SUPPORT SYSTEMS -Issues of Design-22

Post 669 by Gautam Shah



We need supports to move, stand, or even do nothing. We use the support for gaining, sustaining or relieving various biological conditions of the body. We need, physical as well as abstract, supports. We need supports inside our places of inhabitation, and beyond it. We explore our environments for natural supports, and configure supports as we create our habitats.


Primary supports are required for getting in-out, conducting tasks, closing-opening and shifting the utilities. Supports are also used for expression and communication. Supports govern the reach and work capacity of a person. Supports allow and enhance movement of the body limbs and parts, in wide range of spatial occupations and conduct it at a required pace.


Built-forms, amenities and facilities offer a complex set of configured supports. Supports are required to initiate an action, for work towards or away from the gravity, overcome impedance of friction, bondage etc., for swaying and stopping it and absorb the bounce-back forces of reaction. Supports help change the body postures for physiological relief, breathing, metabolism, respite from tedium and consistency.


Support systems are universal, used by persons of different stature, abilities, age profiles and mental conditions. Supports occur in one continuum, employed in unique sequence of activities. For these two reasons, some optimal needs must be realized.


Amenities and Facilities offer physical and abstract supports. The physical supports as they really exist, we rarely use them. The physical supports through their presence provide assured certainty and adequacy of performance, safety and security. It is psychological reliability that the supports are available, when and where needed. Abstract supports do not exist, but are rather conditions that restrict one to take certain actions. These are socially acknowledged thresholds. Such metaphorical systems also regulate the expressions of the body.


The supports are required for facilitating Macro movements of the body, like shifting the body or changing the posture whereas Micro movements help in gestures, communication and expression, and to realign the physiological pressures.


In all work processes, brisk or sedentary, one needs the ability to freely reposition the body. Such movements are postural ones, like the movement of limbs, neck, switching the weight over legs, or wriggling over the bottom. Others are gestural (twitching of lips, eyebrows). The postural or gestural changes occur with supports. These are, access height of the amenity, body position and related reach and work ability, familiarity etc. Assurance of a support allows one to take deliberate risks.


Body movements endow new work capacities (reach, spread, productivity) besides removing the tedium. Such dynamic posturing increases cognition of happenings around us and encourages concentration by stimulation of muscles, blood circulation, and neurochemical processes. Too many body changes may seem distracting to others.


Balancing the body

We continuously sway our body due to internal causes (breathing, metabolic activity), and for external reasons (like turning head while observing and communicating, for keeping garments in order). The sway invigorates our body and greater participation in the world around us. For such minor swaying no physical supports are required to initiate or terminate it.


The postural changeability is both a physiological adjustment and a psychological expression. It is reflected in anxiety and boredom. Postural discomfort also occurs due to inadequacies of utilities. Utilities are exploited (misused) for fidgeting. Fidgeting is now accepted as a mode of tackling and learning. Intentional postural incongruities are natural while executing novel and complicated tasks. But postural stillness does not last very long while handling vibrant conditions.


Exposure of postural discomfort and related restlessness, if amplified, can become very embracing. Designers need to include supports and barriers for fidgeting to flourish but regulate its exposure. Postural discomfort at some level is unbalancing force and a nearby support is required.

Receptionists are intensely observed persons. This is annoying when waiting seats are in front, a reception table is at eye level and its front is open and no other interests in the space. Similarly ‘open desks’ on stage or in conference rooms, if open at leg level distract the viewers.


Once, our work tables were ‘wall mounted’, to source various services (drainage, power, structural support), but then concept of island work stations offered multi-directional posturing and access. In offices the open plans were too static. The personal table top computers were too fixed for fidgeting around. The Laptops with wireless data transfer systems and cloud storage not only allow micro body movements, but also posting in variable locations.

Designers are offering amenities and facilities that are not very ‘comfy’ but with ‘bearable discomfort’. That causes, little physical inconvenience, to infuse reach, balance, transitions extra ordinary perception.


Indian offices, once had stools for peons. The wide foot print (legs tapering outward) offered a stable structure but its small sized seat and taller height, were unnerving, keeping the person alert and ready to standup. Similarly tall bar-stools also do not allow one to settle but allow freedom of movement. Aged people (and pregnant ladies), to get up, derive support from handles and harder, taller and a flatter seat, things contrary to these conditions make life difficult.


The support systems are required for Active or Passive movements.

Ο Free active movements are used by a person to overcome the effect of gravity, for example, rising from lying to seating position.

Ο Resisted active movements are used by a person to overcome the effects of a manually or mechanically applied force, for example, lifting a load, closing a door, using a knife and fork, or digging with a spade.

Ο Assisted active movements occur with the help of another person or apparatus, like mother assisting a child or by using a chain or rope.

Ο Assisted-resisted active movements are dual efforts. First part of the movement assistance is required to initiate an action, but the other part uses resistance to control the action.

Ο Passive movements are those produced by an external force during muscle inactivity. All joint movements can be performed passively by manual means.



