CORNERS and Public Spaces

Post 696 –by Gautam Shah

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This is the 4 th article of series: ‘CORNERS’.

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Public spaces turn impromptu arenas with political, social and cultural interest, accompanied by some economic activities. The spaces manifest as gathering places, where events recur on specific days like full-moon days, low tide days, Sundays or annual days. Such places occur with some preexisting location cues like a built-form or a natural feature. A gathering place is the starting element of a larger concept of a social space. Defined passageways or casual pathways feed these places. The ending faces of such feed points, give unique and lasting shape to the form. The architectural contour may take ages to evolve on its own, or is remastered for a style by a ruler or plutocrat. In both the cases the essence of social place and shape of the form are sustained.

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The words plaza, place and piazza have the same Greek origin, with plaza being the Spanish adaption, place in French, and piazza the Italian one.

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Public spaces subsist on enclosures. Enclosures occur first by barriers of natural elements like terrestrial masses, water bodies, edges of terrain contours, silhouettes. Public spaces are realized as the physical reach, limits of power or sanctimony and the sensorial perceptibility. The public spaces are delineated by the facade planes and mass of the built objects. Facades’ perimeter becomes extensively lineated when the space is multi-angular, and the connecting passages do not abut at right angles. Compared to these, variations in ‘squared public spaces’ are too few, flat and uninteresting from any spatial position and at any time of the day. The multi cornered irregularly, shaped public spaces create vivid spaces. But straight roads converted into public or pedestrian space just by eliminating the vehicular traffic create a static space.

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Squared public space is rarely a natural development. The improvisations touch only the main level, but other floors continue to operate with their unrelated businesses. The public is expected to get the relief of participation by coming here out of their ghettos. The space making barriers of plants and shrubs, architectural contours, or street occupations like stalls or fountains and furniture, forge the visual depth and physical reach, but behind it, the enclosures of the facades remain unchanged. Squared architectural public spaces remain sterile entities, in spite of occupational interventions.

Different Illumination Conditions Change Functional and Visual character

The enclosures of public spaces occur by a mix of circumstances and situations. The variations of sunny and shadowed sections through the day and across the seasons are recurrent, and so taken for granted. But sunny and shadowed zones affect the functional spread, and define the usage schedules of public spaces. These also promote the use of moderating devices like awnings and screens, which in turn create vibrant edges. The varying sunlight brightens up the facades, more so when these are oriented at acute angles. The daylight variations in morning haze and in evening twilight the change the perception. The edges recede or advance, and add new effects of diffused or enhanced silhouettes. Night illumination of public spaces was once spotty, but by contrast highlighted the warmly lit interiors. Modern outdoor illumination of the floor and facades transform the spatial definitions. At night the unseen undulations, angles, depths, reach of interiors, scattered elements of space, all reveal new formations.

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The environmental variations in ‘squared public spaces’ are prosaic and uninteresting, because the spaces, facades remain constant. The illumination is without any variation and consistent from all locations. Lack of angles in the space fail to create dark-light contrasts. There are few surprises. What has been formatted on the ground was perceived through as a ‘site-plan’ or site-model’, always viewed from above. Nowadays ‘walk-throughs’ as 3D modelling are attempted, yet the comprehension is extremely narrow, selective and subjective. The squared public spaces remain naive ‘compositions of horizontal and vertical surfaces which create volumes of vacancy’.

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11 Palacio de Bellas Artes, preeminent fine arts hall in Mexico, Fore areas of Important Public buildings become spaces of gathering Wikipedia Image by ChaneekPhotography

Public spaces are of three basic types: naturally evolved, remastered with buildings or landscape design, and freshly planned. The considerations are visual edges, skyline or silhouettes, spatial interventions through elemental positioning, barriers, scaling, mastering patterns, perspectives, etc. But corners are rarely ‘designed or exploited’, yet they are omnipresent and unassailable. Corners remain, characteristic essence of the space.

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The enclosures, of long walls facades, make the area finite. But the feed streets or lanes serve as reference points and with their depth increase the perimeter. The corners at feed points are inclusive, because here the change is noted, but open to negotiation. The sited elements do not form the public space, but the movement of light, shadows, sources, strengths and spread of illumination, people moving around perceiving the changing orientation of objects, visual changes in colour, texture and scale, all give a temporal scale.

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In this respect, Cullen made a valuable distinction between ‘enclosure’ and ‘closure’. Enclosure, he argued, provided a complete ‘private world’ that is inward -looking, static and self-sufficient. Closure, by contrast involved the division of the urban environment into a series of visually digestible and coherent ‘episodes’ retaining a sense of progression.

