Post 600 –by Gautam Shah (16 of 16 Behaviour in Spaces)
Objects in space need recast from time to time. Such recast is needed for domestic, commercial and other spaces. The recast interventions by the users themselves are continuous one but in small lots. The user caused changes are experimental and casual but persist to amass as a substantial change over the years in the character or style of the built-space. There are few changes that are beyond the users’ perception, capacity or authority, and so are assigned to professionals as contractual or periodical assignments. The objects’ reorganization in a space by a user, a lay person, relate to the rearrangements or installation of demountable and movable entities. The assignments to professionals, however, are far more encompassing, and may result into re-configuration of the space shell.
Space planning needs a recast when changes in building shell or structure (planned or accidental) alters the spatial quality. When key elements of the building or its amenities-facilities are technologically upgraded, it triggers new space planning. Historically buildings have seen major revamps, when gas replaced coal as cooking fuel, and electricity provided the illumination. Similarly piped water supply and organized drainage systems have changed, not only location of toilets within the dwelling, but its internal arrangements. Dining once separated from ‘not so presentable kitchen space‘, however now once again merging due to the efficient and clean cooking processes, smaller families and reduced engagement periods. Offices became ‘open plan’ affair from partitioned cabins, but now internet connections let one operate from home.
Domestic spaces are continuously improvised by the users, and for the first decade or more, may not require any radical changes. A user -a lay person accepts a ‘reasonable design’ by a professional, and may not engage a professional for any modifications. The changed circumstances or family profile of the user, such as family profile, age, physical abilities, marital status, financial profile, professional activities, new intra-personal relationships and group dynamics, choices and social compatibility, force a redesign of space objects’ arrangements. Built spaces also see major change when ownership changes. Domestic space planning is mainly self authored, and even where a professional is involved, it is controlled. Professional help is, however, actively sought by users, who are highly motivated with income or comparable social tastes and choices.
The user’s understanding of the space is deep, simplistic, devoid of the technicalities, but a subjective one. The user, primarily, relies on spatial rearrangement and micro adjustments of the space entities. Secondly, the user buys ready-made items, gets it produced, or craft it on own. Thirdly, the user exploits the add-ons and enrichments for micro level space making, while imparting a personal flavour. The persistent engagement of the user with the space, however, alters the spatial arrangements.
Space organization is very encompassing and an adoptive exercise requiring technical skills. Professional designers handle it by developing a holistic strategy or an integrated approach. Designers also have a selfish professional interest of impressing the client and the society at large with an invigorating solution.
The control over a space derives from the right to perceive, execute, alter, explore and exploit the organization of objects within a space. For this one may not legally own or be a tenant of the space. A visitor to a space causes a new spatial arrangement by positioning own-self or by being part of a group, at some place. Members of a family or a group get a sense of belonging by such an access. Other way around, people feel ‘at-home’ with object organizations that offer semblances ethnic or cultural familiarity. A sense of equality and pride also occurs when the spatial arrangements are similar as in public housing schemes.
Commercial spaces see more frequent changes, in terms of the tenants and business styles. Commercial spaces are rejuvenated by the professionals and the changes could be accommodative. The changes are extreme and overhauling, wherever styles or brand images are to be refashioned. Space planning is also affected due to the user related causes such as: new concepts, aspirations, realizations, technology, variations in usage intensities, repairs and maintenance, optimum standards in society. Commercial spaces see major renovations that start with new space planning. Businesses are becoming subsidiaries or franchises of larger entities, and the space planning is a matter of branding.
At domestic level traditions and taboos are followed for placing the objects in space. Commercial spaces and hospitality spaces reflect a mix of local mentality, good practices, and new trends elsewhere. Traditions emerge after years of usage and portray the geographical, historical, cultural, religious and technological preferences. The trends show universal preferences emerging from cross reactions of many art forms. The objects in space and their organization offer several postural and interaction possibilities, affecting the personal relationship as well as group behaviour dynamics.
Space planning and behaviour as political etiquette is a time-tested mannerism formalized in government protocol manuals. It shows how two, equal or unequal status, heads of state or such entourages must meet. It indicates the nature of seats, intervening pieces of furniture, the backdrop for the meet, and enrichments that are appropriate, and ones that must be avoided.
The chairs for personal meeting of two important (equal status) personalities (e.g. Presidents of two nations) are upright single seat units (placed parallel but very slightly angled @140°). But we still find dignitaries taking on micro postures by moving towards or leaning on one hand-rest, sitting cross way (diagonally), leaning forward or backward. The reasons are: one is trying to enlarge or reduce the distance, take postures that imply affability, propriety, esteem, etc. However, the sitting arrangement between two unequals, like a president and a prime minister (or a prime minister and a foreign minister) have two unequal (size, form, style) types of seats. The person with higher status sits in a single seat unit, whereas the other party is made to sit at a right angle, and on a wider seat (double or triple seat sofa or even stiffer – upright seat). The furniture arrangement, the angle and the distance between them are regulated by set of rules or ‘protocol’. In spite of the strict protocols people through micro posturing do subconsciously express their real attitude. The body language is just one facet of behaviour that reveals the nature of the encounter.
Recognition is also important for expression and communication. The deficiencies of personality are made up by the surroundings. Some of the tricks, people consciously or otherwise use to draw recognition are: Standing against a wall but little away from it, occupying a single seat rather then share one, positioning against bland background then any clustered or busy face, sitting in a tall, upright and an uncomfortable chair opposed to an easy and low height seat. A person feels secure if protected from at least one side and can control the distance for group behaviour dynamics.
A person must get the benefit of natural attributes of the personality such as age, sex and social stature. One may not feel confident and so secure, if under a continuous gaze or surveillance. Feeling of security is more enhanced in known spaces or spaces with a familiar set-up. Large spaces with adequate points of anchorage or interventions make a person feel secure. People feel secure with exits points like a door, stairs, passages, aisles near them. A view of outside adds to security but the same could also be direction of an unknown threat. Presence of handling, holding or barricading devices adds to security, even if one may not have intention or need for using it.
Spatial organization of objects is an ever evolving process. Buildings, spaces have had use-specific purpose, with matching architectonic and functional provisions. Structures lasting several decades or centuries, see many reorganizations, but circumspect by the structural elements. Rational Gothic structures offered layouts with minimal occupation by walls and translucent latticed partitions of wood and iron offered visually connected spaces. It was realized that for space organization, functional and perceptual inter-connectivity, were more important considerations, then just the size-volume of the space. Post 20th C. other thoughts were added such as providing for future growth, access for the disabled, safety, security, etc. Corporate organizations replaced the layered system to team or department-based structures which favour classless, transparent or open layouts.
Industrial age offered systems that were less bulky, due to use of electric as the source of energy and newer materials. The facilities and amenities that were structural bearing, now multi became independent, mobile or easily relocatable, multitasking miniatures and affordable. This freed lot of space and reduce the burden on structures. The space organization as a planning rationale for task efficiency emerged in this age. These initiated ‘systems’ for spatial organization. The gadgets were conceived as fitments into a space, with planned connectivity and inter gadget relationships. Women’s hobby magazines of the time took it further, creating ‘work efficiency layouts’ with behavioural considerations. For example, a window over a cooking range and sink were a result of these attitudes. At industrial level the continuous line production layouts were favoured over batch-based systems. Due to lighter steel roofs with North lights and electric illumination, it was now possible to design ‘mega foot print’ spaces for commercial and industrial purposes. Commercial spaces were redefined with electric illumination, piped heating-cooling equipments, telephony and organized document storage. Space reorganization became a frequent affair but with new departmental stores (1950s) it was even a quicker change.
Early offices had, peripheral or along the wall work tables, storage systems and cubicles or cabins. This gradually gave way to half height partitioned or ‘compartmental office spaces’. But today, according to the International Facility Management Association, 68% of North American employees work in offices with an open floor plan or open seating. Open offices are space inefficient due to the larger area per employee.
Offices during and immediately after world war-II period had as much 50% of the total space devoted to storage. These were separated from work areas, and manned by store keepers. The store room volume and traffic to it were reduced with several technologies such as document facsimile systems, telecommunication, automated file access including the mechanical card-index sorting machines. Digital documents with computerization solved the problems of file storage, access and transfer. Now the offices were nearly fully ‘human occupied spaces’.
Older employees and traditional businesses like, law, finance and other professionals, who have worked from cubicles, cabins and corner offices, find it difficult to adopt open offices. Open offices are blamed for affecting privacy, client relationships, employee productivity, loss of sense of belonging, and even compromising the morale.
Open office layouts provide a visual cohesiveness and spatial continuity. It also incorporates the concept of compact personal work module, -a work station. Computers had similar work stations or dedicated utility for multi tasking. Earlier crafts’ people like a watch repairer, engravers, a gold smith had such dedicated facilities.
Wireless technology and cloud storage software make it easier for companies to embrace nomadic workstations, says Frank Rexach, a Shanghai-based vice president and general manager at Haworth. Rexach says ‘People don’t want to feel handcuffed to their desk, especially the Millennials’ (= young people who were between the ages of 10 and 20 on September 11, 2001 defined as per Newsweek magazine).
The dedicated work facilities were mainly based on using tapped or sourced connections and exclusive offerings (processing facilities Auto-Cad, audio-video editing, desk-top publishing). With technological advancement these were available on all systems. Mobile phones, Laptops, and tablets were de-linked due to chargeable batteries and wireless connections. The digital processing anywhere allowed work location and schedule of choice. The office space has now turned into a casual place for personal interaction. Of course this function too can be met by video conferencing.
The office space has become an unassigned seating place. The need to personally interact remained as acute, and perhaps emerged more stronger. The meeting rooms are common or rented facilities. Its interior space has high efficiency ambience but does not match the corporate aspirations of a ‘personal space’. In a different perspective, something similar is happening on educational campuses. The teacher-student relationship is missing on personal contacts. The lecture hall is partly replaced by seminar or workshop rooms.
Just like open office plans, many entities such as the partition less residences, self access retail outlets, libraries and kindergarten rooms have transient furniture elements. Glass curtains walled commercial buildings, etc. are also conceived to be boundless spaces. The boundless spaces are assumed to enhance the intra-personal interactions.
This post forms 16 th of the Sixteen part of Lecture series on Behaviour in Space that I will be offering for the spring semester starting Jan 2016 (to mid April2016) at School of Interior Design, Faculty of Design, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India.