DISTANCE as an ELEMENT of DESIGN -Issues of Design 26

Post 689 –by Gautam Shah


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There are several ways ‘distance’ impacts a design. The physical distance is essentially scaled to human body measures and work capacities. The sensorial measure of the space is the reach in space. All these, help us to equate the suitability and adequacy of spaces for different purposes.

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The distance, refers to a physical measure, a separation, and perception of proximity or remoteness from an extraneous location.

1 Measure Between

2 Separation

3 Perception

A physical space has filler elements like, people, objects and environmental affectations. These elements have their own sizes and also have medial spaces. The scale of the physical space, and the relationships between objects-objects, people-people and objects-people, are factored by the distance.

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ONE      We measure the space in terms of distances, at realistic level, between ‘us’ and things (A to B). Inversely, we also measure the space for the perceived (likely) distance (B to A) between things and ‘us’. The objective (A to B) and subjective (B to A) assessments, together, provide a comprehensive experience of the space. The spatial experience is a maze of relationships and directions. But a constant reference is provided by the Environmental affectations that mark the time and movement. The environmental affectations cause many aberrations of perception of spatial distances and relationships, due to the mix up of the actual and perceived distances. We can exploit such changes to project or contract our presence in a space.

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TWO    When the perceiver is a separator, if somewhere between the two ends, or objects. Distance comparisons ensue, to find out the disparities. The physical distance on either of the sides defines the nearness or remoteness of a thing in space. It helps to know which one is available, useful, required size, intensity, etc. Such distance assessment is often personal and comparative as it depends on reach capacity, need, experience and group behaviour dynamics.

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THREE    Observing anything in space from an external location, the distance is realized as the degree of clarity. The clarity is governed by physical distance from the location of observation. The same distance, however, gets occluded by the intervening activities (chaos, noise, echoes, bounce-back, reflections, disturbances and intermingling of effects) and the environment (fog, smoke, dust). But these also offer a referential spatial scale. The field of perception increases or decreases with the mediating distance.

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Temporal distance refers to distance in time. Something that is temporally close is something that is near in time, whereas something that is temporally distant is far in time. Temporal distance to imagined future events modulates our evaluative representation of them. The greater the distance, the more likely the event is to be conceptualized in terms of a few abstract features. This is relevant in case of potential dangers or risks because this mechanism cognitively separates us from the reality of likely undesirable eventualities.

Psychologists from Walter Mischel to Nira Liberman and Yaacov Trope have labelled the psychological distance: that is, gaps between you and other people social distance, the present and the future temporal distance, your physical location and faraway places –spatial distance, or imagining something and experiencing it -experiential distance.


When psychological distance is large, we tend to think in more-abstract terms, focussing on the big picture, the desirability of certain options, and why we want them. In contrast, when psychological distance is small, our thinking is more concrete: We focus on the details, the feasibility of options, and how we will use them -Rebecca Hamilton https://hbr.org/2015/03/bridging-psychological-distance


Distancing is a prime mechanism of offense and defence when methods and means of survival are inadequate, or unavailable. The distance operates at real level, as realized by us, and also as we feel the opponent is perceiving it. Shortening the distance serves an offensive role and enhancing the reach, a defensive purpose. The spatial depth is affected by the separation through occlusion or camouflage. It helps in fuzzing the identity and recognition.

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Anything that lies in ‘front’ (of sensorial nodes -eyes, nose, ears) is always at a ‘shorter distance’, compared to askew encounters, which have ‘greater distance’ (straight, up or down level exchanges). Short distance leads to possible physical contact with intimacy and often breach of privacy. Long distanced contact offers wider space for other actions including time for escape.

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The distance, direction and angle of eye contact affect the intimacy and so privacy. Executives want broad and deep tables to ‘keep the distance’ with the visitors. At a meeting or on a dining table, the chief occupies end-position, and with that no one can take frontal confronting stand.

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Any position against a static and closer backdrop is more assuring, then a backdrop whose depth cannot be fathomed. And for the same reason activities on the backside (stage, podium, office table, information kiosk, reception tables) are not desirable. In a space, one looks for anchorage in the presence of people (even, if unknown), architectonic elements, objects and opaque surfaces. Fixed and familiar things in space, even if physically distanced are better as support. Similarly the location and direction of an exit (door or any other egress point), or a path to it, at whatever the distance, are preferred.


For an individual, a space segment that allows one to control the distance from others is a safe, predictable and reassuring territory. Here the occupants and objects have intense relevance to each other. In interpersonal relationships the distance delineates isolation, accessibility, domination, submission, agreement, dissension, insulation, engagement, etc.

