7 Spaces Sizes and Shapes -from Behaviour in Spaces
Size and Shape of a space are perceived in terms of their utility (functional adequacy), ergonomics requirements, past experiences and sensorial reach capacities. The size and shape together also define the nature of Core and Peripheral zones of a Space.
The size and shape of a space have no relationship on any scale. In all architectural styles (Renaissance, Gothic, Byzantine, etc.) their end periods are marked by extensive transgressions out of their inner spaces. In such extensively transgressed entities, size or shape are difficult to recognise. It also denotes the saturation of the place for the innovative human behaviour.
For any space, shape and size are two major formative factors. The shape is an absolute function and can have many different configurations. The size is a large variant but is a relative function (to the human body). Within a space various forms have interrelationships of proportions, analogy, sequencing, proximity, etc.; all these are absolute functions.
Shape configurations are closed or open ended. Some show potential of growth through distension, others are open to attachments. The shape expansion is linear, planner or volumetric, and local, pervasive, directional or haphazard. A spatial shape reflects the constituent forces, so a shape could be changeable or consistent.
Size is fundamentally scaled to the human being, but it also represents capacities of retaining, spreading and distancing. These capacities also reflect the effort and duration required to possess, occupy, use and even dispose off (de-possess, de-occupy) an entity.
At Absolute level the size is perceived as the difference between the Length and Width of a space. It is seen as a narrow or wide entity. The height confers its own scale of narrowness or broadness to the space. Height accentuates or de-emphasizes the character of the space nominally contributed by the relation between the Length and the Width. The equality of Length and Width of space marks a balance. The orientation of smaller or larger size gives a feel of a deep and shallow space. All these terms also give a sense of direction (long vs short) in the space.
At Relative level the size of a space is scaled to the body size of the occupants. Such scaling confers certain functionality to the space. The nature of cognition, reach, communication and exchanges are function of the space size. The levels of intimacy, the loss of objectivity and subjective involvements that occur in a space, are governed by its size (related to the body of the occupants). The size is seen as the facility of accommodation and also future potential for alternation, improvisation, and personalization. Size in a neighbourhood space is perceived in terms of reach. Here the recognition of reach also defines its functional adequacy for interpersonal relationships and related behaviour. The sizes are defined by the mutual relationship between spatial elements and their perception.
A hazy or foggy atmosphere dulls the perception of such elements as much as a bright sunny day highlights the spatial elements through enhanced light and shadow differentiation. Past midnight in absence of nearby background noises far-off sounds are acutely heard, increasing the extent of the neighbourhood space.
A space is perceived to be small, adequate or large in terms of various tasks, and in terms of responses it offers such as echoes, reverberation, reflection, illumination, glare, vision. Same space may be seen to be of a different size depending on the recent experiences. Most people find hospital wards to be very strange (large). Occupation of domains with unusual proportions (combinations of lengths, widths, and height) and sizes require extra efforts of accommodation.
Functionality and the environment are difficult to separate, as one seems to manifest the other. For a lay person, spaces within the known range (of recognition) are predictable and so manageable. The strangeness or alienation is reduced by introducing scalable elements. The scalable elements in a space include repetitions, rhythmic evolution, structured patterning, sensory gradation, acceleration-de-acceleration, graduated changeovers, linkages, relationships through modulation and proportioning, etc.
A patient, in a large ward of a public hospital, experiences the very large space to be strange compared to domestic (home) spaces, because the space size proportions are different, surfaces are harder and less absorbent (causing reverberation to be different), background noises are less passive, illumination levels are brighter during day and night, furniture and furnishings are unusual, in addition to sickness and weakened mental faculties.
SPACE SIZES and BEHAVIOUR
In a space entity a sub-core zone represents the variations. These are marked with graduated as well as substantive changes of sizes. Within a space, the size (and thereby the proportions) changes provide variegated settings for different activities. Architectonic elements form static sub-core zones. However, transient elements like environment form dynamic sub-core zones. Variability of sub-core zones is sometimes due to the processes of perception. Perception of space size and its modulation is predictable due to past experiences, but persons’ age and moods do affect it. The nature of variations (static dynamic, sudden, or as a surprise) of sizes, proportions, and their occurrence (sequence) in a space cause a very marked shift in human behaviour.
