DISTANCE MEANINGS -Issues of Design 28

Post 702 –by Gautam Shah


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Distance has TWO fundamental involvements, One, where we judge farness of a perceptible object, and Two, where we gauge the ‘apartness of two things from each other. In both instances the distance is primarily a comparison and so scaled quantity, but it could be the intensity of the subjective sense of perception. Distance tells us about the intervening space. Distance is a measure of how far away an object is from other things. Displacement is magnitude how much an object has been displaced from its original location and in which direction the shift has occurred. In this sense Distance is a scalar whereas Displacement is a vector quantity.

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The word Distāre (Latin) derives from the root ‘sta’ =to stand, make or be firm and also meant to stand apart. Another older variant Distaunce of 13-14 C =a dispute, controversy, civil strife, rebellion, disagreement, discord, strife. Destance of old French =discord, quarrel. Distantia of Latin =a standing apart. Distantem a nominative distans = standing apart, separate, distant. Modern version Distance =remoteness of space, extent of space between two objects or places, an interval of time, remote part of a field of vision.

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Further and Farther are two confusing words. Further is older, and it had originally nothing to do with far. The word far was loaded with -er to become farrer. This was difficult to use orally. There were two other words nearby, fore or forth. In other words, further didn’t originally mean ‘more distant’ but something like ‘more ahead’, or, as the contemporary Oxford Dictionary states it, ‘more forward, more onward’.

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Distance is a measurement in numerical form of how far apart the objects are and also a proportionate measure or ratio. The numerical values are unattached or unconditional (absolute) so in nominal conditions ‘distance from A to B’ and from B to A are the same and interchangeable’.

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Greek Aristarchus (310-230 BC) was the first to estimate the Earth to Sun distance by measuring the angular separation of the Sun and Moon. The first reasonably accurate measurement of the Earth-Sun distance was made by Cassini in 1672. Scientifically accurate distance can be measured, if there is a bounce back (reaction). Apollo missions positioned reflectors to bounce a pulse of a laser. Radiations or physical changes on an interstellar body reach differently to such reflectors on earth and moon, permitting computation of distance.


Spatial remoteness is a separation of sensorial nature with some emotional flavour. The separation may also indicate the difference or disparity between two real or abstract things, thoughts or cognition. The separation or remoteness allows wider view and adds the capacity to observe issues dispassionately. Meaning of remoteness, indicating the space between things, places or events is of late 14c origin. Remoteness is the figurative sense of aloofness.

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If distance refers to the existence of physical space between two objects, then to measure that one can use the time to transverse the interval. The remoteness or closeness of a thing or happening can be a measure of reach of the human body limbs and sensorial nodes. The reach offers tools for intervention, offense and defense.

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The human reach was reflected in word Distantia (Latin root of distance) which meant standing apart (or away) from quarrels, estrangements, discords or strife. This term Distantia refers to a spatial distance, but also indicate the effects of it.


A shouting distance, within ear shot, shouting distance, within sniffing distance, under one’s nose, all relate to sensorial capacities, whereas cheek by jowl, hand in hand, near at hand, hand in glove, within striking distance, walking distance, within spitting distance, stones throw away, cheek by jowl, shoulder to shoulder is limbs related distancing characteristics. There are few terms where the distance is traversing in time like the impending disaster, imminent, upcoming event, relapse and longing. Distance is more pronounced when two people turn away from each other. This is an attempt to disorient the sensorial nodes.

Super Car Tour

Distances seem finite where the definitive entities like under a single sky or roof, or within a bounded terrain (plaza, public square). Distances are less daunting where destinations are within sensorial reach.

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Relationships involving hate or love are reflected in the intervening distance. Distance sometimes lets you know who is worth keeping, and who is worth letting go (-Lana Del Rey). But, now the relationships are bridged by means of communication and presence through virtual adjacency. In the past when distances were measured in time, such as lunches required or horses feed station on the way. And that is why ‘time was the longest distance between two places’ (Tennessee Williams).The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time’ (Simon Sinek).

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Distance blurs the scene but then everything seems simpler from a distance’ (-Gail Tsukiyama). Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity’ (Robert Morgan). And indeed, Louis L’Amour finds distance lends perspective and I often write better of a place when I am some distance from it. One can be so overwhelmed by the forest as to miss seeing the trees’.

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This is the 28th article (in continuation of old series -new beginning) on ISSUES of DESIGN.




Post 701 –by Gautam Shah


This is the 5 th article of series: ‘CORNERS’.

Earlier articles were > 672 The CORNER -metaphor / 673 The CORNER in City / 678 CORNERS and Neighbourhoods / 696 CORNERS and Public Spaces.

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A work-nook was the historical culture of work space. The private work area was mainly used for reading and writing, and only occasionally for interaction with others. Work desks were wall abutting storage cabinets with a foldout work surface. The work zone was located in the corner of a large room. In Northern Europe, the desks were placed on a slightly raised platform. The platform and the corner position both helped to keep it protected from cold draughts, in unheated rooms. The corner was the least participating space and so secluded one. In ancient walls load-bearing structures, the corner did not allow any opening. In later periods, when window glasses were clear to provide decent view, the work nooks were placed beside the openings.

2 Newman's desk facing a wall in the Birmingham Oratory Wikipedia Image by Lastenglishking

For personal, reading and writing, a work place in the form of a bureau desk was fairly a functional entity. A visitor, though had to stand or sit on the side. And for a professional like a lawyer or public servant, the interactions with a group of visitors were awkward. And yet the bureau desks remained the only form of work-tables for more than 600 years, till about mid of 20th C.

