Post 579 by Gautam Shah (7 of 16 Behaviour in Spaces)


For any space shape and size are two major factors that condition the human behaviour. A space can have many different shapes irrespective of the size, and so it is an absolute function. The size makes a shape relevant when it adequately relates to the human body, and so it is a relative function. Shape and Size are considered concurrently for spatial relevance. Spatial relevance has many facets.


Train concourse, new Pennsylvania station Washington DC  Wikipedia image

Functional adequacy is very important for spatial relevance, and is checked on: tasks conduction, social interaction, degree of proximity for intimacy and privacy, security, cognition, physical reach, communication and expression. Functional adequacy is achieved by ergonomic facilitation in the space. The Reach in space is physical and cognitive. Former is important for functional satiation, and the later one for sensorial perception. For both the purposes, the quality and depth or extent can be modulated by reach extension tools. Social interactions in a space are afforded by means and modalities available for expression and communication. Space size and shape bear upon the intimacy and privacy one experiences.


Fluid distribution in micro-gravity conditions Wikipedia image by CFCF


A shape can exist in great many sizes, but the scale and proximity of the shape forming elements such as the barriers and environmental effects signify the shape. A very tall Gothic cathedral ceiling has presence through its audio feel then visual detail. Shape configurations have a strong vertical, horizontal or inclinations relating to the gravity. Shapes are closed or open ended. Some shapes are open to attachments but others show potential of growth through distensions. Indian Parliament building a rotunda in shape has very little scope for attachments. Similarly Louvre had very little extension possibilities due to historic style and functional need (housing extra large sized Egyptian artefacts). The shape expansion by addition or distension is linear, planner or volumetric, and local, pervasive, directional or haphazard. A spatial shape reflects the constituent forces, so a shape could be transient or consistent. Shapes are repeated for an array and create interrelationships through proportions, analogy, sequencing, proximity, etc.


Airbus A340 Kitchen-Pantry unit > En wikipedia image by w:user:Acidbomber


Size is fundamentally scaled to the human being, but it also represents control, spread and distance. These also reflect the effort and duration required to operate the space segment. 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.


Scouts training vessel Wikipedia image by Joe Mabel Sea

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. The size is seen as a 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 people, spatial elements, barriers, and their cognition.

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.

Patients in a large hospital ward experience a very large space to be strange compared to their home, because the space size proportions are different, surfaces are harder and less absorbent (causing reverberation to be different), background noises are less passive, during day or night illumination levels are brighter, furniture and furnishings are unusual. These experiences occur during periods of sickness and weakened mental faculties.


Catacomb in Rome > Wikipedia image by Bgabel

A space is perceived to be small, adequate or large in terms of various tasks, and in nature 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 experience. Occupation of domains with unusual proportions (combinations of lengths, widths, and height) and sizes require extra efforts of accommodation.


Tall space of Salt Cave in Mount Sodom Israel > Wikipedia image by Wilson44691

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.


Mini house > Wikipedia image by Source Weekend with Dee by Tammy


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 communications. 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.


Crowded Snack bar at Bowling Alley > Wikipedia image


Large spaces have large core zone 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 a challenging task. 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.


Large space with off centric core zone > Wikipedia image by Rodejong


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. Art galleries tend to be linear spaces as exhibits are smaller, Areas with master pieces in museums are non linear for distanced viewing. The hall of mirrors, Versailles, is a classic example of long space, opaque on one side and fully windowed on the other side.

Liverpool Infirm Ward

Liverpool infirm ward Flickr image by University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life sciences


A wide space is very ambiguous a term. All large sized spaces are also wide spaces, because here both the 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, and allow 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.


Narrow space Gamla stan, Stockholm, Sweden Wikipedia image by Mastad


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. Tall and deep spaces acutely reveal their functionality. Chowks, cutouts, light wells, stair wells, under sides of domes, etc. are all 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).


Very tall space for Mass prayer at Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, Indonesia Wikipedia image by Gunawan Kartapranata


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.

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. 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.

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) a shape entity.


Reichstag German Parliament Berlin > Wikipedia image by Mary-Grace Blaha Schexnayder

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. Inversely a free or 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.


HK TST Isquare mall windows > Wikipedia image by Teipangshan102


An individual experiences environment and space as a single happening. 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 individualize a habitable territory.

Environment is conditioned at specific locations. Such efforts include architectonic elements like shading devices, barriers, reflectors and receptors, insulation, 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.


This post forms 7th of the Sixteen part of Lecture series on Behaviour in Space that I will be offering for the spring semester starting Jan 2016 (to mid April2016) at School of Interior Design, Faculty of Design, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India.


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