Architecture W/O Architecture


With a passion for architecture the last thing I wanted to do before I left Uarts was to begin to approach this sector of design. So I started asking questions? Can a space directly effect a person’s feelings? What makes a space intimate? How do people truly relate to space. What does it take  for  people to truly claim a space for their own? These are some of the questions that this project aims to answer.

The initial spark for this project was born out of many evenings spent in Liberty Place working until they would kick me out of the building. I began to ask myself why do we love to work in the same spaces. What about those spaces draws us to them.

My spot in the Liberty Place

The design process should begin with the user in mind, so I turned to psychology. Specifically Environmental Psychology which is an interdisciplinary field focused on the interplay between humans and their surroundings. The field defines the term environment broadly, encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments. One must have a model of human nature that predicts the environmental conditions under which humans will behave in a decent and creative manner. With such a model one can design or restore environments that enhance reasonable behaviors. The following is some of the more pertinent research.

Evolution of Space

Animals become territorial of the space designated for nesting, mating, and feeding. Even more so when members of the same species and sex invade on the same space. Humans have the ability to cope with these situations, the act of aggression is much more socialized among humans. However, the desire to posses and or occupy space is no less or different than animal instincts. We create boundaries around everything so that we may claim something as our own (cities, states, countries, vip sections, etc). When humans collectively share a space their behavior subtly mirrors the behavior of animals defending individual territory. Because there is no defined owner of the space the space is feuded over whether it be hostile or passive.

After intensive research into the psychology of space. It seemed only logical to begin to look into the psychology of architecture. You my ask “What is the psychology of architecture?” I asked the same question so I began to read architects’ and architectural writers’ literature. I quickly realized that most of them weren’t talking directly about architecture, but rather the metaphysics of architecture. Specifically dealing with the stuff in between what we call ‘architecture.’ Books such as The Tao of Architecture, The Poetics of Space, and others dealt with the immaterial rather than the walls that make up a space.

In the Tao of Architecture Chang quotes Laotzu “Moulding clay into vessel, we find the utility in it hollowness; Cutting doors and windows for a house, we find the utility in its empty space. Therefore the being of things is profitable, the non-being of things is serviceable. Void space which usually has a negative connotation is actually more positive because it has a more utilitarian function(s) than the walls or windows which only have one purpose which is to separate.” Laotzu made these statements to imply that the immaterial space is the most important, not the actual physical structures. Unlike many contemporary architects today, Laotzu understood what the focus of architecture should be.

Louis I. Kahn’s fascination with light is infamous. “The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building.” This book dealt with what Kahn called the ‘unmeasurable’ and the ‘measurable’ The unmeasurable was the silence, the space inside the walls. And the measurable was what we acknowledge as architecture. He said that architecture is where the two meet. “[It] can become a celebration of [the] meeting and the abode of the spirit”

In Poetics of Space Bachelard said “All spaces of intimacy are designated by an attraction. Their being is well-being” (Bachelard 12). That statement resonated with me , it turned the focus of the project. I knew that I wanted whatever I created to facilitate feelings of familiarity and intimacy.

So based upon all the previous research and reading I came upon my initial position. I argued that the architecture surrounding a human interaction can influence the nature of the interaction; Arguing that the given space could be engineered to encourage feelings of wellness. Thereby creating an intimate space. Coaxing positive feelings or interactions out of those inhabiting the space. (Physical settings evoke complex human responses in the form of feelings, attitudes, expectancies [which may in turn affect the outcome of the interaction])

Most influential book for the project

Now that I knew what I wanted the project to do. I wondered how to begin to engage and use the information that I had amassed. I came across the most influential book for this project. Ettore Sottsass’ Metaphors is some of the most simple beautiful architectural experiments I have ever seen. He decided that he needed to detach from design as a practice. He said  he felt a “need to get away.” I thought I would follow in his footsteps since he was trying to get away from ‘Architecture’ as it was. The following are some of his experiments.

The following spaces were chosen because they are already considered private or even intimate spaces. So I changed or altered the space to gain feedback on what was necessary for the space to give them those feelings. I observed and documented the case study on a daily basis. I also allowed the participants to engage and respond to the interventions via blog format. It was an effective way to capture responses due to the inherent nature of the space. People were already on computers ready and able to respond. You can read those responses on the page called Intimate Spaces & Familiar Places.