Space proportions, sizes, their placement and sequencing are very important tools of space design. Designers, intentionally avoid as well as include such contrasts, but then surprises do occur. Such spatial manipulations and surprises are further exploited by the users for individualisation.
Small spaces are small absolutely and relatively. A space is considered small if one, two, or all of its dimensions (Length, Width, Height) are small in comparison to the occupant’s body size and inadequate for task requirements. A space is considered small (narrow) if one of its horizontal-spread dimensions (either Length or Width) is proportionately smaller.
Small spaces are often considered intimidating and claustrophobic because the core zone nearly embraces the entire space, leaving no or very small peripheral space zones. Such an exclusive core space zone is too susceptible to affectations from neighbouring domains. Small spaces evoke overwhelming power of the barriers, such as no echoes, or no depth for perspective perception.
Small spaces are intimate and show good recognition. Small spaces aid intra-personal communication and exchanges. But very small spaces become too personal for reasonable or objective communication Small spaces are acutely specific for one or few activities and so are manageable. Small spaces may be functionally adequate by themselves but do not permit even a temporary expansion of an activity. Small sub-space modules have a tendency to merge and form a larger system, as it saves estate wastage in peripheral zones. Small spaces have bulged (transgressed) peripheral zones.
Large spaces have large core zones and equally large peripheral zones. Very large spaces have diffused or multiple cores. Diffused cores have poor recognition, communication and exchange capacity. In large spaces the distanced barriers are also less commanding in the quality of the core zone. A large space with fewer occupants may seem impersonal compared to small spaces that in some way infuse intimacy. Large spaces allow individualization, but group formation becomes uncertain. Large spaces confer power to the individual who can own it and have the reach capacity to control it.
Amphi theatre performances require large frill dresses, loud dialogue delivery, spaced out movements -theatrics, real or make-believe sub-zoning of the stage. Large space audiences can be reached through public address system, a large podium, stage setting, colour-light highlighting, etc. People in large spaces like airports and marriage halls reach out to others through wild gestures, shouting etc.
Large spaces seem alien as the edges are less definitive. Here the peripheral zones are too segmented and varied. Occupation of large spaces is challenging. One needs to find points for anchorage, a direction for orientation, presence of other human being (or an animal like a dog) for confirmation, and a ready strategy for exit in any exigency.
Narrow spaces have one of the floor dimensions (width or length) proportionately smaller. Spaces with a strong linear (directional) character seems narrower. Narrow spaces are functionally single-purpose, such as stairs, passages, roads, corridors, etc. Narrow spaces discipline the movement. The functional inadequacy of narrow spaces could also be physical, a carryover of the past experiences or a psychological condition. Taller spaces often seem narrower compared to a shallow (low height) space with the same floor spread. Narrow spaces have domineering effect of the side barriers, more so if these are opaque that is without any break or transgression. Narrow spaces allow formation of small groups. Linear distance among the groups increases the privacy and intimacy. Narrow spaces may have multi-core spaces due to the specific conditions available locally such as near the doors, windows, columns, corners, benches, niches, public address systems, focussed illumination spots, air movement-delivery and ventilation nodes (fans, air conditioners, heaters), stair entrances, junctions (cross corridors, floor cutouts), signboards, parapets, ash trays, etc. Narrow spaces in their longer direction are leading and focussing, and in the shorter direction are diffusive and non-attentive. Common art galleries tend to be linear spaces as exhibits are smaller, but master piece show areas in museums are non linear for distance viewing. The hall of mirrors, Versailles is a classic example of long space; opaque on one side and fully windowed on the other side.
A wide space is very ambiguous a term. All large sized spaces are also wide spaces, because here both dimensions are functionally more than adequate. A corridor is long (so essentially narrow) element, but could have generous width, making it a wide lobby or a hall. A space seems wider if it is less occupied and sparingly furnished (a vacant hall). Shallow spaces (low height) seem wider and larger. Wide spaces have distanced barriers and so mid space elements like columns, central furniture pieces, floor cut outs, etc. gain importance. A space may seem wide if its barriers are non opaque, allowing vision, movement, etc. across it. Wide spaces allow group formation. Individuals and groups have intimacy and privacy due to inter group distancing. Wide spaces if adequately dimensioned permit sub-core activities near their peripheries.