This is the 22 nd (continuation of old series -new beginning) article on ISSUES of DESIGN



GEOMETRY -Issues of Design -21

Post 667  –by Gautam Shah




A point is the beginning of geometrical order, and the line extends the same. The point connects to another one establishing the extent (depth), and direction of the relationship. There were many types of points, a real end like of needle, spear or arrow head, a distanced object perceived as of zero size like a star or Sun, and an emblematic one like the gravity as the chief focal point of Earth. The observer is the pivot of cognition.


Historically geometry was the relationship between the earthly points (terrestrial locations) and the celestial objects. It has also been about the connect, between ‘me and other things’. Geometry is about relationships between ‘features and the orientation’. It is about recognizing a pattern out of random, and define it for perpetuity.

Landscape Galaxy Milky Way Night Stars Sky Scenic

Geometry (from the Ancient Greek: γεωμετρία; geo =earth, and metron =measurement) is concerned with sizes, shapes, relations of objects, and the attribute of space. A person, who can define-locate objects is a geometer. Geometry was the basic measurable realization of the body limb sizes and work capacities. One of the earliest interests in geometry was land measurements or surveying.

“Geometry will draw the soul towards truth, and create the spirit of philosophy –Plato.” Over the doors to Plato’s academy were the words: Let no one destitute of geometry enter my doors.


Geometry is of geo and metric, or earth measurements. Geometry discovers unmeasured areas by comparing them to areas already measured. Geometry is synonymous with self-knowledge, the understanding of the basic substance of our being (all measures ultimately relate to human body, its sizes and capacities).


The points are real, but the lines are ephemeral entities, construed to be series of points. Points exist in duality, and the connection between the two, is the allegorical line. The reality of line is its start, home or with us and so existential, but the end could be somewhere, and so hypo-real. Between the points of beginning and end, a line has a mid cross over by another immaterial line. This line is the axis across the threshold, forms the realm of this versus that side.


The duality of points, representing Earth and moon, Sun and star, Human and God, Sky and ground, Heaven and hell, Birth and death, form a symbolic reference in one direction, but not the two-way connect. The other end is hyperbolic, and one could not have been without the other. The emergent line, connecting two points, is however invested with another point a fulcrum. It is a value of balanced equality or proportionate inequality. The fulcrum relates to the gravity, so it is more realistic than the ‘connecting line’.


The original figure of Vitruvius was static more like a Vastu Purush figure of India. Leonardo da Vinci rotated it around the navel to form a circle, square and triangles, and balanced equality. Vinci figure accepted the universal positional truths -vertical to the gravity and parallel with the gravity. Corbusier’s Modulor confirmed the proportionate inequality. The fulcrum of balance was universal, though centred to a human belly button. The Modulor also reconfirmed the Vitruvian fact (spread of hand legs) that it is not the size, but the reach (with raised hand) that is sensorially important.

India Dance Warm up

The reach is also the first enaction of Indian classical dance, Allaripu in Bharat Nattyam style. The dance begins as a warm-up exercise, where a dancer standing in the centre of a stage begins with movement of eyes, head, stretching of hands and then feet. This is as if to ‘measure and encompass the stage (or world)’ by front, side, and angle movements.


According to Indian traditions, a point is the Shiva, a Bindu where consciousness (all senses), converges, and from which creation begins. Bindu (centre of the forehead) is the focal point of all perceptions (like two eyes (seeing), two ears (listening), nose (aural) and mouth (taste), and the pervasive sense of touch) converge here to complete the cognition. Hindu ritual design of Yantra and Mandala have a focus. A Bindu is the portal, not an edge of a threshold, but a point. It is beyond or out of the mind, a realm, from where time, space, and causality manifests. Bindu means point or dot; the word is derived from the root verb ‘bhid’ or ‘bhind’, which means to burst, to break through. Piercing, breaking, or bursting through the Bindu is the last stage of attainment. A Bindu is described as the Void or Shiv (the Nucleus) suffuse with the Shakti (Electrons?).


Pattern through Identity constellations-1470610_1280

The prime purpose of geometry was to establish a relationship between various celestial and terrestrial objects. The relationship was a pattern to register the changes occurring in the set. The shape and size of terrestrial neighbourhood objects were important for occupation, possession and planning. Another purpose of geometry was to lay down the linear anomalies between two distanced (beyond the nominal means of perceptions) objects. The laying down process of celestial terrestrial objects was a process of abstraction through scaling.

Star Patterns

There were two problems concurrent with the laying down an observed pattern. The reality of perceiving a pattern includes its third dimension, the vertical. Visualizing a domain in what we today know as orthographic projection was difficult. The Egyptian drew the human figures in multiple parts: Head, lower torso and feet sideways and upper torsos (neck to hip) in frontal view. This was an issue of ‘drawing or laying down’ a pattern, and not for modelling a statue. Statues were free of such dichotomies.

Early maps included all geometrically ‘measured’ as well as ‘learnt’ details. The later ones came from travelogue fables and folklore and ingrained in the psyche, and were used to fill-up the large empty mid areas, and seal the edges.