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Vertical enclosing elements strongly scale the open spaces. The difference is acutely realized when older open spaces begin to be surrounded by tall structures. It is also true that denser and taller surroundings provide more footsteps. Public buildings like places of religion, court of law, or government offices, older monuments with large fore-spaces are compressed by taller surroundings.

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In public spaces, a dramatic change is experienced when architecture and environment, together differentiate the exterior versus the interior. The realization is spatially extreme and temporally sudden, in terms of scale, temperature, and illumination. It is something akin to what Peter Zumthor has described, the transition as an incredible sense of place, an unbelievable feeling of concentration. We suddenly become aware of being enclosed, of something enveloping us, keeping us together, [and] holding us.” Crossing the threshold from outside to inside bring the sudden feeling of being confined, and in reverse direction it is a relief. The thresholds are well marked and easily sensed, though some allow a slowed transition.

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In Western India, areas beyond the Fort gates of towns and cities are impromptu public spaces, formed by traders and others who have no visitation rights. But the gate leads to narrow road branching out at a point called ‘Chakla’. Chakla is a smaller scale public space as commercial hub for the insiders. It was also socially safer.

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Public spaces are more envisioned by the spread of the floor. The floors unless contoured and with patterned colour and textures, do not offer any divisions. The floor patterns have been explored as coalescing and regimenting factor. The imposed geometry of the pattern connects diverse and askew elements in the open space. Floorings are free flow or with bounding the perimeter, but are not the physical edges. Other important elements of floor occupation are the shadows of sunlight and night illumination. Both of these, cast visual and functional zones.

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477 AGORA and FORUM -as public spaces

The terms public space or gathering place is often used for large spaces that are mere cross road junctions. The surrounding areas have high commercial activity. The users are business visitors, tourists or commuters, but no local users. The movements are of Two types: One set is between adjacent feed points generating peripheral traffic, and other consists of cross traffic dividing the space into various sections. The First, creates impinging circumferential pressure on near by buildings, whereas the Second, scales the space, till the density and intensity are low remains low, giving it a perception of ‘manageable zones’.

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Distinct urban connections are desired for public places, but not ones that create the impinging circumferential pressures or divide the space into various sections. The simpleton urban design strategy is to devise ‘traffic free spaces’ by blocking and diverting the movement. The plan should be to favour the local residents over the business visitors, tourists and commuters. In many of the public spaces the local residents are shifted out in favour of non resident visitors.

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‘Piazzas feel like being in human-scaled outdoor rooms; very large courtyards, not like the aforementioned parking, cars and sometimes skyscrapers that are associated with plazas’.

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MASKING and FRAMING of OPENINGS

Post 695 –by Gautam Shah

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Glass Building Glass Dome Berlin Reichstag Dome

Masking and Framing of openings, have many diverse purposes but both are substantiated by their edges. Openings have their own definitive closed ended edges, but masking and framing redefines these many times with open-ended edges. The edges, not only isolate a segment of the opening, but always make the view more emphatic and relevant. The edges of the mask, such as, sharp, frayed, fuzzy, angular, curvilinear, etc. create interference, but offer qualitative change. The edges of the frames, such as, inward or outward chamferring, angular or ‘stream-lined’ rounded profiles, strongly vertical or horizontal emphasis, etc. provide a sense of enclosure. Masking and Framing, have some overlapping functions and serve complementary functions.

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Masking and Framing, have been elements of imposition to alter the conditions of the openings. Both have a secondary role of structural support. The structural support becomes real when these are integrated with the openings’ system. But the treatments may remain superfluous impositions. Such impositions include LED insertion within the glazing, or over the surface projection of images (like speech readers used by anchors). Masking and Framing, are made antithetical. These are now eliminated or diffused for simplicity, clarity, minimalism and even delusion.

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Masking has to be a smaller entity than the opening, for it to be meaningful. Masking is inhibiting or a restrictive element that resizes the opening and so controls the view, passage, effects of environment. Masking is both, planned and incidental. Planned masking offer superior conditions and perception, whereas incidental masking has surprises and new lessons. Openings are intentionally masked by architectural elements, items of furniture and furnishings, occupants. Openings get incidentally masked by growth of plants and trees, neighbouring buildings and environmental conditions.

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The sizes of openings are affected by the depth aspect. Visual depth induces a perspective view. Wherever the sides are visible, add to the extent of a visual surface, and creating a frame within frame view. Imposed architectonic elements shield the opening with shadows that are more articulated than the original shadow casting elements. This overshadowing is a type of masking, reducing the apparent size opening. Similar effect occurs with deep-set and square-edged openings.

