Post 589 by Gautam Shah (11 of 16 Behaviour in Spaces)



Behaviour in space is conditioned by two personal notions: Privacy and Intimacy. Privacy is personal as well as group-based requirement, whereas Intimacy is mostly an intra-personal or object affair. Behaviour first develops from the primary concern for survival, a defensive action where one tries to create a personal protective layer. It is also an offensive activity where people form groups to create a common protective mechanism, and thereby be more accessible to others. Here the privacy and intimacy become expressions of intra-personal relationships.


Crowded elevator Flickr image by BurnAway

In a space, primarily, one tries to acquire a spot where privacy and intimacy are controllable. People discern their relationship with others in terms of distances or spaces between them. A personal space allows privacy and intimacy by controlling the distance from objects and people. Distance in space is simply a notion, a negotiable reach, one creates and perceives from other beings and objects. A personal space is an assurance for conducting certain tasks and expositions. The reach in space is negotiated by suitable space planning, physical and metaphorical declarations of the territorial ownership, style of space occupation and managing the extent and duration of exposure.


Perceived privacy in a public space > Wikipedia image

Privacy is a personal belief and is achieved by obscuring own self, or by isolating from people. One can obscure own self by merging with background or by becoming less perceptible. Isolation is achieved by barricading and distancing. A person or group achieves insulation through body posturing and adjust the exposure, control the communication, command the expression and re-calibrate the reach of the body and the sensorial perception. Privacy can help overcome many inhibitions through mental isolation. Psychological motivation helps one to ignore some of the side effects of lack of privacy.


Spatial seclusion for privacy > Wikipedia image by Sulasulasula

Privacy provides the isolation whereas degree of interference by others determines the nature of intimacy. Both are important means for individualization or branding of unique personality. And whenever these are compromised one may try to adjust the posture, reorient the self and distance from others. In appropriate conditions it is easy to control ingress, distraction and unwanted participation by others.


Flickr image by Paul Townsend

One requires many different types of privacy:

● Physical and Social privacy: Ii is a function of distance and shielding. It is required against someone making a close approach (touch or near approximations). Social privacy is often equated to physical ‘crowding’ in a space. It is reflected in degrees of accessibility a person or group offers to others. The perceived territorial space gets crowded due to excessive or undesired social contact. Crowding means heightened accessibility or reduced interaction depending on the need for expression, communication, physiological requirements. Crowding affects the sense of belonging for group behaviour mechanisms (common purposes, beliefs). In ‘neighbourhood spaces’ one wants to be away from the closed interior space and so here crowding of any type takes away the social privacy.

Crowding may be tolerated if it is temporary (elevators, stairs, public transport) and for a definite purpose like for fun. The scale of a room it’s size relative to the occupants also influences conversational distance. As room scale reduces, people tend to sit closer together. Likewise, increased noise levels and distractions drive people to sit closer together.


Titian, Actaeon surprises Diana in her bath 1559 Wikipedia image

 ● Visual privacy: Inherent in human behaviour is a tendency to avoid situations in which one can be watched without being aware of who is watching. Visual privacy addresses the ability to limit view of oneself by others. It can be achieved through the use of furnishings, furniture, amenities, partitions or walls.


In a private space or an office, people will often orient their desk in order to visually control the doorway and achieve a visually private space on one side of the desk. Similarly, people prefer to sit with a protected back, controlling the area they cannot see directly. In restaurants, the first seats to be filled are usually those along the walls. In outdoor spaces, people tend to sit against or beside objects such as trees and bushes rather than in the open. In open office plans’ a person is made to sit facing a wall or partition for lesser distraction from the back side passage, however, it is the unseen and unpredictable traffic on the backside that challenges the privacy. Contrary to this in garment stitching room workers are one behind the others and passage is on the side.


Mobile phones diversion from visual and social privacy issues > Flickr image by Marc Smith

● Audio privacy: It is an insulation against being overheard, interference from background noise, and lack audio of clarity of listened sounds. A high quality of audio privacy significantly defines the level of communication, social interaction, and productivity. An appropriate relationship between the background noise and one that is produced within the activity space is conducive to speech privacy.

Complete insulation of a space, such as a study room, cuts-off the background noise, leading to loneliness or alienation. Hospital wards are hard finished due to issues of bacterial infections. The wards during daytime have high presence background noise that subdues or balances the noise from within the space. However, past midnight, in absence of background noise, the noise from inside the room becomes unbearable.


Barriers for Noise privacy Melbourne > Wikipedia image en wiki by Atlantica

● Olfactory privacy This limits to reveal own physiological state or experiencing someone else such a state through hormones-odours. Other privacy parameters include the body temperature, breathing rate, heart beats, pulse rate, vibrations of the body, sweating and perspiration.



Intimacy is a feeling of closeness or affinity between a person and another, or an object. Intimacy is also a biological need. Intimacy is considered a product of distance, and it relies on compatibility, sexual needs, glandular secretions, social acceptability, etc. It is an attitude, mental conditioning or mental posture. A person or group seeks privacy for security, to flourish in an environment. Intimacy could be one-way feeling that is without reciprocal feeling. One can be intimate with another person or group of persons without the apparent need for privacy. One can feel close to a person who is long dead –an illusory presence or through notional links (clothes, odours, recorded sounds, etc.). Distancing is also a matter of time, like remembrances. An intimate relationship is with a person, but an intimate space is one where an occupant and objects have intense relevance to each other.

A date with a view

A date with view Flickr image by TheeErin

Intimacy can have two main forms: emotional intimacy and physical intimacy. There could be other forms of empathy like cultural, intellectual, spiritual, social that are akin to intimacy in some conditions. Strategic relationship developed to take advantage of anyone could be very close but it is a make-believe intimacy.


Intimacy by known People and Space Pixabay image by Akshaypatra

A private abode is an own world. An intimate situation is safe, predictable and reassuring. Intimacy is like a domain where everything is under an exclusive command.


This post forms 11 th 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.



  1. Pingback: BEHAVIOUR in SPACES -a re-look at various lecture versions (2008-2017) | Interior Design Assist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s