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The distance and space, both form the notions of Intimacy and Privacy. One physically manipulates, or sensorially perceives the distance from other beings and objects. The sense of vision, hearing, smelling are dependent on the distance. but touch and taste.

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Intimacy is also a biological need, as it relies on compatibility, sexual needs, glandular secretions, social acceptability, etc. It is an attitude, mental conditioning or mental posture. Intimacy could be one-way feeling that is without reciprocal response. Intimacy is not always a function of physical proximity. One can feel close to a person who is long dead -an illusory presence or through notional links (clothes, odours, recorded sounds, etc.).

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Distance Etymology > Distaunce (13-14 C) =a dispute, controversy, civil strife, rebellion, disagreement, discord, strife. Destance (Old French) =discord, quarrel. Distantia (Latin) =a standing apart. Distantem (nominative distans) = standing apart, separate, distant. Distare =stand apart, from the root ‘sta’ =to stand, make or be firm. Modern Distance =remoteness of space, extent of space between two objects or places, an interval of time (originally distaunce of times).=remote part of a field of vision.

This is the 26th article (in continuation of old series -new beginning) on ISSUES of DESIGN




Post 688 –by Gautam Shah


Bay Casement Boothbay Maine Ocean Harbor Window

Casement windows were the most common house-windows, before the sash windows were devised. The shutters of casement windows are hinged on the side, and open either inward and outward. Casement windows provide a full open aperture compared to double hung or sliding windows. The casement shutters could be solid, opaque panelled or glaze panelled. Glazing panes are fixed to the shutter by beading or putty compounds.

Window Wood Rustic

Casement shutters opening inward cause obstruction if there is insufficient parking space for the opened shutter. Inward opening shutters also interfere with window treatments such as curtains, blinds, etc.

The shutters, if of small width open with a handle cum locking device, and if of large width require a crank or lever to open. A wind stay, or a friction hinge is necessary to keep the shutter open in windy conditions, and an espagnolette is used for locking. A casement window is easy to operate with its long armed handle mechanism and so ideal for difficult to reach situations, such as places above cabinets or counter tops. Casement windows open out on nominal hinges or offset hinges that open the shutter little away from the side to allow cleaning, glazing fixing and painting of the exterior face. These are critical issues for casement windows that have protection bars, or are located on upper floors.

Curtain Mountains Window Architecture Outlook

Single casement windows are used on side lites as besides a door or fixed window. Average width of wooden casement windows is 400 to 500. Larger widths up to 600 are possible with friction hinges. Very tall casement windows require patent bolts at both the top and bottom ends to shut a window or keep it open in heavy winds.

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Double casement windows are of two types: one where two shutters meet over a mid member, and the other, where the two shutters meet over each other. The later is called a French window, it opens unobstructed in the centre.

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The casement shutter could be single, opening on left or right side. Casement windows with double shutters, open on left and right sides, or in the middle like the pages of a book. Multiple casement windows have even numbers of shutters divided into sets of two each, all shutters open on one side, or symmetry is created by opening half numbers of shutters on either side.

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Casement windows typically are hinged at the sides, but if top hinged are called awning windows, and if bottom hinged are called hopper windows.

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Hopper Windows: A hopper window is a bottom hung a casement window that opens similarly to a draw bridge or a coal-pit receptor or hopper, typically opening to the outside. Hopper windows are used as cellar or subterranean opening.

Hopper Light: Hopper Ventilator: These have inward-opening shutter hinged at the bottom, usually forming the upper section of a door or window.

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Awning Window: An awning window is a casement window that is hung horizontally, hinged on top, so that it swings outward like an awning or a weather shed. Awnings are transom lites, used in upper sections of doors and windows as a ventilator.

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French Window: A French window is really a type of door with a small threshold. It is also called a French door. Two casement sashes hinged on the sides to open in the middle. The shutters nearly extend to the floor and also serve as a door to a porch, garden, verandah, gallery or terrace. It is double shuttered, and both of which for the full height of the shutters, have single or multiple panes of glass. It may have a secondary set of solid or louvered shutters opening to the interior or exterior side.

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Folding Casement: Casement windows hinged together so they may fold into a confined space, such as within the wall thickness. Small width shutters also makes it easier to close without stretching out too much. Folding casements are often auxiliary shutters, such as storm shutters or Venetian shutters on the outer face or fly-mesh shutters on the inner face.

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All types of eaves and window casement shutters, projecting out, were banned to prevent spread of fire along the wall, after the great fire in London in 1707. And these forced adoption of Sash windows (opening upward or downward).

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