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The framing, however, became really dominant with the chamferred sides, sills, ledges and lintel bottoms. The chamferring of edges enhances the depth aspect of the opening. It adds to the extent of a visual surface, and creating a frame within frame view. The chamferring increases the view of exterior from inside, and if on inside face, it adds to perceptual illumination.

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Framing of opening mainly occurs as a surround element. But the surrounds are rather too thin as jambs, and so need casing and architraves for emphasis. Reshaping of openings in the frontal plane was tried with pointed arches in Gothic period. Real reshaping of the openings and curvilinear bending was tried out in the Baroque and Rococo architecture. With the reshaping and curvilinear bending of the openings, the architectural walls were also reformatted.

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In Art Nouveau style, the openings were reshaped, and to heighten that effect, masking grills were used to de-form the rectangularity. The openings, with some restrains, and the grills, with complete abundance, used free flowing asymmetrical forms. To this vocabulary, glass patterns by way of frosting, etching, grinding and stained colouring were added.

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Early glass for windows was produced as cut bottom of a bulb or cylinder. These had residual ripple patterns, imparting a fuzzy view. The defect was subdued by masking it with translucent sheer curtains and by framing it with a grid of muntins and mullions as in Colonial sash windows.

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High quality modern glass has extra ordinary surface gloss, making it a mirror like a surface. The glossy glass if placed on the edge without sun-shading reflects the surroundings, and also reflecting sunlight as bounce-back, causing a nuisance to neighbouring properties and blinding with the glare the moving vehicles. This is now being controlled through building regulations. The solutions are masking the glass with polymer films or polychrome treatments.

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Openings are occluded by stationary and mobile objects that manifest on the inside and outside. Objects occluding a brightly lit opening are seen as silhouette or outline. A person sited against an opening can see gestures of others, but in reverse direction others fail to perceive the expressions and ignore him/her. For correct modelling some illumination or reflections from other sides are required. But this can also happen if the object has multiple planes oriented differently. The scale of occluding objects is its absolute size and relatively the distance from the opening as well as the perceiver.

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Framing and Masking, have relevance of nearness. The framing becomes irrelevant at closer distance. Masking for visual screening is more affective at a distance, but for illumination control, it is affective at all distances.

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WALL STRUCTURES

Post 682 –by Gautam Shah

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Wall structures have been prime structure for community purposes like, flood protection, irrigation, defense, terrain contouring and against erosion of land. These, perhaps preceded the walls erected for construction of dwellings. The builders from ancient times, were innately aware of the difference between a wall carrying side thrusts and bearing vertical loads. And accordingly the forms and techniques of constructions were different. The walls carrying side thrusts followed the natural angle of repose (the steepest angles at which a sloping surface is formed of loose material remains stable). The walls carrying vertical loads were designed with concern for lateral stability, and to a lesser extent worry about load bearing capacity.

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The idea of a column, as a ‘zero-sized’ wall, (like the Stonehenge) and of pillars (obelisks) may have come from tree trunks. Wood scaffolds were used for painting tall cave walls and ceilings. A series of props or poles, were used as piles or spikes for quicker formation of linear structures, such as in under-water constructions, floods, wet soils, or support against sand like loose soils.

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Earthen Wall structures for embankments or dams, for water flow regulation, storage, prevention of land erosion, against flooding, access-way (road) construction, for irrigation or navigation channels were constructed by combination of deposition or cutting-dressing. But the skill rested in exploiting the existing contours of the lands. Such structures were large and affected the entire community. For participation of large number of people, clear perception of the project and its benefit was necessary. It is apparent that such projects were executed during certain season. These were continuing efforts as added upon and improvised by several generations. Such lasting efforts can occur in societies that are politically and socially stable.

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Other walls were erected in the form of city-town walls to protect the community, and monumental structures related to burial facilities. These walls due to their extent gave impression of monumentality, and were gravity-stable and invincible forms against the invaders or marauders. Walls defining passageways are for land mass retention and ceremonial demarcation of walkways. Town walls and monumental walls, both were not ‘load-bearing’ structures. Both also related to access by large number of people, often in processions. The inevitable entry point was well marked in scale and position-location.

16 Passage tomb of La Hougue Bie by © Copyright Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Protective walls were often constructed as tall fences. These were made insurmountable by various means like an enhancement of height-width factors. Width was increased by forming a ditch on the face of the wall, and height was added by constructing the wall over a natural steep edge of terrain. City walls in some areas were constructed of tree trunks or wood lattices.

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A palisade, was a defensive fence (also called a stake-wall or paling) formed around the military camps by Greeks and Romans. It is formed of wood stakes or tree trunks placed in a line. A groyne is a similar, but low height wall structure, a hydraulic entity for interrupting the free flow of water and restricts the movement of soil-sediments from coastal area.

