Cities, Personal, Psychology, Society, Urban Planning
Comments 5

The Mental Acrobatics of Space

Paris and the Effects of Haussmannization

Paris and the Effects of Haussmannization

Space has always fascinated me. It is something we experience constantly, but few would pause to give thought about.

As a child, I built castles and moats out of rocks and mud. I drew imaginary and fantastic maps. I created cities out of Lego and origami. Yet, I never truly understood the spatial arrangements and relationships between objects. To be honest, despite going to graduate school I still do not completely understand them. In my humble opinion, I believe the interactions between psychology, design, and planning have been quite weak.

Why do we prefer smooth edges and straight lines? Why do we have preferences for certain spatial arrangements? Why are certain places more attractive than others, even if they are designed similarly? Why do we prefer to be in the middle of spaces as opposed to the edges? How do we use the space around us and why are some spaces more utilized than others? Certainly, part of the answers to these questions depend on not only personal preferences but also historical and cultural background – for example certain places like Hong Kong drive on the left side as opposed to the left.

For much of history, architects and planners devised and constructed the physical environment around us based on certain purposes, ideologies, and technologies. Yet, (correct me if I am wrong) it seems as though there is a lack of understanding as to why certain designs can achieve certain purposes. We typically understand if a place is good or not only through observation and experience but find it difficult to uncover why they work. Furthermore, how does the space created relate to our spatial understanding of the world? How do the ways we experience space affect its utility?

Our understanding and orientation of space is complex and dictated by our senses. It is not a perfect system. We all have our own unique blind spots in our vision, hearing, and touch – from the shape of our ears to the arrangement and existence of combinations of neurons relaying our senses to the brain. In spite of all these individuality in our sense, is there a pattern of spatial behavior socially? Another issue with the study of space is the representation of space. We live in a three-dimensional world, but for most of history, we navigate using two-dimensional tools such as maps. Even today, when we use Google Maps for directions, it is typically two dimensional. 3D modeling has enabled research in how we use space more realistically, but data collection and analysis have yet to catch up.

Personally, I would love to explore how we use our space using data positioned in a 3D model. I would love to dig into the cultural differences of space. Perhaps there is not a general pattern, but patterns pertaining to localities. These results could very likely influence the next wave of urban design and planning in shaping better and more comfortable cities to live in. If anyone has any leads, I would love to hear about them!

In the meantime, I would love to ask all of you:
How do you experience space and how mindful are you of how you use space?


    • William Fu Lien Hsu says

      It’s always the unexpected ones! Thank you! Your blog is very nice as well!

  1. davidfaught says

    Neat post. I guess as far as maps go, I would point out that they don’t need to be 3D, and they would lose a lot of their efficacy if they represented the real world too closely. We simplify the firehose of reality constantly, because it is useful to do so. As far as urban design goes, I think there has been a lot of work in how culture and psychology affect design choices. Practicality is also a factor. I am guessing we prefer straight lines because they are striking, but more importantly, they allow building designs that allow for tightly fitting components that effectively separate the inside environment from the outside. On a more macro scale, the wide boulevards that Paris is now famous for were originally conceived by the French government to rapidly move troops through the city so as to more effectively crush peasant uprisings! At the time of the French Revolution, the narrow, easily roads blocked streets gave the revolutionaries an important tactical advantage. Interstates in the U.S. were similarly designed to move troops and equipment rapidly, and to enable the best possible exploitation of an economy organized around car culture. Technology drives design in many ways.

    • William Fu Lien Hsu says

      I agree that it could be impractical to have 3D maps, but perhaps it is only because we are not used to them? For example, have you ever gotten lost in an office building trying to find the right room – a 3D map would definitely help.
      Also, I would definitely be welcome to leads in work on culture, psychology, space. Do you know of any works to look at?
      Military need and technology are certainly the driving forces behind the boulevards and interstates. I was asking more general in terms of how we as individuals use space that is designed. After the creation of the boulevards, how was street space used differently? (Obviously that would be a difficult question to answer now.)

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