Friday, 20 January, 2012 at 11:59 am
“The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Our memory of a place is not composed of isolated locations but rather sequences of connected locations. In design schools these series of routes which connect locations are called “journeys” and together they form the “architectural promenade”. Although these tend to lie in the hearth of most architectural design processes, it is ironical how often I find others and myself fumbling our way through buildings. Bored of thinking I am clumsy when moving around; I have humbly blamed it on the design.
When you enter a building it is either your first time in it or you are coming back. In both cases, when you move around that building your sense of place is usually influenced by the integrity of memories formed there. When you leave the building, you will have a conceptual model of it. As long as this model matches the designers model (the building itself) you will not get lost again. What is left at this point is a memory, which for most journeys we tend to forget. Remembering the spaces or not will depend on your level of involvement with them, in your experiences as a user. Alas, users are often poorly involved.
Architecture is increasingly focusing on sight over the rest of the senses. It is regarded as an art form of the eye. This may be part of the inheritance of the modern movement or a natural response to the way architectural work is presented. Architects tend to concentrate more on the visual aspects of the building because it is what can be best transmitted through the printed media. Although the author of an article can explain how a certain space of the building feels, smells or sounds the reader will be in risk of forgetting because the information was explained to him, he was not involved. It is thought that the most effective way for the audience to understand a proposal is through rendered images, leaving people to judge buildings on their appearance and sometimes even before visiting them.
Charles Moore and his partner Richard B. Oliver once designed a house for a partially-sighted client. It was a project in which the user would never see the result. Their response was to interact with the user’s haptic world and to create a building which could be felt as well as seen. In the final product, the client could actually smell from which direction a breeze was blowing by the fragrance it carried. He could orient himself by the warmth of light and the coldness of shade on the skin, or by the sound of a sunken indoor fountain. They produced an architecture which articulates texture, sound and smell to act as locational messages. Moore later declared it was the most delightful house he had designed.
We can touch, hear, smell, taste and see. The spectrum of design for a human body should go beyond views. Vision separates us from the world whereas the other senses unite us with it. This dominance of the eye and the suppression of the other senses tends to push us into detachment, isolation and exteriority. The observer becomes detached from an incarnate relation with the environment and ultimately he is not involved with the space. Nothing gives a man fuller satisfaction in architecture than the participation in the process. To be able to understand and remember, we need to be involved.
Remembering the spaces will influence on the way we travel through them. Architects as designers have the option to relate with any user by attending our senses. By having more human senses satisfied, the user can more easily participate emotionally with the building, get involved, understand it, and then remember it. After all, what is left outside the threshold are memories.