The sense of seeing has developed through Geometry. It was necessary for a laid down pattern to be truly measurable. An unambiguously measurable pattern or lay at a manipulable scale allows interpretation of the structure, its order or arrangement. This was not a new lesson for the masons or astronomers, because they were dealing with an existent reality. For architects and artists perception of a form in visual representation or perspective arrived after years of trepidation. This was the beginning of solid or spatial geometry.

‘Any objectivised or conceptual pattern, if it has a traceable geometrical order, that is the human endeavour’. The basic tools of the masonry are plumb, square, and level. Freemason cult places special emphasis on geometry to endow right-behaviour, rectitude, and truthfulness. –Free-Masons cult


The foundation of solids-based geometry occurred with Euclid. Euclidean geometry relies on two measurable qualities: angle and distance. The angle is absolute, and the distance is relative. The depths, directions and angles, together form a network or web of relationships. Euclidean space is a good approximation, only when gravitational or other forces are not in consideration. So the lines have a straight run, and perceptively run parallel. But beyond Euclidean realm, the lines (longitude) are affected by other forces, and bend or take a twisting route. Lines cross over or meet at an angle.

Perpendicular by chords

Crossing of lines at the right angle, or perpendicular was realized in several ways. Drawing a set of dissecting chords gives an accurate right angle on ground, but the ‘spatial’ perpendicular, going up (the sky) or going down (the well or pit), was possible through a plumb. To stretch the lines to celestial bodies, one had to be knowledgeable about the triangulation. Perpendicular was also a realization that there are cardinal directions.

The word chord is used for bow-string = jayb (Arabic). The jayb is a corruption of Sanskrit jīvā.


The Great Trigonometric Survey of India that began in 1801 measured through the triangulation entire subcontinent traversing all types of terrains. It was one of the first accurate measurements of a section of an arc of longitude, and for measurements of the geodesic anomaly. It named and mapped Mount Everest and the other Himalayan peaks.

The Crossing of lines was used to form grids, for laying of objects equi-distanced like Vedika for Havan, plotting for trees, Mandala for building layouts.


Earliest land maps are of the Tracks of Yu Gong, carved into stone in 1137, within a square grid of approximately 3 ft. The maps of all the pao (village) were joined together to make a map of the tu (larger district), and these in turn were joined with others to make a map of the hsiang and the hsien (still larger blocks of districts).


Geometry was an important tool for measuring lands, establishing ownership and for laying out linear works like walls of forts, bunds, roads and irrigation canals. Earliest maps were layouts of stars Maps and not lands. Star and Land maps, both were geometrical surrogates, because of the scaling factor and transfer visualization.

Lands measures

In ancient Egypt, ‘a rope stretcher tied to a point was used to reestablish boundaries after the annual floods of the Nile River’. In medieval Europe, village residents including youngsters would walk along the territories ‘to establish a communal memory of the boundaries’.

Earliest Star Map Lascaux Caves

Earliest star maps are of dots dating to 14,500 BC found on the walls of the Lascaux caves that map out part of the night sky, including the three bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair (the Summer Triangle asterism), as well as the Pleiades star cluster. The Cuevas de El Castillo in Spain contain a dot map of the Corona Borealis constellation dating from 12,000 BC.

shipping routes line referencing

A line referencing system (LRS) defines measures from a point of origin. But lines like walls also have mid body relevance of a threshold. A threshold constitutes crossing right angles forming, quadrants each with two sets of values: Left or Right and Up or Below. By using Cartesian coordinate system, we mark a point by how far along and how far up it is. In contrast, by using Polar Coordinates we mark a point, how far away, and what angle it is. Coordinates system for astronomy are latitude, longitude and elevation. Such three-dimensional geodetic coordinates or geographic coordinates are used for marking a location.


Architects abrogate the form for a simpler surrogate like solid to plane, plane to a line and a line to a point. These surrogates, if required are compounded with side views. But with training and experience, designers read the latent dimension (and relevant details) even in absence of ‘side views.


This is the 21 th (continuation of old series -new beginning) article on ISSUES of DESIGN 



MODELLING of OBJECTS in SPACE -issues of design -20

Post 662 -by Gautam Shah


Objects in space, like architectural features, architectonic elements, furniture, furnishings and often occupants, are all moderated by scaling, positioning, contextual setting, distancing angling and sensorial attributes. In modern sense modelling is considered to be gestural and postural positioning of static or dynamic nature where, ‘dressed or configured’ entities and regulated surroundings enact an intended effect.


For a designer the purpose of modelling is to expose objects in a controlled manner. The controlled manner is either obvious or discreet. For a designer modelling offers individual recognition, inter-group relationships, comparison with others, signification and indication.


For modelling all sensorial faculties are stimulated, but visual perception followed by aural and tactile senses are extensively used. Modelling is also considered as the representation of an ‘additional dimension’ in a ‘two-dimensional image’, or revelation of additional information.