I began to those observation begin to shape my own design interventions.

The general consensus from the observations and the user responses was a desire for security and control. Specifically security from outside forces natural or unnatural and the control aspect is in respect to a persons’ anonymity. As stated before anonymity is one of Westin’s states of privacy. When a person has the ability to control the amount of awareness of their identity and or presence they have reach a level of ‘anonymousness.’ But all of this is only based on the person’s perception of these things. So essentially their is only a need for a very minimal amount of intervention. So I had to “Kill my darling” meaning let go of the idea of building a bench, seat, table or even structure. Although thse things may illustrate my findings they are in opposition to what I had  found in research, readings, and observations.  I had to get back to what the metaphysical readings were all about, the immaterial!

So in light of this breakthrough I had my new supposition.

After re-focusing the lens I headed back out to the field but only as an observer and data analyst. I chose four case studies in the local Center City Philadelphia area. Rittenhouse square park was chosen, because it is such a open public space that has no specific function other than providing green space. There is no official program dictated over the space. Allowing for multi-use to flow. The Shops at Liberty Place were chosen because there are two programs in place, even though it is an un-official public space, eating and shopping.

Rittenhouse Square Park

The Shops @ Liberty Place

The Hamilton Hall Steps were next on the list because it is actually private property and reserved for students and faculty however it is outside and ‘open’ to the public therefore allowing interesting phenomena to take place. Lastly the Barnes and Noble was chosen because it is the least public a public space can be. It it a private business open to the public and it even contains another private business, Starbucks, which add another level or ‘publicness’ to the space. There also is an understood behavior programmed into both the bookstore and the coffee shop. Which only sweetens the deal.

The Step @ Hamilton Hall: 320 Broad St.

Starbucks in Barnes and Noble on Rittenhouse

So I mapped all the observations to look at them as a whole and in relation to one another.

After all that observing I realized something that opened a new door this project. From the beginning I wanted to create intimate space, and then recognized that this or these object(s) should not be about permanence. Those moments that I plotted were the key to what this project wanted to be.

I needed to establish a brand to create a cohesive group of interventions based upon each moment of opportiunity. I chose to play off of a standard within the American architectural arena. The AIA is an institution devoted excellence among those who create and construct permanent edifices. However, If you take the institute of the equation, the architecture no longer is about a building rather the behaviors and relationships between people.

How I am redefining Architecture

The first intervention ‘Eating Out’ was based on everyone’s love for eating outdoors. It’s your lunch hour and the weather is nice, so why not take lunch outside. The park is a little crowded and you want to mark your spot. So you take out your pocket square and set up for lunch. This piece comes in two sizes, A 2’x 2’ scarf marked for two and a handkerchief for one measuring 16.5”x 16.5”.

Scarf Version

Eat Out in the comfort of your surroundings

The second intervention is for those who like to work alone in public. Working in public spaces can be difficult sometimes. Trying to claim a certain spot or attain a certain level of privacy. Let people know your working with the ‘I’m Working Here Series’.

I'm Working Here Series

Grab your little piece of work nirvana

The third intervention is called the P.D.A.A. Parasol (Personal Display of Affection or Altercation). PDAs are already a public thing but sometimes you may want to filter how public it actually is. Sometimes a couple might not want to share everything with a public audience. For example when you want a affectionate moment or you want to throw down, pop up the parasol to separate yourselves from viewers.

The P.D.A.A. Parasol

Have your personal moment on us!

‘Outside the Conference Room’ is for those informal or formal meetings that can happen anywhere. Meetings can start anywhere, sometimes in the office other times in your local cafe. No matter where usually coffee is involved. So if the coffee is always present why not utilize the opportunity to let people know don’t bother us.

Outside the Conference Room

Suprise meeting, "you get the coffee I'll get the cozies"

The Complete Aw/oA family

If you made it this far I would like to thank you for sticking in there until the end. And to all the architects out there this is in no way an attack on you or your profession. Without the architecture that these objects exist in they would mean nothing.  If you are interested in speakimg more about the project please email me at bmurraydesigns@gmail.com. Also please be courteous to remember that I am sharing this information with you but any kind of reproduction is strictly prohibited thank you.

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