How All It Starts?
Act of Observing.
One of the primary attributes of an architect or a designer is observing the very surrounding and consciously taking note of details. However, the manoeuvre of observing is an art, and it starts before realising its ability. Moreover, observation is universal and habitual. A suspense thriller movie can reveal suspense just by observing the details of the story. Moviemakers have to be watchful with the audience having excellent observation skills like us.
The architecture education takes the observation skills a step further, adding a layer of technical analysis and understanding the possible interpretations. Hence, the perception of the surrounding redefines eventually by adding meaning to the world’s existence around us.
When one has good observational powers with technical understanding, it gathers experience and new perspectives about person to person, people to object, object to built environments and built environment to people relationship. All of these relationships can be captured in diverse experiences like memory, association, purpose and usage. An individual can not remember what they ate in a restaurant a week ago but can remember what they felt while dining. The user unknowingly grasps how space is perceived, and that is the power of experience.
As architects and designers, we also experience varied built spaces as users ourselves. However, the difference in perception is only a designer will identify the tangibility of space, making the intangible experience memorable. Moreover, that is only possible through none other than our prodigious ability to observe.
Aspects of Spatial Perception
Architecture design is the act of building consciously, and it revolves around the designer and the users. The built spaces have two aspects. The first and most important are the technical aspects of the tangibility, like functionality and usage of the built spaces. The other being the sensorial aspects associated with the intangible quality of spaces.
The change in perspective for an architect or a designer as a user is evident but does the same understanding affect how we design or create for other users? Designers understand the built better hence have a sensibility to design better for others. But how one starts designing or creating. Architects and designers have addressed this hassle by introducing the concept to begin the design process.
The community of architects and designers have been practising with ‘concept’ as the cell start and the steering wheel as the guide to the design journey. However, the concept for a ‘design concept’ is subjective as people develop their own definitions, but its purpose remains constant since the beginning of the practice.
But the real question we often ask ourselves is, instead, a concept remains superior when it comes to form, function and experience?
Designed to Function
We all have heard about the famous maxim ‘Form Follows Function’, which was initially coined by Louis Sullivan in the late 90s (Koeper, 2019). But the idea has always been in debate among the design community itself, where some believe it’s the other way round. Again the whole argument arrives back to what your concept justifies to be considered superior.
Sometimes, designer concepts do not allow the design to transpire to its intended function or the spatial usage pattern. In such situations, what one should thrive for? The examples where alternate choices made becoming successful or devastating fail designs are evidently found existing.
In a public plaza, imagine a thousand people passing through a stretch. Sometimes they are in a hurry or at leisure; they can be in groups or individuals passing by. Now imagine a level drop of six inches in the middle of the walkway with no visual differentiation. People in groups can have something to laugh about, but it is more embarrassing lurching out of focus in public for individuals.
However, it is always fun to observe people reacting to design failures chosen over the design concept. Here, the stretch’s fundamental purpose was to allow people to move from one direction to the other. The change in levels disturbs the rhythm of walking.
Designed to Experience
Architecture design started with the basic need for a shelter said by Tean Chee Ko (RMJM, 2019). However, in the 21st century, the definition for architecture design has passed the primitive meaning and has added something more than space just being functional. We all participate in the search for ‘something more than being functional’. The intangible experience that architects and designers are thriving to create is more about evoking human senses. The practice is also labelled as Nero-Architecture.
The design concepts propel built spaces to provide a particular experience. But the common question hanging on every project asks whether space genuinely provides the designed experience for what it was intended for? Functional failures in a design may or may not affect physical wellbeing, but failure in creating the right spatial experience can highly influence people’s mental wellbeing.
The best example of such failures is the community projects built in Brutalist Architecture style. Such mass housings built in the mid 19th century failed to create a sense of community and harmony between built spaces and their inhabitants, which eventually increased crime rates in the cities like London and New York. The lack of behavioural insight provoked Tinie Tempah, a British artist spending his youth in one such housing,’ these are designed for you not to succeed.’ (Bond, 2017).
Eventual change of perspective
What in the end is essential for our wellbeing as a community is what people should themselves more often. The constructive observation helps us criticise only to improve as an architect or designer, because:
‘We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us’ accurately said by Mr Winston Churchill during WW2 (Bond, 2017).
As architects and designers, we have the opportunity to create and respond to be sensible at the same time (RMJM, 2019). So let’s grab the opportunity with a sensibility.
Bond, M. (2017). The hidden ways that architecture affects how you feel. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170605-the-psychology-behind-your-citys-design.
Koeper, H.F. (2019). Louis Sullivan | American architect. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Sullivan.
RMJM. (2019). RMJM. [online] Available at: https://www.rmjm.com/can-architecture-change-world/.