Modelling is a term closer to cartooning or cartoon making of the middle ages. Artists used to prepare full size replica-images of objects (trees, furniture, architectural elements) and common figures (saints, gods, angels, grotesque-forms) on starched fabric, paper or parchments, for tracing them out in murals and paintings. These were often leased out to others. But, most important modelling processes that of highlighting the form was not explored here.

Henry Moore Double Oval

Modelling at a very simplistic level has been used as a tool for highlighting individual objects by creating contrasting background, emphasizing the silhouette or by delineating the outer most edge with heavier line. Modelling by scaling is also much used method. Here important objects, story line actors or events are represented in larger scale, frontal position or on higher elevation, centric or perspective a focal point, or with brilliant detailing.

Modernism Concrete Le Corbusier India Ahmedabad

Important features of architecture were emphasized by designing illumination sources like openings and reflective planes. Le Corbusier always used reflective ceilings, walls or curvilinear planes (inside faces of cones, drums) against openings. These not only marked the opening emphatically but created a self-sustaining model. The same techniques were used in paintings. Henry Moore has in his sculptures explored the voids for modelling. Fashion shows for apparel are conducted on long raised walkways that offers bottom-up views for the connoisseurs, but few are inclined for ground level walkways, but rarely for zigzag movements. The later proposal makes it difficult for ‘modelling’.

Fashion Shows

Stage performance shows have audience exposure from limited range of angle, and modelling for such static position events are not very difficult. Media shows and soap-operas require very different norms of object modelling. The purpose of modelling is the view captured through the camera. There are multiple cameras with static or moving stations, different capacities of zooming and depth-width of field; all these need to be instantly fulfilled. But the illumination, positioning, depth, highlights etc. cannot be changed for each shot or frame, rather remains consistent. Instead online editing soft tools are used for the required modelling effects. Studio news casts are very fixed events, and so modelling remains equally static. To add life, live scene merging, morphing, voice-over, scene mixing etc. is used, but with poor results.



Architectural modelling was a style of presentation or a manner of expression through surrogate like scaled model or drawings. But architects have been subtly or explicitly involved in ‘forming’ their work as an intended impression. The designed entity is made to fit in the existential conditions or the interventions (like landscape) stretch beyond the nominal domain. It has many parallels in Art.

Marina Hotel Dubai

Architectural modelling has three basic approaches. At one level the observer moves around an object, for different tasks, in variable environmental conditions, and at varying distances and angles. At another level the objects shift (including other occupants) for the stationary observer. And in some circumstances the observer and observed entity both switch their positions.


Objects are scaled larger then functionally required (e.g. gates and door portals are large, but functional shutters are smaller). Objects are framed by larger but enclosing forms to emphasize smaller entities. Strategically placed openings not only capture a view, but are positioned as an object in the interior space. Top-heavy objects like shading devices, or bottom-heavy objects like pedestals, top-light entities like steeples, and bottom light stilted structures like gazebos or canopies were historical examples, but the language continues. In every building there are few points where modelling is obvious, like entrances, exits, stairs, escalators, receptions. Similarly some large areas like atrium, lobbies, passages, foyers, halls that need elemental modelling to divide-spread attention on multiple focuses. Distancing and angling are explored in public spaces like railway stations, airports, plazas etc. where spaces have multiple height connections.

Volga-Don Canal

Modelling of static objects, where the observer moves around it, is comparatively easy due to the fewer dynamics. First strategy could be to restrict the distance, angle, speed and range of movements of the observers. Second way could be to restrict the schedule of exposure and take advantage of sunlight. Third approach may regulate the encounter by suitable framing and occlusion. Fourth system involves designing a set of experiences to precondition the observer.

Modelling La_ola,_Jorge_Oteiza

In real life experiences we see the architectural entity and the user-beholder, both as dynamic set. We encounter such things, at real level in rides of amusement parks, trains, buses, plazas, planes, helicopters etc. and in hyper reality of games, training consoles, non-invasive medical instruments etc.


Opening systems like windows, skylights, clerestories provide the necessary natural luminescence (brightness or intensity) to show the form, colour and texture of spatial objects. Objects are perceived mainly due to the direction of light and its ever-changing nature. These are often enhanced, contrasted or subdued by reflectance and also by artificial illumination. The size and intensity of the luminescence determine the shadow density and so affect the ‘modelling’.

Sun and shadows Wikipedia Image by Karen Green

The first traces of the word modelling derives from French modelle or modèle, Italian modello or Latin modellus or modulus, as something made to scale, manner or measure architect’s set of designs, likeness made to scale, measure, standard (from root> med -to take appropriate measures). The sense to showcase or display garments or fashion design is comparatively recent’.


This is the 20 th (last) article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN …. but there are many draft articles on PC (Geometry in Design, Tactility in Spaces, Styling the styles, Designing Neighbourhood spaces, Brevity in Design), and that tempts me to continue.


