Last week, I began the first of these articles with a piece about observing. About learning to notice and critically engaging with the environment that surrounds us. As with all things related to design, you will always benefit from revisiting and repeating certain processes. Observing deeply is one of the habits that should become instinctual. There are things anyone can do to practice observation. As you are driving, describe in a focused way everything you see, cars, people, buildings, potholes and more ephemeral things like the wind, heat and shadows. If you are in traffic it is even easier. Try and add as much detail as possible. So don’t say man, say old man with a blue checked shirt, walking towards me, 10 meters away, looking happy. This should also be done at home and at work. It should be done whilst shopping too, consider the shop design as much as the product. How does the design of the space, the atmosphere contribute to your decision. The best professional interior designers are always manipulating your emotions to achieve a sale.
Look at everything and ask questions. What, Why, How. What is this, what does it do, why is it like this, why did it become this, how is it made, how does it make me feel, how can it be different. Try and look beyond the price or status of these things.
As you become more adept at this you will be able to add both layers of meaning and philosophy to your thought processes, more pragmatics or practicality. You can add narrative or speculation to the process by asking ‘what if ’.
All this observation and questioning is the first step to reconsidering your environment. But observing is just the beginning. From learning to describe the elements that make up your environment you are able to progress to looking at relationships between things. Between the parts of any environment and between those parts and spaces and yourself. Any space, any piece of design only exists in relation to our interaction with it. There are a whole number of separate considerations that come into play when we break down these relationships. There is nothing simple about them and they will often build up into a highly complex system. By understanding something of this system, you will be able to consider the pros and cons, the functionality and emotionality, any adjustments or revisions that could be undertaken.
Your relationship with the space you occupy will depend on your observation point, on your ergonomic and physical relationship with it. Sitting on the floor, on a chair or standing will change your perception of any room, your relationship with its proportion and ceiling height.
Being in a different part of the room or in the corner and studying the space at different times will highlight things you have perhaps never noticed before. This is why new spaces are always more stimulating. You are absorbing them for the first time. Familiarity, as the saying goes, breeds contempt. Please do not allow yourself to ignore the spaces you occupy this day.
By Amritt Flora
Architect and Educator