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?