CORNERS and Neighbourhoods

Post 678–by Gautam Shah

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This is the 3 rd article of series: ‘CORNERS’.

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Neighbourhood is a realm of certain scale, resilient extent, variable sensorial reach, activities, intra-personal contacts, diverse implications and ever-revealing spatial character. Neighbourhoods have no particular pattern or shape. There is no formal arrangement of spatial entities, like buildings and objects. The spatial entities, building and objects remain static, but the mediating spaces carry different personal relevance and meaning. The neighbourhood represents a sentiment of people formed by the spatial character. The character, where small changes are noted and relished.

Lisbon Street Image by Paulo Guedes (1886–1947)

1 The scale in the neighbourhood is defined by the sensorial reach of the person such through the physical reach capacity, vehicles or means of conveyance, routing, climate, obstructions and the linkages such as bridges, access conditions etc.

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2 The extent of Neighbourhood is a resilient factor, because the reach capacities and needs are personal and so different. Senior citizens cover only that distance, which can be traversed back. A road with high density traffic reduces the spread of a neighbourhood.

3 The Sensorial reach is variable as it relates to the perception faculties like touch, smell, taste, see and listen. A child is required to be within the visual field, but a little older one can stretch it to distance of shout call.

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4 Activities in neighbourhoods, have an excuse and purpose, as these manifest due to people, space, and season. These are as casual as calling on new settlers and offering help, introductions and directions, or formal like parties and celebrations.

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5 Intra-personal contacts flourish at spatial locations like shops, corners, seat-out places and near objects in space, but facilitated by the sensorial reach (of touch, vision, hearing or smell). The reach defines the functional adequacy for interpersonal relationships and related behaviour. Intra- personal contacts occur as encounters, of recognition, casual gestural and verbal greetings and durative exchanges. The routes, space use occupation, time schedules are very deliberate. The spatial character of the neighbourhood is formed by the intensity of activities, which in turn foster the intra-personal contacts.

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6 Implications of neighbourhoods are evident with how people realize the spatial features. This is vitalization that formats the space as the place. This is always a synergy, impossible to inculcate through design, or difficult to bring in about by outsiders. Neighbourhoods are about dwellers of the place, and not visitors to market places or parks. The dwellers have certain attributes like age, social status, economic activities, cultural-religion affinity, duration of stay and sense of belonging. These form diverse sets of human interactions and compatibilities.

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7 Neighbourhoods continue to reveal their spatial character. One becomes more comfortable with the functional potential and variety it offers. New sensorial connections emerge from smell of foods, sounds of speech and music, visual accent of colour and texture) and the tactile liaison through handshake, caress or hug. These connections are embedded in the people, environment, built space and objects.

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The essence of a neighbourhood is the spatial character that is natural, and not a designed one. When people begin to associate the spatial configuration as a participatory extension of their home, it offers a wider sense of belonging. Neighbourhoods are vicinity where people, place and the objects have empathetic connections with synergetic interaction system. The shared identity and related spatial significance are not rationally grasped by many, but all do understand the new experiences that continuously evolve here. The neighbourhood as empathy grows over a period of time, maturing as a distinctive personal domain, different from other settlements.

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A neighbourhood is a community place, where the dwellers or ‘locals’ acknowledge the co-residents. This leaves out the gathering or visiting places of ‘non-locals’, and which may be at some distance, like the parks, zoos, markets and malls, etc. A neighbourhood is always a space with uncertain markings. Its extent is fluid, depending on the person’s physical reach capacity, vehicles or means used, routing, climate, obstructions and the linkages such as bridges, access conditions etc. On the other hand gathering or visiting places of ‘non-locals’ are zoned and regulated spaces, strongly defined by barricading elements or contained within set of other places. These places flourish due to the connections with the outside world but neighbourhoods thrive on the internal strengths.

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The neighbourhoods have reach regulated by distance. Reach is accessibility to people and objects through familiarity, reliability, predictability and security. ‘These references have historical traces in the race, cast, craft-activity, food, dresses etc. of the dwellers.

