the students and within the students as well. At home, a person would want to be on his/her terms. It will change when there are other people in the house. All of this is a reflection of human behavior and the tendency to respond to a particular surrounding. At the same time, every individual is bound to respond in a different way to a given space.

Having known the human tendency to be organic and free-flowing in thoughts, the architecture does act as a means to develop a sense of discipline, a sense of direction and a sense of ownership in the inhabitants. At the same time, a well designed architectural space will understand the user and his needs and cater to the same, deriving a bond between the two. 

Space is part of our daily life. An architect thus has the most crucial task to study the human, his behavior, and his lifestyle, before designing any space for him. Architecture cannot be just monumental, it has to primarily fulfill its basic role; solve its purpose. It has to serve the user and the use. 

6. Foreign Spaces

As we get into a new foreign space, we feel strange and cannot spontaneously become a part of it. It takes us time to get used to the elements, the space has to offer. We become cautious of our reflexes and our reactions. We try our best to adjust to it efficiently. We can feel the unrest in our head, and we give it time to settle down, and gradually space accommodates us and we do the same. 

The relationship between space or architecture and its inhabitants is quite a unique one. It evolves with time and only grows strong. Eventually, it becomes an attachment and finally a part of us and our life. It’s something we unknowingly start considering as our own. Space molds us as we in turn grow into it. It reflects on our personality, our lifestyle, and our behavior. 

Conclusion 

Space or architecture without its inhabitant becomes a defunct isolated piece of rubble and at the most a monument. There are examples of how a piece of architecture designed without studying its users, suffers a slow death, and becomes a mere liability, to be later razed to the ground. It results in a waste of money, energy, resource, and time. 

Author

An architect from Bombay, after graduation, he further studied Sustainable Architecture. Since then, he has been associated with a research organisation, working on urban development policies of Mumbai, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI). Here, he has worked on projects that have strengthened his knowledge about the city. He is inclined towards researching public transportation alternatives, policies and infrastructure for pedestrians in cities, affordable housing, urban recreational spaces and non-conventional construction techniques.

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