Post 43 -by Gautam Shah (Blog 13 in Lecture Series Space and Human Behaviour)
Spaces, and objects therein need to be reorganized from time to time. Here the three way relationships between spaces, objects and human beings are re-calibrated. The human beings are owners, occupiers or visitors. The spaces include built-forms, neighbourhoods and extended domains through sensorial reaches. The reorganizations include ‘design interventions’ like repositioning, reorienting, scaling, framing. Technological upgrade occurs with efficient forms, superior functionality (productivity, energy and other inputs, residual products, ecological considerations), miniaturization, non-moving components, stability, life-cycle. Aesthetic lookup manifests as experiment, new choices, cultural affectations, reassessing taboos and customs.
Reorganization is needed for domestic, commercial and other spaces. 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. But as managed by a professional the assignments are casual to comprehensive. These are contractual and occasional or periodical works. The user caused changes are lay people’s attempts, and so relate to the rearrangements of the demountable and movable entities. In comparison a professional’s engagements may even reconfigure the space shell.
Domestic space re-planning is substantially self-authored, whereas commercial spaces are nominally recast with the help of professionals. There are few changes that are beyond the users’ perception, capacity or authority, and so are assigned to professionals. Domestic spaces need changes immediately after possession-occupation that is on change of ownership or tenancy. Domestic space alterations are also required with changes in family profile factors like age, physical abilities, marital status, professional interests, new intra-personal relationships and group dynamics, choices and social compatibility.
A user is continuously engaged with the space, though with greater, but subjective insight. The involvement is devoid of the technicalities, relying on spatial rearrangements of self-help or installing ready-made items. A user accepts a ‘reasonable design’ by a professional, and may not need any radical or technical changes for the first decade or more. Professional help is, however, actively sought by users, who are highly motivated with income or comparable social tastes and choices. Professional designers handle space organization by developing a holistic strategy. It is an adoptive exercise requiring technical skills. Designers also have a selfish professional interest of impressing the client and the society at large with an invigorating solution.
Commercial spaces are rejuvenated by the professionals. Changes are extreme and overhauling, wherever styles or brand images are to be refashioned. Businesses on becoming subsidiaries or franchises of larger entities, the space planning becomes a matter of branding. Commercial spaces see frequent changes of the tenants and business styles.
A person, a tenant, owner, user or visitor gets a natural right to perceive, execute, alter, explore and exploit the organization of objects in space. A visitor to a space causes a new spatial arrangement by positioning own-self, by being part of a group, and by preferring to use and confirm arrangement in a space. 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.
Buildings have had use-specific spaces, with matching architectonic and functional provisions. These acutely need reorganization, with generations and socio-economic-political changes. The structures outlast by several decades or centuries. Older structures need new space configuration and object reorganization due to technological up-gradation of the architectural components, systems, amenities-facilities (like air conditioning, surveillance, security procedures, illumination, communication, information systems, storage systems). Space planning was once hastened by wars, cultural incursions, major events like celebrations and festivals. Space planning reflects the access to expandable incomes available to person or national economy.
SPACE PLANNING DEVELOPMENTS
Historically buildings have seen major revamps, whenever new technologies were accepted. These included new technologies of constructions like arch, Gothic flying buttresses, glass for glazing, gas replacing coal as cooking fuel, and new building services systems such as electricity for illumination, piped water supply, organized drainage, clears glazing, opening systems’ hardware, heating systems. These changes have recast the arrangements within architecture like location of toilets, cooking areas, dining, etc. Market availability of consumer products has changed the volumetric requirement of storage spaces.
Dining once separated from ‘not so presentable kitchen space‘, however, again began to merge with a kitchen due to the efficient and clean cooking processes. Offices became ‘open plan’ affairs from partitioned cabins, but now internet connections let one operate from home.
It was realized that for space organization as proposed by the original builders lasts only for a generation, often for shorter periods, as new materials and methods become relevant. The new ‘things’ arrived through, easier ways of access, travels, imports, wars, influx of refugees, political occupation, colonization, etc. The reorganization of existing built spaces catered to functional and perceptual inter-connectivity of spatial segments, provision of rational size-volume, providing for future growth, safety, security, etc. Corporate organizations replaced the layered system to team or department-based structures, which favour classless, transparent or open layouts. Other important considerations post WW-I were not just anthropometric and ergonomics provisions, but human behaviour and task efficiency.
The space planning as a tool for task efficiency and productivity emerged in later part of the Industrial Revolution period (1800s). This was an age when number of consumer gadgets for kitchens, toilets, craft areas, offices, industry, etc., began to be available. The gadgets were conceived as fitments into a space, with planned connectivity and inter gadget relationships, initiating ‘systems planning’ thinking or ‘comprehensive planning approach’. Women’s hobby magazines of the time took it further, and helped in creating work efficiency layouts (home productivity) with behavioural considerations.
For example, a window over a cooking range and sink were a result of these attitudes. At industrial level the line production layouts were carefully planned and regularly updated. The ‘mega foot print’ or extensive spaces of commercial offices required major re-haul of layouts when illumination and heating-cooling were electrified, telephony and better document storage systems became common. The new departmental stores of 1950s required very frequent space re-planning because of the fast changing brands and their packing formats.
At domestic level the house which had highly room specific spaces began to be open plan layouts with minimal of walls and partitions. It offered large unhindered space for various tasks. This was also due to smaller or one person family. The gadgets that were bulky requiring structural bearing were now multi tasking, miniatures, mobile or easily relocatable and affordable. This freed lot of space and need for compulsive siting.
Early offices had work modules set against the walls. This gradually gave way modules against low height partitions or what was commonly called ‘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 less clustered but inefficient due to larger per employee area allotment. Open offices provide visual cohesiveness and spatial continuity. Open office plans arrived with the re-acceptance of a personal work module -a work station. Earlier craft’s people, like watch repairers, engravers, gold smiths, used such facilities to reduce the reach effort.