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The bureau desk, by itself, was fairly compact and a functional entity. It could be placed almost anywhere in a room or shifted around. It did not require any other adjunct pieces of furniture except a seat. Its most important character was its single person’s utility. It was not a participatory entity. The sitting person faced the wall and so lacked the authority.

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5 William Carey Used Desk - Carey Museum - Serampore College - Hooghly

There were other work-tables or platforms in the built spaces. Kitchens had food preparation work-tables or platforms close to cooking fires. These platforms served as dining tables and sleeping beds for servants. But people seating around a table, equally participating in discussions, was more democratic. Such a participatory set-up was inconceivable for the boss who wished to be different from others.

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Historically, the democratic nature of the kitchen table and the non-participatory bureau desk, both coexisted. The kitchen table mainly used for food preparation and dining had marked positions for house members. At the head side of the table -a chair with handles, was the master’s or president’s chair. The bureau desk, primarily a work-unit, later found a place in the dining pantry areas for storing china and cutlery. This was later placed in bedrooms as a multi-utility storage system.

8 Ancient kitchens had a multipurpose work table

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The bureau desks moved from homes to commercial establishments, as the boss’s place. The bureau desk was a wall abutting unit, and so it was easy to source the services like electricity, telephones etc. It was placed on the inner side of the office room, perhaps, the boss did not like anyone to be on his backside. Such bureau desks were boss’s privilege. The commercial establishments had ill-defined positions for others like assistants, secretaries or visitors.

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9 Antique Office Photographs, ca. 1920s (30)

Forty years ago, a corner office, with two side corner windows was most sought after position by any executive. In the interior side it had furthest location. This was easy to provide in buildings with small foot print, advantageous multi face sites and fewer executives per floor. But in dense urban localities, due to high costs, the executive offices were smaller and large in numbers. Architects were forced to find ways to add more corners to the buildings.

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In early businesses there was a strong hierarchy of work positions based on social connections and seniority of age. One could enter an organization and continue to be promoted till one died. There was no retirement edge. In the meanwhile, an employee is consistently on the move, from a larger desk, position near a window, exclusive telephone connection, a partitioned cubicle to a personal cabin. The moves were not always well marked or visible.

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Multitasking lol

A corner is like a cone of a megaphone, one can express loudly and compel others to listen, like happened in an amphi theatre. The wider end can bring in noise, like the wine glass for eavesdropping. A corner work place, simultaneously works both ways, so it is not a desirable place to occupy.

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One would not want to be cornered, at least willingly, but in the commercial setup, top executives seek it. A corner office was a sought after place. It had prestige and had windows on two exterior walls. Most office work spaces have one window or none at all. Corner offices were called C-suites. Corner offices were furthest on the floor and one had to cross several planned and unintentional hurdles to reach it. To avoid such a situation, the C-suites were stretched right up to the reception area, taking up quarter or more space of the floor. This spread matched the prestige associated with the space, but thetoilers of the office avoided visiting it, unless promoted to it’.

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Cubicles or cabins were interim destinations for the executives on way to the corner-offices. The cubicles or cabins always occupied the peripheral edge, for the window view. When buildings had small footprints or narrow widths, the peripheral preference did not disturb the daytime illumination. But with large space commercial buildings, the low level staff was denied daytime illumination and outside views. The cubicles or cabins were opaque barricaded, for the perceived threat of sound leakage. The corner office had least interior edge exposure and so offered more privacy. The physical isolation had however, no relevance when with telephone one could connect to anyone. The glass partitions dissolved the edge.

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Buildings once substantially depended on natural light and thermal management (heating, cooling, ventilation). The offices had two distinct spatial divisions. The best sections were on the outer periphery occupied by people engaged in core business, whereas the inner areas were of compromised environment and housed the staff engaged in data management and communication.

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The conditions began to change in the corporate world, post WW-II. The Senior positions were filled, not through promotion within, but negotiated migrations of talent. Earlier promotion was accompanied by designated spatial status like cabin or cubicle, but now the demand was freedom to work anywhere and any time, even beyond the spatial boundaries of the ‘work-place’.

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The capacity to work at home, has intensified the urge for social contact with the colleagues. Physical encounters are required, and for this a variety of spaces are required. The need for variety is fulfilled by hired spaces, often away from the town. Little business is talked here, but social assurance is available.

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The changed work-culture attitudes have forced new configurations for interior space planning and forms of architecture. Millennials want no Hierarchy but Holocracy. Holocracy is a decentralized management system with a flatter power structure, where everyone is a leader. It distributes authority and decision-making throughout the organization.

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New offices have corner spaces but used for meeting or relaxation (coffee rooms). The work environment is where people work from any table in the office. At home or coffee shop. Designing open office work-spaces is very different. New offices (not to be confused with open plan office layout) are much smaller, and efficient in space-use than the old offices.

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Offices or Work places have seen revolutionary changes in Form and Functions, because Technological and consequent Social changes demand it. During the last century, the changes have substantially related to the data management modalities. Once upon time, public offices had to allot 40-50% space for storage systems, and substantial proportion of staff was used for fetching, filing, classifying, copying, printing, storing, arranging, retrieving, distributing the data within the office, and dispatching it beyond the office. The data management now relies on remote access and virtual storage systems. The communication was once physical, and required lots of passage spaces, staff, messengers and personal contact.

Corner Desk