SOUND and SPACE -issues of design -19

Post 661 -by Gautam Shah


Philharmonie im Gasteig, München Wikipedia Image by Andreas Praefcke

A space is perceived through three main senses -seeing, hearing and touching. The three senses mutually compensate and reinforce the perception. The perception occurs through coordinated stereo perception of sensory elements like two eyes and ears, and spatially distributed elements for touch. All three senses, scale the extent and depth of space. Physiologically, hearing diminishes with distance; seeing fades with reduction of illumination and touch becomes ineffective with the loss of tangency. Psychologically, however, the all three experiences remain associated with places, spaces, seasons, moods and people. The three senses format the perception of space. The space experience gets reinforced by the lingering effects like echoes, reverberation, and afterimages.

A group of musicians; representing the sense of hearing

Sound dwells in two distinct entities: space and time. The realm of a sound originator -the speaker, a singer, perceives substantial sound from the same space –the vicinity. The world of listeners is spatially separated and distinct, but has slight time delay. This duality is negotiated with some form of calibrations to arrive at common perception. The musicians and speakers tune and improvise once inside a space and begin to deliver. Oftentimes, we shout in to the telephone, believing the reception at the other end is equally bad. Similarly pauses in speech or music by the sound originator, if occupied by other ’disturbances’ (echoes, reverberated sounds, background noises, local absorption), the equation between the listener and sound maker fails. This is one of the reasons why it is nearly impossible to faithfully record a real out of the door profile of sound. What we listen in a place is ‘a convolution between the original sound and response of the room.


Sound is a spatial entity. Sound-spaces are associated with shapes, sizes, materials and memories. In outdoor unbounded spaces the environmental elements like terrain, components of atmosphere and vegetation are modulators of the sound. In the long run these elements format the quality of speech and singing of people of the locality are affected by the surroundings. In ethnic societies the diction gets reinforced, whereas with migrants, it persists in traces for several generations.

The sense of Hearing in ART

The sound is also a temporal phenomenon, a dynamic happening. The sound-happening persist for a very long time and spreads through cutouts, chowks, openings like doors and windows, gaps, cleavages, holes and cracks. Sounds have an eerie feeling in empty spaces due to unpredictable time delays, amplification and directionality. The time-sound response in such spaces fudges the scale and materials. Cluttered spaces have loss of detail due to subjugation of background noises. The connect with external noises provide eventual reference to the personal domain.


Sound in architecture is heard through the physical presence and sensitivity. Sound induces emotional connect and sensual responses. Inside or outside, materials, scale, memory and familiarity, all create a ‘sense of sound. The sound acquires a personal identity. Sound is both a ‘tangible and intangible sensational atmospheric quality’. It allows the individual to physically hear, as well as feel and sense the characteristics present in architecture. So, Sound like the illumination helps in cognition of the spatial information, and these processes occur concurrently and reinforcing each other. Hearing and seeingenable us to communicate, to orient ourselves, and to recognize danger.

Familiar Spaces Hunter's home, by Henry Voordecker

Peter Zumthor outlines that, “Interiors are like large instruments, collecting sound, amplifying it, transmitting it elsewhere. That has to do with the shape peculiar to each room and with the surface of materials they contain, and the way those materials have been applied.” (Atmospheres, p. 29).

Peter Zumthor

The simultaneity of images and sounds is most important aspect of communication for cinema, advertisements, multi-media presentations, games, products, telephony etc. to construct or mask the reality. Typically pressing buttons needs concurrency of tactile, audio, and visual experiences, and these may not be real or life-like but one that arouses satisfaction of an action happening. In certain aural-visual environments like games, films, TV programmes, telephony, medical examination equipments, the visual data is too consistent, but is variegated by addition of sounds as feedback or feed forward clues. Similarly addition of beats or predictable rhythms adds measurable familiarity.

Marionettes from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, New York, USA production of Cinderella Samba

Sound is transitory, so the rate of fading and its directionality, as ‘aural impressions’ must become elements of design. But rarely architectural spaces are created for the ‘sound-scape’. Many sound-space installations are created, some in bounded and many in open areas. Bounded spaces are handled with uncertain volumetric maneuvers and surface manipulations’, or with gadgetry to alter the quality of sound production. Open spaces are more scary as the volume is not maneuverable and surfaces beyond the echo-reverberation range. Here too, the gadgetry is used to alter the quality of sound, but effects are sporadic.

Instrument Musical Clarinet Sound Music

A street or neighbourhood reveals itself more at night. The sounds impinging into the interior space with little variations of illumination (of moon light, street light glow, and vehicles head lights) bring forward the depth of the spatial surroundings. But human settlements are designed for visual and aural spaces of day-time only. The public spaces turn unfamiliar (and unfriendly) at night. At night the aural space seems more holistic then visual space, because sound seems to transcend many obstacles or barriers.

Lonely Place 2


This is the 19 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN



PERCEPTION of CONTRAST -Issues for design -18

Post 659 -by Gautam Shah


Contrast is a deviation from the expected. It is the realization of a thing against, the obvious, existing, notional or ideological percept. Contrast is seen between nominal or obvious things, versus abnormal or non-perceived conditions. Like a full vs empty streets, clear vs fuzzy, pleasant smell vs unpalatable taste, dark-hot vs bright-cool, vibrating but noiseless; These are some such expectations vs perceptions.


