‘Form ever follows function’ (Sullivan, 1896)
“First, we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us” (Churchill, 1943)
‘First we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them again – ad infinitum. Function reforms form, perpetually.’ (Brand, 1994:3)
Stewart Brand’s reworking of both Sullivan and Churchill’s quotes is a very important observation. His book How Buildings Learn has undoubtably changed the way I think about buildings. Rather than just a focus upon the use of space, he stresses the need to understand buildings through the use of time. It is a verb and a noun, and it involves people.
Things change as are needs change, both people and buildings learn; neither are timeless, they both age. Some do it more gracefully than others. If a building can no longer be useful, it often ceases to be used. We cannot predict the future needs of a building nor of people, but we can make the possibility of adapting it easier or harder:
This dome leaks and its hardly the easiest building to make changes on - whether that’s dividing walls inside or adding an extension when you need more room. Plus I’d constantly by fearful of golf-playing giants (and judging by the owners’ UFO I would have thought that they are probably scared of that, too).
Of course this is an extreme example, but still, the argument Stewart Brand makes is build for change because not everyone wants to stick to the architect’s original plans:
It would probably be fair to argue that as a discipline, geography is under the radar within many realms of design. Whilst geographers are familiar with working alongside architects, planners, policymakers, local stakeholders, to name just few from my own personal experience, the great strengths of geography often remain hidden, or least, undervalued.
Whilst this is due to a series of complex reasons, I would perhaps suggest that this is in part, the way in which geographic research is disseminated. I have become increasingly conscious that there is a need to discuss my developing research amongst a range of professions and disciplines, both to improve the quality of my research, but also to create discussion between different people.
This would most likely be quantified in terms of ‘impact’. I expect that the discipline of geography will increasingly seek to have wider impact in order to sustain itself, or indeed “stay relevant” (a phrase I’m hearing an awful lot of late). I don’t consider this to be a bad thing. I believe that geography and geographers have a whole host of useful ideas, tools and methods which can help explain and critique interactions and social habits within, across and over space and time. It may sound vague, but with the ability to look at a range of scales of human interaction, over and between spaces/places, this ambiguity, represents the possibilities of geography.
Is work and research becoming increasingly collaborative? Multi-disciplinary? Or as was suggested by Prof Alister Scott at the Great Regional Debate 2012 at Millennium Point, trans-disciplinary? I quite like the last suggestion.
Steering this back towards the practice of design, this was put quite nicely by Ian Oas at InformeDesign, created by the University of Minnesota. (http://www.informedesign.org/_news/geog01_07.pdf) The short introduction has got me thinking which is always considered useful. I recommend giving it a quite read.
To be continued… (*dramatic*)
On the 12th October 2011, I headed over to the offices at MADE for a video-conference led by David Engwicht, a commentator on community, creativity and all things urban. Whilst the discussion was largely discussing the public realm – the street – there were some interesting ideas that were raised which relate to my research.
Engwicht was keen to expose certain myths about place-making, whilst at the same time, suggesting that paradox and conflict are good for exciting, working towns and cities. He asked what is it that makes a house become a home, and by extension, what makes a space become a place. One quote that got me thinking was a ‘home is a feeling not a location’. What is it that creates this sense of home? What makes us feel that we own an environment?
Engwicht suggested that communities should have the freedom to move street furniture, and even adapt the public realm, as and when they need to, so that it works as they want. This led me to think about Stewart Brand’s ideas of the ‘low-road’ and how buildings learn, where the most unassuming, anonymous buildings such as the workman’s shed is shaped over time by the user. It works just as the owner of the space wants it to.
The other point raised that I quite liked, was the idea that conflict and chaos is a good thing. It is the crossing over of all different narratives that make things exciting. The corridor is often somewhere between two spaces, maybe not considered as somewhere important, yet it is here where you physically bump into people, create ideas and get work done. Who needs meeting rooms?! The planning out of chaos can, in the words of David, ‘kill the humanity of a space’. Is movement and conflict between human mobility and the relative immobility of buildings (but perhaps not furniture), crucial to place-making both on the street and inside a building (and the links between inside and outside)?
Overall, an thought-provoking seminar, with David being a thoroughly nice guy to discuss ideas with.
I’m Colin Lorne, a Doctoral Researcher in the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences department at the University of Birmingham. My research explores how all the body’s senses influence how we experience the interior spaces of buildings, and how this knowledge is important to consider for future building and policy. I am co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and School of GEES, University of Birmingham.
Design, like society, has privileged the visual realm, downplaying the importance of the body’s other senses in the way that we interpret the world. Buildings are often critiqued upon first sight. They may be considered attractive or perhaps innovative, or they might be deemed offensive to the eye. However, we spend much of our time inside them. Inside, we experience them up close rather than from afar. The interior spaces of a building do not just provide a series of images to be consumed, but rather they embody the senses. My research is interested in exploring how sensous geographies influence how people experience, understand and adapt the inside of buildings.
Even if we do not realise it, lots of our leisure spaces are engineered to influence of senses. Think about how shopping centres are designed to entice the consumer to buy, to keep them in the building to buy a coffee or some lunch. The sounds, the smells, the sights, the feel of the building is thoroughly considered to make people enjoy being in that space. However, consideration of all the senses and how we experience the spaces such as houses or the workplace, arguably, seems to place much less significance upon these sensory aspects of design. Why do we continue to create depressing, artificially-lit, cubicle offices rather than places that would encourage a happier and more productive person?
Architects such as Juhani Pallasmaa and Peter Zumthor (architect of the Therme Val baths in the header) were the initial inspiration for this research. I will use this blog to explore ideas, including those of Pallasmaa and Zumthor, both for myself as a research diary, but also for anyone who is interested or intrigued.
I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me here.