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A levee, dike, dyke, ditch, embankment, flood-bank or stop-bank, are naturally occurring long ridges or artificially constructed walls to regulate water. These are usually of stone and earth, and follow the course of a river. Levees and other structure require constant care by organized society. Some of the earliest levees were constructed by the Indus Valley Civilization (2600 BC), Egyptians to manage the floods of river Nile, in Mesopotamia and China. The word Levee or F. Lever, literally means ‘to raise’.

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The Greek geographer Pytheas noted in 325 BC, that ‘more people died in the struggle against water than in the struggle against men’.

The word Dyke (dijk) indicates, both trench and bank for water management. The word Ditch derives from dic, dick or dig, meaning to digging a trench and raise the banks with the excavated soil. Such earthworks acted as horizontal walling to deepen water channels, enhance the flow-rate and water carrying capacity. The water channel shaping by the side walling structures provided reliable lanes for waterways. These wall structures were formed to reduce the erosion by water flows, waves and winds.

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The first dikes and water control structures were built and maintained by those directly benefiting from them, mostly farmers. As the structures got more extensive and complex councils were formed from people with a common interest in the control of water levels on their land and so the first water boards began to emerge. These often controlled only a small area, a single polder or dike. Later they merged or an overall organization was formed when different water boards had conflicting interests. The original water boards differed much from each other in the organization, power, and area that they managed. The differences were often regional and were dictated by differing circumstances, whether they had to defend a sea dike against a storm surge or keep the water level in a polder within bounds. In the middle of the 20th century there were about 2,700 water control boards. After many mergers, there are currently 27 water boards left. Water boards hold separate elections, levy taxes, and function independently from other government bodies. -Flood control in the Netherlands Wikipedia

Mycenaean city walls

City walls are elaborate ‘fencing structures built from stronger materials to fortify a territory. The fort walls were symbols of power, so the scale was grandiose. These walls were planned at most select location, adding upon whatever natural defence features were available. Appropriateness of the site also rested on logistics of supply, of which food-fodder and drinking water, even during seizure condition, was very important. Forts housed a populated community and to sustain it, also included structures for defense preparedness and for offense capacity like ditches, gates, embankments, watchtowers, crenelation, etc.

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A moat is a ditch or long pit around a settlement with or without a fence or fortification. Moats were created by reforming the existing terrain features, or dug as a new one. Fortified structures, like castles were once sited over difficult terrains, where some natural features such as hills, elevated lands or rocky landscapes were available for some protection. Moats were additional defence provisions, formed at vulnerable spots. The difficult terrains, however, make it difficult to reform existing terrain, or excavate a new trench. Digging a moat was not only labourious, but the management of the excavated material equally difficult. The excavated stuff was used to back support the fort walls, or raise the level of internal grounds. Moats were formed along with construction of fort walls.

Linear Defense wall GorganWall

Some of the earliest defensive walls were linear formations and not any surrounding or enveloping forts. These were long barrier walls with open ends or terminating into hillock or large water body. These linear walls marked a territorial edge or boundary of the kingdom. Such edge walls had to be very extensive to be effective.

Sumerian King Shulgi of Ur, 2038 BC., built a wall that was 250 Kms long, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, to keep the invading Amorites out of Sumerian lands. Great Wall of Gorgan (restored and renovated by the Sasanian Persians in the 5th or 6th C) was 195 Kms long, and included more than thirty forts along its length. Great Wall of China was built as several small independent units, possibly first at vulnerable points, which were ultimately joined together during the Ming Era. It was as a freestanding regional scale defensive structure. Similarly the Anastasian wall (the Long Walls of Thrace) of the Byzantine Empire (469 C) located in modern Turkey was also not anchored at either end to any terminus. All such walls proved to be ineffectual as enemy army marched around the ends. The most known wall structure, Hadrian’s wall of Britain was built by Roman Emperor Hadrian (122 AD) to prevent frequent incursions.

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The CORNER -metaphor

Post 672 by Gautam Shah

This is the 1st article of series: ‘CORNERS’.

A corner is convergence of two lines or surfaces, respectively to a point, or line. It can be an outward entity with crowning vertex, and an inward form of a depressing nadir. A vertex and nadir both are zero measure elements, mere points, abstract representation of a corner. In comparison a corner is far more substantial due to its wedge like spread.

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‘Nature has no corners, you are the vertex or nadir of it’. -unknown.

