Innate Understandings in the Built World – Thesis Statement
“. . . how the architect can intuitively understand the geometries created within the design process, and how the end user relates and communicates with the built product. The two relationships are not exclusive, but rather form their own communication between idea and practice. . .”
Intuition is the channel through which our bodies react naturally with the world around us. In the same manner in which we react instinctively to elements of danger or benevolence, our minds react to constructed elements. The confluence of architecture and intuition is exhibited by the communication between our bodies and the artificial environment created around us. Though “artificial” is perhaps a harsh adjective to describe architecture, in many other aspects of daily life our culture has allowed discussion of what constitutes “natural.” If topics for evaluation of a natural lifestyle include raw and organic foods, barefoot running sneakers, yoga and pilates, it should be fair to imagine what our innate behaviors require from our modern built world. This critical view is experiential, not material. It is qualitative, not quantifiable.
There are two relationships created by such an analysis: how the architect can intuitively understand the geometries created within the design process, and how the end user relates and communicates with the built product. The two relationships are not exclusive, but rather form their own communication between idea and practice.
When approaching the design of a project, mechanisms beyond the control of the architect abound; zoning, building code, budget, and politics present both obstacles and opportunities. While the safety tools (code) and quantifiable elements (zoning, budget) are viable constraints, ideas of comfort and interaction are often sidelined for simple, repeatable, solutions that do not engage natural human behaviors. Zoning is almost always considered as an abstract set of rules that apply to large areas or to similar types of areas. Even when zoning is specific to a site, it is announced and approved in response to politics, neighbor appeasement, density goals, etc. – everything but user comfort. Similarly, budgets do not incorporate an evaluation of solutions between cost and comfort, but rather between cost and superficial effect.
The architect does have several tools to design his project responsively to human nature. These include program, details, decoration, materials, and geometry, all of which must respond to cultural and physical context. The architect must tread carefully though, as the use of proportion is a subset of the intuitive nature of architecture to communicate. Architectural elements inherently incorporate attitudes of scale, symmetry, and geometric ratios, which subdivide the shapes we design into relatable (or not) sub-elements of the built environment. The end user will respond with emotion: distraction, clarity, confusion, delight, oppression, or comfort.
INTUITION VS RESEARCH
The analysis of intuition and architecture differs greatly from the studies of research and mathematics. The scientific approach most frequently referenced in new building designs relies heavily on mathematical calculation. Popular progressive architectural design principles – aggregation, variation, parametric modeling – are all attempts to quantify and diagram the conceptual design process. The result is that architecture risks losing the complex relationship with our ultimate clients by focusing solutions too heavily on unapplied scientific research. Parametric programs (Revit) and parametric design tools (Grasshopper) are great at creating relationships between building elements, but have no inputs to measure human interaction.
There is one area in which the intuitive relationship between humans and architecture is being explored carefully to incorporate comfort and logic in a united solution. The diagramming of ecological concerns for a building, including daylighting design and fresh air ventilation, has the potential to engage human reactions as much as scientific diagram. This dynamic relationship is slowly being absorbed into architectural conceptual design. Too often, however, these ecological diagrams are afterthoughts taken for granted and created for scientific understandings, such as LEED, rather than as a design focus for human occupation. The longer our field clings to quantifiable design, the less responsible and the less innovative our designs will become.
The current pedagogy at most architecture schools emphasizes the scientific design of geometry and function through parametric relationships and other forms of shape exploration. When functionality is incorporated into design, it is scientifically diagrammed. Circulation and program relationships are designed via diagrams that assume a static analysis between elements (though admittedly, on rare occasions, flexibility is a design goal). A circulation diagram is hence indicated by an arrow forcibly meandering through outlines of program assuming the responses of one individual, not the multitude of experiences through which the hundreds of individuals would be encountering decisions. There are hundreds of architectural elements that inform a decision as simple as “where is the entrance,” for which our current pedagogy offers no means for evaluation. The emphasis on diagrams in architectural design is helpful, but usually absent of intuitive relationships, and overly simplistic.
In the past decade, design taught in schools has also incorporated whole curricula devoted to informing architecture by non-human biologies such as plants, ecosystems, and other organisms. There is merit in investigating these natural processes and responses within nature to inform our architecture. The potential for these “alien” algorithms to be substantially applied to human behavior remains to be seen, as these explorations have yet to bear much constructed fruit. The only built products from biological studies in architecture have remained at the scale of installations.
This blog will explore the nature of the interactions between humans and the strategic construction by the architects of our built world. It will explore opportunities to qualify these ideas for use in research, education, and application.
[NOTE: For the purposes of this blog, the full philosophical definition of “intuition” will not necessarily be explored, but rather simplified. The psychological classifications of “behavior,” however, may help to inform some of the forthcoming analyses. Though greatly simplified, it may prove to be instructive how someone might encounter their reaction to the built world, whether acquired or inherited.]