Contrast is a comparison and occurs in some reference. The reference forming nexus is proffered in real or a hyper realm. But the ‘thing’ and its context are not always in the same space or time setting. Contrast makes a ‘thing’ stronger by juxtaposition of some weaker, duller or different elements.


Contrast is detected by two distinctive processes. The perception, is a combined experience of different sensorial faculties. And it is also a process of cognition that defines the strongest experience forming the main object or foreground, and all other as the background. The backgrounds offer the context.


Sensorial faculties have their own scale of strength, and some have bipolarity. Typically eyes and ears continuously back up the space-position details. Similarly nose and tastes buds in the mouth, are closely located, and so show time-simultaneity in definition of edible things. The space-time references are filled in by other senses. Multilateral nodes of touch support such a process.


The foreground-background divergence manifests in time-space reference. The juxtaposition, however, is not in the same space or time setting. The nexus could be in real or hyper a real realm. The hyper realm consists of experiences and resulting expectations. One has seen neither heaven nor hell, but both pose concurrently as extreme contrast. One of the two could be real and other through anecdotical knowledge. Here the contrasts are realized through recall. The contrast is relevant till foreground-background simultaneity remains within a fathomable range of perception. Architectural entities contrast in size, scale, style, placement, orientation, and environmental conditions, thematic content etc.

Chandigadh India


The contrast offers a scale. Objects forming the contrasting zones have shapes, extent, proportion, and indicate a direction. The depth is the obvious phenomenon of foreground-background differentiation. Other two dimensions of the scale are formed by the shape and its extent. The fourth dimension of reality occurs with vivid scenes. Here, if the background is dull or static, the foreground contrasts intensely. And, where the foreground is dull or rapidly varying, the particulars of things and happenings fail to register effectively. The perceiver becomes confused and disinterested, if ‘back and foreground’ elements fail to present relationships in terms of now-then, here-there, far-near etc. In Design, there is always a conflict between context and contrast, requiring equilibrium.


Contrast makes things conspicuous to attract the senses. And the contrast to be obvious, occurs with some reference. The reference is formed by a ‘thing’ that is stronger by juxtaposition of some weaker, duller or different elements, by its power of persistence in reality, and as a recall. Often clues are included in the composition for the recall. The clues could be similarities, leftover trails of the past happenings or subtle insertions relevant only to the person experiencing it or in that time and space. Other design elements that offer contrast include presence of directions, sequences, repetitions, occlusion by frames, thematic continuities, sensorial consistencies, associated fables and explanations.


A design has internal and external context. Internal contrasts are part of the designed entity, so within the ambit of real experience. External contrasts occur through the embedded or implied metaphoric clues for connection.


Architecture occurs in the context of its terrain, environment and stake holders (humans and tasks) and incorporeal parameters like weather, culture, economics, social and politics. These are universal posers, some find them suffocating in creation of outstanding and long-lasting contrast. So contrast is realized by negation of the contextual elements. Architects resort to attitudes like deconstructivist, monumentalist, eccentricist etc. Architecture has been for a very long time and substantially static formation, but now for evocation of contrast, not only the form is made dynamic but the perceiver-users are made mobile and hyperactive. These experiences began in rapidly changing environmental conditions, unsettled positions of perceptions, gyrating conditions, gravity less conditions, videos and movies.


In art work like paintings aberrations of perception arise from how spaces are postulated by extent and depth, and time is suggested with metaphoric details. The way colours are seen or weights are felt is due to such contrasts. Our past experience and desires make us see or experience things before they happen at closer locations.


A silhouette is a very specific condition of contrast. Here the proportion of dark-light is of course important, but the edge conditions like shapes, arrangement, sizes etc. determine the effectiveness of contrast. Silhouette work in two ways: One due to the stark difference between the background and foreground, and Two due the lack of details in the foreground object. A glare is a form extreme contrast which fuzzes the foreground.

Vatican Silhouette

Camouflage is in a way opposite of contrast. It forms from the skillful exploitation of the contrast, though the resultant scenario is cacophonous. The noise occurs from anomalous conditions between the perception and its cognition. It is also the difference between real experience and the expectations. Camouflage morphs the foreground with background, alternatively the foreground turns fuzzy due to the reflections, multiple impressions, askew positioning, colour intonation, altered scaling etc.


Contrast occurs due to cascade of light, glare, echoes or reverberation, masking (of smell, taste), screening, covering, hiding reflections, and framing.


Cascading Light and camaflauge

Protective scaffolding over Taj Mahal AgraIndia 1943

Uniform colour

This is the 18 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN



SCALING the SPACES -Issues for design -17

Post 654 -by Gautam Shah


An architectural space becomes relevant through the scaling. Scaling creates relational organization, where sub-elements get corollary connection and a holistic domain. A scale is for measurement, comparison, sequencing, progression, de-gression, etc. and so it is crucial factor for equivalence, balance, proportions, parallel, symmetry, analogy, proximity etc.