TALL AND DEEP SPACES
Tall is a ‘height’ identity and Deep is frontal distance distinction. In both the cases the side barriers have a strong impress that often restricts or affects the apparent size perception. However, Tall and deep spaces acutely reveal their functionality. Chowks, cutouts, light wells, stair wells, under sides of domes, etc. are directional (vertically stretched) and static (non changing) spaces. These are considered ideal for non diversionary activities like study, meditation and prayer. Exhibitions, museums emulate this effect, by spot lighting the displayed items. Tall and deep spaces restrict the transmission of background noise (nearly absorb all the reflected sound, allowing only the direct waves).
FORMS OF SPACES
Forms of Spaces affect the spatial qualities and so the human behaviour. The form of a space is relevant, if only, it has peculiar ergonomic, functional and sensorial (visual-depth, audio-reverberation, touch-proximity) size character. The form and size, both emerge due to the barriers.
Our perception faculties are directional and nodal. Hearing and vision, are bi-nodal. Vision, smell and taste faculties are frontal, whereas touch is non-local. Balanced or equilateral spaces, such as a square, round, or a triangle shaped, are difficult to occupy at their nominal centres. For such balanced spaces a non-centric location that is towards a contributing periphery is better.
The nature of activities in a space help highlight or de-emphasize the shape. A spiral stair’s circular movement enhances its vertical scale, but a right or left turning spiral could, respectively, mean upward or downward movement orientation. Minarets and Gopuram narrowing skyward enhance the vertical direction.
Shapes like convex, concave or parabolic curvatures modify the movement. Planes that slope away or towards the user, mean opening or closing of the form. Right and left turns have culture specific relevance which may override presumed biological preferences.
British Parliament has opposite benches in long rectangular room, signifying one is either for the government (ruling party) or in opposition. Many other parliaments in multi party democracies have segmental circle forms, with speaker occupying the cut end. Equal participation seminars are held in square or circular rooms. One way affairs, like press conferences were once held at the smaller end of a rectangular room, but are now held with a wider end as backdrop to facilitate video shooting. Lectures, discourses are focussed to the speaker. Fashion shows use the long axis of a rectangular space to be with the spectators.
In an Olympic main stadium is a multi game facility, where events like opening - closing ceremonies get a highly defined shape - form, but smaller items of athletics get a de-emphasized (nonspecific) shape entity.
Monuments designed for posterity (historic buildings, memorials), government buildings, institutions associated with discipline (army training, hospitals, research laboratories) overwhelmingly have cubical shapes or regular circular forms. A square or a circle subsist on their own and seem to survive in all types of conditions and times. Inversely a free - irregular shape may not last unless it is properly oriented, and made to fit well in a setting. Geometry of a form is transmittable across cultures.
Closed in overhead forms like domes, pyramids, tents, etc. seem to provide greater cover and so protection compared to regular cubical or flat roofs. Sloped roofs and floors not only indicate an orientation but enforce concentration (or dissipation). Slopes indicate a gradual change whereas stepped forms show a sequential change. Slopes have been used to merge different domains, and steps to demarcate the divisions.
ENVIRONMENT IN SPACES
An individual experiences environment and space as inseparable. A space entity offers several sub environments in its peripheral areas which in turn highlight an aspect of a space. The multilateral mix of environment and spatial characteristics, when combined with the daily, seasonal and diurnal variations of the environment provide for great variety of choices. The choices allow one to explore, improvise and individualise a habitable territory.
Environment is conditioned at specific locations. Such efforts include architectonic elements like shading devices, barriers, reflectors and receptors, insulations, time delay mechanisms, etc. These are overt attachments to the building shell facilitating a task. But very often the space-form is moulded to serve these purposes.
Cooking and dining, were activities occurring close to the hearth, but cooking preceded the dining. These time scheduling allowed them to be separated. Similarly, dining was an occasion for family get-togethers but presence of an outsider disturbed the intimacy of the family. So cooking, dining and social gathering spaces separated from one another as sub-core zones. In single room houses such territories are metaphorically identified, flexible in size, and relocatable. In large buildings these are physically marked as rooms and have metaphysical associations.
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