By karenmmartin on situated
A week ago I confidently said I was going to write “a few posts on architectural projects which include the actions and interaction of occupants as integral elements of the design plan.” This turns out to be a far trickier concept to pin down than I thought…
One way of thinking is that architecture always considers the actions of occupants as integral to the design plan; after all, houses have bedrooms, offices have reception areas and theatres have stages because these elements are essential to the intended use of the building. However, architectural writing and photographs often emphasise the material and sculptural qualities of a space over its social qualities.
GLA building, outside and interior
This, for example, comes from an Architecture Week article describing the Greater London Authority building by Norman Foster, “the building has no front or back. Its shape is derived from a geometrically modified sphere, designed to minimize the surface area exposed to direct sunlight“. A more socially-conscious description of the project might focus on the use of glass as a metaphor for transparency of government, while criticising the sense of public accessibility created by the closed shape.
But what do I mean by the social construction of architecture? The simplest example I have is this village hall in Northumbria. The building is nothing special, a basic, rectangular room, but it is the location for a wide range of activities; whist drives, toddlers groups, art class, aerobics, christmas dinners, hair-dressing demo, practical archeology course, quiz night, cookery demonstrations and so on.
Aldburgh St John’s Village Hall, Northumbria
While the architecture itself doesn’t change for each of these activities, the behaviour of people does; the noise and activity of the toddlers group is not appropriate during an archeology course. This is my definition of the social construction of architecture, that while buldings partly define the activities that take place within them, the meaning and appropriate behaviour for that activity is supplied by the social practices of the culture in which the building is situated.
For example, the role of an audience is to watch, listen and respond to the actions of the performers. The appropriate behaviour of the audience though, will be different if they are watching a play, music concert or stand-up comedy. And most likely, the appropriate behaviour at each of these events will vary in different cultures. One of the great opportunities of technology for me, is that it can enable architecture to become more conscious of, and more responsive to, these fluid, social aspects of occupation.
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* Posted on: Wed, Nov 22 2006 10:00 AM
* Updated: Wed, Nov 22 2006 10:38 AM
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