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Observation is participation in a neighbourhood place. A mother will not allow a child beyond visual field or shout-out reach. A youngster reaches out, to go to known places like friends’ house, school, or playground. Buildings and objects on daily routes of travel seem part of the neighbourhood. Objects beyond the cross barriers, such as busy roads, water-bodies, railway-tracks, hillocks etc. are considered parts of other neighbourhoods.

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Historically, small neighbourhood spaces had characteristic commercial component in the form of small stores and services (tailor, barber, laundry) shops. The traders with shop-home combination were also the informal watchdogs (policing) and communicators (gossip). Such places within the neighbourhood formed the loitering places and play areas for children. The commercial component was dissolved with shops and services being pushed to the main roads by zonal regulations. In towered apartments the population density is often great, and shops and services requirements are greater. But these are also pushed away in non-organic layouts. Loitering and play areas for children are vacant lots, used except for few hours. The tall tower dwellers with cars are encouraged to do intensive Saturday-Sunday shopping.

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Every little change is not only noticed, but routinely probed. People recognize the spatial changes. Around the corner or beyond the nominal perspective’ the changes are more apparent. A turn is a reversible change cutting off or initiating the connections. The change is worrisome, both by its presence, if sudden and extensive, or through its absence like when not of expected scale and quality. The neighbourhood fabric is disturbed by faster change in dwellers’ profile, new buildings, zoning laws, access to media and means of communication, rapid changes in urban-architectural character beyond the neighbourhood.

 

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Turning around ‘a corner is a limit of the home precinct for the child, but an additional adventure for a youngster’. To the elders, the corner is interesting from the opposite side, as it allows a wider perspective. Street-corners are good locations to observe and passively participate in social activities. Street corners are not always road junctions, but estate or plot edges that are shaped acute, obtuse or diffused. The old planning dictum to always hold the street Line’ or else time will erase all the spared space on the edge. ‘Put your building right out at the sidewalk, instead of behind one of those dreary concrete plazas’.

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The street corners are the ‘territory break lines’, not just for dogs and gangs, but also for the users. Within the personally ‘felt’ territory or limits, people move around without explanations, embarrassments or fear. Such ‘discretion’ are helped by the multi-angled-toothed layout of the neighbourhood, rather than a long straight street or squared edge layout.

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In Ahmedabad, India the genesis of the neighbourhood was in the ‘Chakla’. It was the first multiple road junction after entering the fort gate. The road from the fort gate was straight, whereas the Chakla had multiple nooks and corners, to be a place for everyone. Neighbourhoods were also formed as the gated communities such as the Pols of Ahmedabad, ‘for the purposes of defence, group preservation, sociality and convenience’. And within the Pol, there were other public or community spaces, in the form of Chowk and Khancho (literally a setback). These were irregularly shaped relief-spaces, identified by the temple or important dweller or the caste-community.

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‘A good city street neighbourhood achieves a marvel of balance between its people’s determination to have essential privacy and their simultaneous wishes for differing degrees of contact, enjoyment or help from the people around’. (p59 The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs).

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An existing convenience store in Toronto, Mimi's Convenience Store

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Corner bars, cafes or grocery stores were places of convenience, and preferred ‘joints’ because of the commanding view they offered. The owners of such commercial entities were not outsiders, but residents who dwelled up-above or on the back side of the ‘joint’. But with zoning regulations, these were pushed out to the main roads on the edge of neighbourhood or exclusive commercial zones. The ‘joints’ of the neighbourhood were not always in the corner, but known as: 7to11, 24×7, Morn-Eve, Bodega (from Latin apothēca, or apothecary =storeroom or wine-cellar), konbini (Japan, approx abbreviation of konbiniensu sutoa =convenience store), Arabe du coin (Paris), packie, delis (delicatessen), dépanneur or dépanner (French) shortened to a dep, party store, offy for off-license shop, sari-sari store (Philippines), milk stores or bars, Mama shop (Singapore).

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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 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.

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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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