Terrestrially directions are always well ‘based’, real and cardinal (North, East, South, West), whereas, Corners occur as inter-cardinal ephemeral entities. The spatial sensualities of the human body, format the sense of emplacements and orientation, such as the Left-Right, Up-Down and Front-Back.

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Indian mythological space has 10 corners (four cardinal points + four angular points + up & down). The Kshetrapals (Guardians of the estate), however reside in four corners of the plot. The Global locations are defined through the corner formed by longitude and latitude. The Global Positioning System (GPS) was based on tracing of radio frequency, but now multiple satellites (as many as 24 or more in different types of orbits) work as regional and global location noting system. Besides location, the satellites also define movement and its direction, and altitudes. Currently photographs have embedded information about location (like longitude and latitude through GPS), but in very short future this will be reinforced with information about angle or direction of the shot.

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Estate corners have been assigned specific meaning and preferred tasks in Indian Vastu Shastra (Classical cannons of design-building). East direction should be open, light, bright and clean. West direction is for stability in life. North is holiest or purest direction. It is for wealth and prosperity. Energy flow out so should be lowest in level. NE is for deities to reside. South direction is considered inauspicious for entrance. It is owned by Yam, Hindu deity for death.

Some similar approach is offered in Jewish-Christian traditions. God created all sides, but left the North unfinished, saying, ‘whoever declares own-self to be God, allow the person to finish this corner, and then all shall know the truth’. From that unfinished corner, demons, winds, earthquakes, and evil spirits come forth to the world. From the north shall disaster break loose (Jer. 1:14). Because of the cold North winds, it was identified as the abode of evil spirits.

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Egyptian pyramids and other buildings are squared and well oriented. These have axial depth depicting space sequences. But the Egyptian art has total absence of oblique except for the Ra’s rays, ropes of weighing scale, wide feet and few gestures of the hand. There is a datum line that divides the scene into several strata, but does not become a scaling device. There are vertical elements that frame (a built-frame like mandap or chupah) the important person but it is a planner view. Architecture is gravity stable, with sloping faces of columns, obelisks, pylons, ceremonial ramps, and oblique faces pyramids.

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A corner is a recognizable, and long-lasting point or mark on a property. It is a point, from where a change (of direction) occurs. A corner marked property, has edges that define the exterior versus the interior attributes. It also defines, ours versus others domains. Corners define convex or concave (outward or inward) character of a spatial entity. Corners, if belong to the inside, mark what is included, and if on the outside, define what is excluded. We traverse an estate as a planner entity of corners, and for this, the contoured undulations are not important. A triangle, a three-cornered shape, has three vertices, and it is the minimum entity. Large country surveys are resolved to triangles, as the sharing of vertices, edges, and angles creates a linked universe.

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The prime cornered entity has been the Dice, with its potency to turn the fortunes. The dice, on one its six sides, has 4 dots at corners (like the city cross road diagonals). This was known as quatre (French), and anglicized to cater. Somewhere along the time, the word Cater came to be truncated to ‘cat’, and corners were identified for the cat to be in. No one asked the feline creature, if she preferred, a window sill instead?

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corners

Corners are right angled, acute, obtuse or reflex. Solids have corners with two exterior faces and hollow objects have two interior faces. The outward sides of an acute or right angle corner are difficult to comprehend simultaneously, because one of the side remains concealed, till one turns around. The exterior corner can be grasped fully, if only one moves away from it. Obtuse and reflex corners sometimes defy the perspective view. Solids have impersonal exterior faces, and hollow objects have compassionate interior sides’. Acute corners of an isometric view create visual aberration, where outward and inward corners look identical.

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A megaphone, trumpet, bullhorn, etc. are cone-shaped acute corners whereas speakers have a wider cone of an obtuse angle, both are meant to amplify the sound. The conical angle enhances the power of sound and radiate it in desired direction. A ‘listening cone’ for hearing fetal heart sounds of babies, is acute angled, whereas a dish-antenna is an obtuse-angled device that captures sounds (or energy) from a wider source, and concentrate it at the narrow end.

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A plane vertical edge enhances the corner, but if the plane is not a true square or has surface perturbation like single or double curvature then visual distortion is very ambiguous. An outward incline of the edge-plane over a corner push the centre of gravity away from the base, and makes the solid unstable, conversely an inward lean of the edge-plane over a corner is visually depressant, but offers an assuring gravity-stable solid.

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Corners are secluded spaces, ideal for intrigue, but the occupants remain unaware that conversation gets amplified and others can overhear. Secretaries, maids and butlers use reverse wine glass for listening to secrets. A corridor is a good sound transmitting tunnel, unless properly baffled or insulated. A corner protects you from sides, but does not allow any offensive action. Corners have little freedom of movement, and so one cannot hope to play blind-person’s buff.

