Saturday, December 4, 2004

Smoothing through a house

Beyond Appearances - Architecture and the senses

Fascinating article that asks, amongst other things, in a world where buildings are predominantly judged by their appearance, how does someone without sight experience architecture? I've excerpted my favourite bits below, but the whole conversation is well worth reading.

Alan Saunders: Now you talk about getting a more three dimensional sense. Like a lot of people I think given a choice, I prefer high ceilings to low ceilings, because I think they look more elegant; but are you aware of ceiling height when you're in a room?

Rebecca Maxwell: Oh, very much so. A low ceiling, well I don't know that it's a low ceiling, I feel an oppression that I work out by checking with someone else eventually, that it is connected with a low ceiling, or a disproportion of the space. I can't be geometrically accurate about that, but there are proportions that are comfortable and proportions that aren't, and the ceiling height is an important part.

Alan Saunders: Is that sense of oppression connected to any of what we think of as the five, perhaps we might call them the five traditional senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, or is it a separate sense, as it were?

Rebecca Maxwell: Well if one had to connect it to the five senses, one might say it's the sense of touch, but it's touch without a conventional physical contact. But I believe that there are a lot more senses. We haven't identified them and we don't use them. I think by identifying them we would begin to turn them on, as it were. You see, I think there is a sense of pressure, a sense of balance, a sense of rhythm, a sense of movement, a sense of life, a sense of warmth, even a sense of self, which psychology is beginning to recognise.

Alan Saunders: But let's just take touch. Do you think that architecture can offer a rewarding haptic experience?

Rebecca Maxwell: I'm glad you used that word in that way; I find myself an only person using it that way. Yes, look I take delight in the shapes of columns and the textures of walls in buildings, and I love to find apses and spaces that have no meaning at all. Yes, I think architecture could delight us more by focusing on other senses indeed.

Alan Saunders: You were talking about smoothing through a house and getting a sense of where there's a balcony and so on, where the outside air and sound is admitted; is your sense of the layout of a building altered at all if it's air-conditioned rather than naturally ventilated?

Rebecca Maxwell: Yes, an air-conditioned building feels dead. It has lost one of its features, one of its distinctions. It becomes all amorphous, too homogenous, and even the size of spaces is lost, yes, an air-conditioned building torments me, actually.

Thanks Julie!

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