Dune_de_sable_au_parc_Culturel_De_l'AhaggarSize of a space and Scale of space are two distinct terms. Space size is fundamentally related to the human body, and represents the work capacities, reach distance and spread for the users. Size is a relative or comparative fact, which invests the space with functional and quantitative reference. The natures of cognition, physical extension, communication and exchanges are also functions 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 the facility of accommodation and also future potential for alternation, improvisation, and personalization.


The Scaling endows qualitative character to the space. Scaled spaces have multiple elements. The scaling occurs as duality, a comparison or juxtaposition between two things, or as numerosity that orders sequencing, arrangements, patterning, array, composition, progression, de-gression etc. Scaling is a factor crucial for acknowledging equivalence, balance, proportions, parallel, symmetry, analogy, proximity etc. At a simple level scaling interprets a space to be Large-Small, Wide-Narrow, Tall-Shallow, etc. Scaling also allows for recognition of the compositional geometry and intrinsic relationships, and for taking cognizance of the space in absence of mathematical tools. The constituent elements of a space are distinctly realized compounding of sensorial experiences (visual, touch, smell, taste, aural) and environmental effects (echoes, reverberation, reflection, illumination, glares, directionality etc.). The synthesis creates a conversionary scale, one that is ever-altering the form, size and functions of the space. Same space is perceived to be of different nature depending on the recent experiences, moods, physiological conditions and concurrence of other feelings.





Size of a space is an absolute factor of utility, like functional adequacy, anthropometric needs and sensorial reach capacities. These factors also show the effort and duration required to possess, occupy, use and even dispose off (de-possess, de-occupy) the spatial entity. Size of a space and the environment are interrelated. For a lay person, spaces within the known size and environment are manageable. Such spaces however, cannot always be created. For managing the strangeness or alienation of an even known space, it needs scaling elements like: repetitions, rhythmic evolution, structured patterning, sensory gradation, acceleration-de-acceleration, graduated changeovers, linkages, relationships through modulation and proportioning, etc.


Scaling of a space occurs as duality, a comparison or juxtaposition with another element, or as a composition of multiple elements. But, in both cases, the other element/s need not be present contemporaneously. The other element/s may manifest as remembrance. The spaces can be scaled in hyper-reality. A space of a real world is measured, compared, juxtaposed, interpolated, or judged with an image composed of reality, dreams, desire, myth or mystery.

Palace Mumbai Taj Mahal Hotel Balconies


New built spaces, such as ‘buildings’, are very empty, and go without recognition or serve any exact purpose. Such spaces need to be scaled by elemental interventions of inhabitation. These elements make the spaces functionally purposive and ‘humane’. Such exercises are after the occupation of the space, and so involve the user. Built spaces also have variations of environment and cognition, but in addition, permit personalization.

Japan Buildings Asia District Geometry Shiodome640px-Little_Moreton_Hall_(6451326683)


Personalization of a space adds missing or enhancing elements to mark up, or occlude them to format scaling. The scaling of spaces chiefly occurs by occupancy and installation of amenities and enrichments. For temporary space occupation, the responses to space are perfunctory. It may cause alienation, worries, physical discomfort, and attempts are made to adopt or domesticate the space.



Spaces are scaled to users’ needs based on sex, age, social profile, access through subtle or obvious declarations and exclusive placement. The spatial elements are arranged with visual and aural considerations, grades of proximity, physical distancing, functionality, framing, masking, referencing, matching and contrasting. There are several social phenomena like vulnerability, isolation, privacy, seclusion, participation, groups dynamics, ethos, heritage continuity, etc. that help in spatial scaling.

Street_shops_and_lives_in_BhutanNeighbourhoods’ spaces are scaled to whatever is within reach of access through touch, vision, hearing or smell. The spatial elements are evident with variation of environment, level of cognition, adequacy for occupation and scope for interpersonal relationships.



At Absolute level a space is perceived as the difference between the Length and Width. 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.


This is the 17 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN



RHETORIC in DESIGN -issues for design -16

Post 653 -by Gautam Shah


Rhetoric is the ‘art of speaking or writing effectively’. (Webster’s Definition) Aristotle describes it as ‘the ability or means of persuasion’. He describes three forms of rhetoric: Ethos (distinctive spirit of a people or an era), Logos (the logic and supportive evidence behind an argument or a reasoned discourse), and Pathos (represents an appeal to the emotions of the audience, and elicits feelings that already resides in them). Rhetoric is used in literary and verbal expressions, by using things that are familiar, but less acknowledged in common usage. In literary and verbal expressions rhetoric is exploited by construction (of the language form) and reinforced through the means of delivery such as rendering diction and graphics.


Literary and verbal expressions generate instant and consistent impression over their audience or followers. Designed objects like arts, crafts, architecture, graphics, products, etc. however, do not carry an immediate or intense message of persuasion. A design has a persistent delivery, but very variable in content. It gets actualized in many different scenarios.