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A corner entrance offers deepest traversing distance, so on any estate (party-place, banquette hall, game or fun-park, museum). Just like the main course of dinner, the entree is longer lasting and satisfying. Corners are closed and dead, but seclusion of a corner is dissolved by a gap in the end, like a funnel. It drains away the energy, but also acts like a pressure release valve. This technique is well exploited in public spaces like piazzas, plazas, courtyards, etc. The sides of parallel (square or rectangular) remain uninvolved but a cornered entity (parallelogram, triangle or multi-cornered) offers hopes of involvement.

Corners collision in Cities  Image by Peter Alfred Hess  httpswww.flickr.comphotospeterhess19738078021.jpg

Corners were re-realized when ‘perspective machines’ began to offer rational views with regulated corners. For architecture, the corners were  conceived for the perspective, but in paintings, these were exploited to put everything to scale and format a unified composition. The view making corners were most obvious in Greek Parthenon Here, not only the site was cornered, but built-form was also angled, but much later Baroque period created its own multi cornered architecture irrespective of the site.

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Parthenon Athens Greece (1978) Wikipedia Image by Steve Swayne

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Essence of a corner is its end point, and not the sides, inside or outside faces. In a perspective, corners mark the change of plane, but due to the taper, scale the scene. The corners, in perspective exterior or interior ones, all really occur inside a hypothetical cone. Performance stages were once round, but for controlled perception, have turned into wedge form. The tapered form of the stage has several advantages: On solid wall stages tapered shape reinforces the sound delivery like a megaphone, the wedge shape adds to the visual depth, it also allows the sides of the set to be visible from the audience arena. Games have corner shots as penalties. Loneliness is not confined by the sides, but it is just a personal low point, in an empty or crowded space. In a corner, if the change over is spatially distanced or time delayed, it turns into catch-22, a paradoxical situation of opposite set of rules (title of 1961 novel, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller). Corners must be negotiated quickly and decisively, and as in games one must negotiate (‘cut’) it from a distance or get shot by hidden opponent.

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A corner is also a joint, and here two different things have some generative encounter. Joints are conditions of adjacency between two or more objects, which offer some spatial surprises. Many different social and political activities flourish at corners, investing a different meaning to the architectural space.

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The word corner derives from > ‘corne, corner, horn, cornū, cornua, cornere, corniere, corna (horn or hyrne), angle. Use of cater (French quatre =four”), as a verb can be traced to the 16th C as meaning ‘to place something diagonally, move diagonally, place diagonally or cut diagonally’.

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MORPHING the ARCHITECTURAL GEOMETRY

Post 671 by Gautam Shah

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Architectural forms are primarily of neat geometric constitution. Externally these may remain holistic, but internally evolve into a complex entity. The interior morphing compulsions are for new spaces and novel experiences, whereas the gamble on the exterior front relates to new shapes and silhouettes. Internal uses are varied and dependent on the orientation and connection to exteriors, but external side basic demands are for ethereal lightness and grounding to the gravity. On the exterior front, to sustain the neat geometry and maintain the holistic form, several compromises occur. These include lopsided connections with the outside, regimented face on all sides, irrelevant scale and form for the locality and community. Where such liberties are required, these are sought to be covered up with a monophonic applique skin. The skins could be opaque and glossy, or transparent and reflective. The skin is also included with extensive texture of architectonic elements, surface treatments and ornamentation, to camouflage the variations.

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Architecture India Temple Orchha Orchha Fort

The validation of a holistic entity, on functional, structural or social is not possible, unless wide range of compromises are accepted. Historically, large number of architectural forms start as a composition of several sub entities, but mature into a singular form. This was more plausible where buildings were designed by a master architect, and later handled by expert builder or a strong political patron. The comprehensive forms also emerge when cannons of styling or architectural orders are well established.

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The maturation to a comprehensive form has occurred on the same building during its planning, with later day improvisations, or as a style upgrade across a region. Such changes come through extensive rejuvenation of the shell or as superficial application. Often, there was no conscious effort for a comprehensive form, but rather affirm to a trending ‘style’. The style morphed forms were more unifying with new orders, thematic confirmation, repetition of patterns, axial symmetry, proportions etc. It also gave way for superfluous decorations to be added, by later generations.

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Architectural geometric forms besides being too neat and simplistic have little to offer in terms variations. So on external and internal sides, the form is transgressed. The bloated form causes spatial diversity. The geometric form is stretched outward as projections, galleries, and inward as cutouts, chowks, ducts, etc. The transgressions occur over existing openings or new ones, but all bring in more illumination and visual connections with nature. Later day structural changes are rare, as many were load-bearing entities. Morphing new things over existing structure was an easier strategy.

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The outward push or exterior transgressions of buildings have had two basic purposes. To create a comprehensive architectural entity by stabilization (wider base), stepped form, hierarchical arrangement of constituents, linking of loose elements, balancing the composition, add segments of interest on the side that are deficient, establishing connections to the site topography or neighbourhood, strengthening or recasting the style value, increase the footprint and for adding the mass.

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Building forms are pushed outward to enlarge and reconfigure the shape of interior space. The breach removes the omni present sense of enclosure of interior spaces. The outward transgressions, like verandahs extend the threshold or buffer zones. In many instances it facilitates sideways view, additional aeration and illumination. The outward push of the building mass added surface area, and space for new architectonic elements or units for pattern making.

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The outward push makes an architectural composition multifarious, but it is the inward push that changes the spatial quality and often the raison d’ etre for the adventurous undulation of the outer form. Openings created or reformed for interior space modulation, began to create a visually recognizable entity at twilight and night times against the darker setting of the town. Steeples, lanterns etc. were simultaneous elements of both the exterior and interior transgressions.

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Architectural form transgressions are profuse at roof level. The chief purpose was to pattern a silhouette. In old buildings the silhouette or the edge-line was factored in twilight hours. But after 19th C the street lights and massing of structures in the surroundings began to redefine not only the massing, but the roof edges. Roofs are re-composed with same unitary shapes being replicated at different scales and with siting positions. These at micro level include manipulation of roof edges, parapets, eaves, finials, grotesque, gargoyles pinnacles etc. At macro level, roof elements include Chhatris, belvedere, flying buttresses, spires, roof lanterns, steeples etc.

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To convert a conglomeration of bare geometric elements into a comprehensive building, several levels of changes occur. The changes include confirmation to gravity by way of a wider base for stability, localization (orientation, climate) (position of entrances in North versus South Europe), Real and perceptive structural stability, cultural validity and stake-holders accordance.

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Such a process of confirmation is consciously negated by the deconstructivist. The confirmation to gravity is post conception adjustment, wider base for stability is camouflaged behind reflective surfaces, localization does not exist, elements of real and perceptive stability are defied on the exterior side but are outrageously clumsy on the internal side, cultural validity and stake-holders accordance is given a go, for the ‘universal’ built-form. It is not architecture but a construct like a sculpture. It is an adventurous built-form offering spatial complexity for new experiences, a fresh behavioural setting, but one is expected to search for a functional utility.

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ARCHITECTURAL vs COMPUTER WINDOWS

Post 668 by Gautam Shah

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The first independent version of Microsoft Windows, version 1.0, was released on 20 November 1985. It was originally going to be called Interface Manager, but Rowland Hanson, the head of marketing at Microsoft, convinced the company that the name, Windows was more appropriate.

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And this was the beginning of unlimited harassment to all architects (and even lay persons), first from the Encyclopaedias and later by search engines. This happened when a nominal word of day to day use, became almost an exclusive intellectual property. Many of the Microsoft ‘windows’ features were already tried out by Apple computers.

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The ‘Windows’ was (or ‘were’, no grammar Nazis have raised the issue) was an opening to look into data. There was earlier a nearly invisible dot as the command ‘prompt’ to interact in dBase and other programme, and it never prompted anything except that the entered command is not right.

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But here the ‘computer industry’ (Microsoft, Macintosh or some less known entity) was offering an Icon like a door within a door. The icons or windows were displayed as tiled on the screen, that is, they could not overlap or overlie another, but icons interacted with others in time and space. There were active and latent icons in terms of time reference. ‘Spatially the icons on a screen were more relevant then others that were not seen’. The icons were perceived to be windows or peep holes that allowed one to see through it.

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For many, the icons are still like the 36th Chamber of Shaolin. One is aware that there is something of higher order inside, but too scared to cross over. The unceasing efforts are to form 36th chamber where ordinary people can enter and learn the “art of self-defense.

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In the movie 36th Chamber of Shaolin, “San Te wants to create a new chamber where he can train ordinary people in the basics of Kung fu so they can defend themselves against their oppressors, the temple officially banishes him in a surreptitious way to allow him to carry out his mission. He returns to the outside world, namely to his hometown, and assists the people.”

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This was a view in a window (like a shop front display), but, it was destined to become (with internet) an architectural entity for viewing out, whatever is happening in the world. The earlier version of Windows was little better than dBase like programmes where the software creator and user both were instilled with unspecified fear ‘do not push a wrong key’. The user was perceived to be an alien, and better remain outside.

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The computers gradually became Janus’s gateway (Janus -a dual headed God of antiquity) with an interior world and an exterior cosmos. This was a virtual window or rather an entire building of its own, which could be shifted around, pushed away to obscurity, shrunk or enlarged.

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Some of the basic functions of a computer system have been storage, processing power and programmes. Now one more is added, the communication or linkage. With live linkage one can source storage (cloud), computing power (parallel server processing) and dynamic programmes (in place of static loads). These make for a ‘home’ out of an architectural ‘house’, where the opening systems (‘windows’ or any other) make connections. So Microsoft windows may need to be renamed “Doors”, as doors are more functional (for passage, delivery and dispatch) than any other openings’ systems.

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The smart ‘Home’ (computer or such devices) will need lot more individualization not through configuration efforts but through commonly shared (floating around) intelligence. These include the languages, intonation, choices, history of preferences, behavioural characteristics, biological patterns and capacities.

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MANIFESTATIONS of DOOR

Post 663 –by Gautam Shah

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Sequence of Doors Temple of Ramses III

A gap, portal or doorway, door-frame and the shutter, have an individual as well as combinative presence. Presence of one or many in physical, hyper-real or allegorical sense manifests the opening system.

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Door symbolism: A symbolic door is a representation of the nominal door or its important components or essential qualities. Door symbols are abstracted as well as scaled versions. Metaphors are also used to present the physical characteristics, crucial functions, essential qualities and historical associations of the doors. Doors denote a break and so the symbolic presentations are used to indicate the breach-able points or weak spots. In electrical circuit diagrams and pipe layout drawings the door symbols are used to denote a break, open-position or a switch. In communication field a door stands for connectivity with the world so a ‘gateway’ is where traffic converges and redistributes.

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A physical door requires a real gap and a real shutter. The shutters open, close or take up many intermediate positions. Physical doors, however have abstract adornments or attachments that give a deceptive character to the door and belie their reality.

Nara Narayana panel on the eastern wall of the Vishnu temple

A nonphysical door may not have an opening to transit, though the portals distinctively mark the place of opening. A nonphysical door could be unreal or metaphoric. Communication gateways are such doors.

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Notional doors: Over the years, in our minds, a shutter has become so strongly associated as the door that its presence or even notional indication suffices for the opening to be evident. ‘A shutter like configuration, over a barrier satisfies our expectation that there is a way out or in.’ The notional or representational doors, such as the painted doors on Egyptian tomb walls do not take one anywhere, but do satisfy the spiritual needs as an entryway to the other world. Such doors, drawn or carved are of real-functional size as well as of debased scale.

This blind door at Banteay Srei is flanked by colonettes.

A pseudo door exists with inadequate or no opening system. The door has no real gap for transit, no perceptible doorway, or there is inadequate shutter system. The prehensions for a door are at many levels including: functional, perception, size and scale. Such doors also exist without any apparent barrier system.

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A virtual door does not reveal itself physically, but otherwise it is functionally as effective. Modern industrial plants, estates and institutional campuses have ‘open’ gaps or invisible doors with control systems that activate a ‘shutter’ (a control system) when required. Few make-believe door frames or markers are placed to indicate the position and presence of such monitoring devices. Metal detectors’ door frames at airports and public spaces, colour coded markings on the floors, are examples of these.

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Make-believe doors are created to denote an entrance or boundary of an ethereal world. Stage side-wings become exit-entry points. An actor, to enact a departure from the realm, at a certain point on the stage, ceases to act or shows the backside of the body. Door frames standing in a wide terrain or the gate structure such as the Japanese Torii gates standing in wide stretch of water is an entrance.

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Metaphoric doors: Metaphoric doors manifest through signs and symbols. Such doors may not have a functional size, scale and other physical characteristics or functional utility of a nominal door.

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These allegorical forms are used to mark and enhance the essence of a door:

  •       variations in barriers (representing an overlap or a gap or aperture),
  •       a scaled or functionally sized gap,
  •       a passageway (indicating a pathway to or from somewhere),
  •       signs, symbols and graphics to mark linearity (a lead to some place),
  •       frames (to enclose a view and other sensual perceptions),
  •       miniature or micro-cosm frames around the deity.
  •     mythological associations with doors or openings such as: Janus -Roman, Re -Egyptian, Ganesha, Dwarpal or Kshetrapal (the Indian keepers of the gate or estate), Shen Tu and Yu Lei (Chinese guardians -two brothers of the passageway).

Symbolic Door Chinatown San Francisco gateway arch 2010 California Wikipedia Image by chensiyuan

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