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.
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’.
Laptops and tablet computers linked to remote servers reduced the location bound dependence of work units. Wireless telecommunication, mobility and flexible work schedules allow employees to work from location of their choice. The office space now remains a location for interaction. This function, too is met by video conferencing. Now the office space has become an unassigned seating place. The need, to personally interact with others, remains as acute. The rented commercial meet-rooms are now in vogue, but is not a space to belong to. Similarly the virtual classrooms fail to support the teacher-student personal relationship.
The boundless spaces are assumed to enhance the intra-personal interactions. Just like open office plans, many entities such as residences, self access retail outlets, libraries and kindergarten rooms, have half or low height furniture elements for space demarcation. Glass curtain walled commercial buildings, etc. are also conceived to be boundless spaces.
Spatial organization is an exercise of re-configuring the effects of environment, and rearranging the spatial objects. Both of these offer new space configurations of personal relevance and fresh settings for inter-personal relationships (group dynamics). Spatial reorganization, however occurs where one (or the group) has some degree of control over the space. The control derives from the right to conceive, execute, alter, explore and exploit a space. For this one may not legally own or be a tenant of a space. A person, members of a family or a group also get a sense of belonging through customized setting of spaces and the elements within. People with same ethnicity or cultural orientation feel ‘at-home’ in spaces that have a familiar set-up. Spaces with standard internal features or external configurations also provide the equability.
A person, to play a social role needs a place, made of architectonic elements, space occupying entities and environmental facilitations. The recognition of the self vis-à-vis the place resolves issues of personality and intra-personal relationships. People consciously or otherwise use many tricks for spatial behaviour.
A person feels secure, if protected from at least one side, and can control the distance for group behaviour dynamics. One tries to exploit the attributes of the personality such as age, sex and social stature for security. Similarly architectural features are used for security. People feel secure with view of outside from an opening or nearby exit points like a door, stairs, passages, aisles. Presence of handling, holding or barricading devices adds to the sense of security, even if one may not have intention or need for using it. Large spaces, known spaces or spaces with a familiar set-up and with adequate points of anchors or interventions make a person feel secure. Spatial reorganization can solve such issues arising from different levels of postures, distance and background contrasts.
Being secure tricks include: Standing against a wall but little away from it, positioning against a bland background then a clustered or busy face, preferring a single seat chair rather then shares a multi seater, sitting in a tall, upright (an uncomfortable chair) opposed to an easy and low height seat. A person may not feel confident and so secure, if is under a continuous gaze or surveillance. Receptionists are made to stand -as if ready to serve. The backdrop is nearly 1500-2000mm away -meaning they are on their own, confident, and cannot depend on back support.
Space organization substantially and consciously relies on visual means of planning, but without being aware of the operative processes engages many non-visual means. Visual and Aural senses work in consonance, as both have similar sense of scale and directionality. In space planning one provides the clue about the other. Tactile sense relates to touch such as texture, temperature, moisture, electrical charge. It is a pervasive faculty, though some parts of the body are more sensitive. It is locative and part of the defensive mechanism. Olfactory sense (relating to smell or odours), is closely related to quality of air and so the instinct of survival is intimately linked. It is highly frontal and directional. It also gives the idea of distance. Gustatory sense (relating to taste buds), is closely related to olfactory sense. It provides no sense of scale, distance or time, unless associated with Olfactory sense.
Space management follows processes of selection and placement, of furniture, furnishings, surface treatments and enrichments. Such exercises are substantially visual, but aural effects, though latent are not lost out. Tactile sense requires proximity as well certain distance. The textural configurations of the surface (hollow, foamed, micro undulations), modulate auditory responses and so preempt the perception. Odours are perceived with air and its movements, and are values associated with the shape scale or volume of the space.
Sound masking is in contrast to the technique of active noise control through volume and pitch. It is addition of natural or artificial sound, such as ‘white noise or pink noise’ into an environment to cover up unwanted sound by using auditory means. It nullifies the awareness of pre-existing sounds. Open offices are either too quiet (such as past midnight, where someone dropping a pen in the next cubicle is distracting due to absence of background noise such as traffic), or too noisy (such as when the conversations of others in the office make it impossible to concentrate). Sound masking is adding of sound to cover the existing sounds in the area, to make workers less distracted and more productive. Private offices and study rooms are not sound proof as sound can travel out through partitions or over the walls Sound masking can be provided in adjacent private offices, or in hallways outside of private offices, to ensure that confidential conversations remain confidential. Public spaces are used to reduce the continuous disturbance from road or railway traffic in covered walkways, under passes, deep and extensive parking areas, etc.
SPACE PLANNING AND BEHAVIOUR
Space management for Government has become political etiquette, a time-tested mannerism formalized in protocol manuals. The position of various elements, mutual relationships, the anthropometrics, natures of backdrops, nature of seats and enrichments, are all part of a predefined ritual. The space management, at domestic level is inconsideration of traditions and taboos, prevalent at the place and followed by the family.
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 askew @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.
Living rooms of economic housing schemes are 3000-4000 mm wide. The eye contact or person to person distance for such sofas across the room is 2400-3400 mm, just adequate for social or non intimate chat. However, for a living room width of 5000 mm, the interaction distance becomes (for a sofa across the room) 4400 mm. This is not conducive to social interaction, unless one can makes own-self herd by talking loudly, or seating forward -at the edge of the sofa. In large rooms chatting is more common with persons sitting on the side seat.
This is the THIRTEENTH lecture in the series Space and Human Behaviour for Winter semester, 2017, at Faculty of Design, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India.