Emotions through rhetoric ‘have specific causes and effects’ (Aristotle -book 2.1.2–3). Such dialogues however, do not exist between designers and connoisseurs. ‘Aristotle posits that along with the pathos (an appeal to the emotions of the audience), a speaker must also deploy good ethos (distinctive spirit of a people or an era) in order to establish credibility’. Philo distinguishes between two different types of logos 1 Prophorikos (the uttered word) and 2 Endiathetos (the word remaining within). In case of design-objects, the later one is relevant, as the rhetoric of design is always latent or potential.

640px-Henri_Rousseau_(French)_-_A_Centennial_of_Independence_-_Google_Art_ProjectRhetoric is means of expression or conveyance. In Literature and utterances it gets reinforced through linkages or examples, and altered through feedback from the audience. Such immediate response is not possible for Art, craft or architecture, and if any, it arrives as feed-forward in the make up (training and experience) of the creator. The design feed-forward chiefly relies on the visual rhetoric like books, site visits, media images, etc. But, it is impossible to perceive here ‘one cause to one effect pattern’. Other sensorial inputs like touch, smell, taste, aural, etc., historically had alogical legitimacy. Once a design actualizes, the feedbacks may arrive as historical realizations, but in different time and context. So designs can ‘have traceable past, but uncertain future.


It is often claimed that visual literacy is of recent origin, when we ignore the mediums of expression and conveyance, which have been with us since primitive age. Wall murals’ images were visual rhetoric, well ‘read’ and capable of arousing Aristotelian pathos (an appeal to the emotions of the audience). Some examples of visual means are charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, movies, printed media, etc. but though these arouse the pathos but not always as instant response.


Visual Literacy

The study of visual rhetoric is different from that of visual or graphic design, in that it emphasizes images as sensory expressions of cultural meaning, as opposed to purely aesthetic consideration. (Kress, Gunther, and Theo van Leeuwen. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York: Routledge, 1996.).


The Design objects like architecture poses a statement only after their making, or on being used as an ‘artifact. Vitruvius stated that a work of architecture is a matter of ‘invention, arrangement, memory, delivery, and style’, and the process was perceived to be similar, to the Aristotelian way of putting together a speech. Design creation is very circumstantial, meant for a client, functions, site, regulatory framework, financial restraints, etc. It, however, needs to be tempered by arrangement, assimilation or composition of many different elements and considerations. These, together offer a holistic character, but realizable only after the creation. Rhetoric in design, if any, is in the design feed-forward, and after its avatar through the feedback. The feed back spreads over a very long period, sometimes after the original entity is destroyed. The Aristotelian depiction of Rhetoric as ‘the ability or means of persuasion’, for designed objects like architecture remains vague or conjectural.


The ability or means of persuasion were reasonable for artefacts conceived and made by the same person. But modern designers generate designs through surrogates or representations, and transmitted to makers or assemblers as schema or specifications. The communication through a schema is an order for execution, but certainly not for persuasion or concurrence. The instructions, if, any are non-personal and distanced in time. Some designs are too involved with the clients or stake-holders, but many others are panoptic. Designers are self-absorbed to care for persuasion or confirmation of anyone. Rhetoric exists, but as statement of non-confirmation.

Deconstruction Ways by Isidro Blasco

Design disciplines are categorized in four major domains: Graphic Design (Real and abstract -symbols communication), Products Design (objects, artefacts, craft-items), Services Design (software, interaction, stake holders) and Empathetic Design (social concerns).

McKeon, Buchanan state the understanding of design, as of symbols and images1, physical artifacts2, actions and activities3, and environments or systems4.

Architecture Confluence Lyon Deconstruction

Build-Designs are perceived at Two levels. First level consists of assembly of elements like signs, patterns, or images, and the organizational discipline. At another level, there is holistic form that is conceived without any elemental identities.

Kirtimukha_sculptures_on_shikhara_(tower)_of_Amrutesvara_temple_at_AmruthapuraThere are few characteristics common to both the congregated and totalitarian forms. Design, in part or as a whole is an allusion to something separated in time and space, and formed through analogy (comparison) or antithesis (contrast). Antiphrasis is an impressionistic expression to convey non-conventional meaning used for sarcasm. Build-forms or the constituents are given magniloquence by way of exaggerated scale, contrasts, precarious shape and intensive vibrancy.


There are few features that rhetorize composite forms due to multiplicity of constituents elements. The sub-elements occur as microcosm, recurrence, as directional move, evolution-devolution and support-contrast. These rhetoric elements manifest in scaling, sequencing or within a perceptible domain of time or spatial reference.


Design objects like architecture, fashion, products, are created for stake-holders and for personal gratification. Objects for personal gratification often result from intense desire to go out of the box as a non-conformal creative activity. This attitude, though very radical, resulting into unusual approaches and solutions, is tied to reality. All worldly creations are governed by factors like gravity, terrain and environment. Arguments of persuasion, justification or acceptance.


Out of the Box thinking: It is believed, the term for unconventional perspective in thinking, has come from British mathematician Henry Ernest Dudeney. In this, nine dots are to be interconnected by using four lines drawn without the pencil leaving the paper. The puzzle required one to go beyond the dot array boundaries that is move out of the box.

9Dot puzzle



This is the 16 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN