Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Space is What we Use? - boxSpace

The discussion around space is a complex topic and it seems that architects and planners are amongst the people having the biggest difficulties defining it. The reason might be lent two the fact that they have to deal with a unequal pair or space as in the construction of physical objects as well as the creation of space as a resulting void. This shall not be read as a final definition of the nature of space. It is only a attempt to collect some examples on the discussion around space.
I would like to start with the widely accepted idea of the figure ground representation of built form. I believe this technique is derived from the Nolli plan of Rome, invented by Giambattista Nolli and published in 1748. In essence it is the representation of physical form in black, leaving the void (space) in between white.

Image taken from the Nolli Map Engine 1.0 by James Tice and Eric Steiner

You guessed it, this is the ultimate claim of objectivity implemented in the plan. However, usually it is claimed o be in use only for visualisation and communication purposes. Nevertheless it also contains the implementation of truth and the establishment of power through the plan.
Bill Hillier describes space in his book ‘Space is the Machine’ 1996 as: “Space is, however, a more inherently difficult topic than physical form, for two reasons. First, space is vacancy rather than thing, so even its bodily nature is not obvious, and cannot be taken for granted in the way that we think we can take objects for granted” (Hillier 1996, p 26). He continues however with “Space is quite simply, what we use in buildings” (Hillier 1996, p 28). And finally he comes up with an astonishing example of a spatial description (and this is the reason it stands in this context to the Nolli plan).

Image by Hillier, taken from Space is the Machine, Fig 1.22 on page 30

For me this image represents two things. For one this is the statement of intent to follow the tradition of the Nolli figure-ground representation as the visualisation for space, and secondly it raises the question of what exists outside the black line. To some extend, I think, the question is answered with the implied assumption that space is taken in a Euclidean sense as a container, a box that you can put things in and arrange them - boxSpace.
In architecture many famous example of the employment of the Nolli Plan can be found. See for example Ado Rossi.
His take on architecture and the representation has largely influenced the Soglio study and the in this context developed representation techniques. The study on alpine architecture in the village of Soglio in Switzerland was conducted by the Institute of Architecture of the University of Applied Science Basel and lead by Michael Alder.

Image taken from ‘Soglio - Siedlungen und Bauten’ - Ground Floor whole settlement

This example takes the idea of figure-ground to the level of the settlement. It completely relies on the rule of accessibility as the guide for spatial representation. In this sense it is what Hillier is talking about in his example. Space is the vacancy between for the human body impenetrable material (I should say object here I guess). In this sense you could probably also call it an accessibility map or a walking guide.
This is then how Hillier introduces the space syntax concept of space description, as a sequence of, for the human body, accessible spaces.
He says: “...related space, almost by definition, cannot be seen all at once, but require movement from one to other to experience the whole” (Hillier 1996, p 26). Interesting here for me is that to some extend this raises some critique on the figure-ground idea of space, as it employees movement ‘to experience the whole’. But more of this in a following post.

As a physical manifestation of this concept here an example I recently came across on A Daily Dose of Architecture. In some sense this is the above space Box concept in built, including the fabrication and installation process.

Images by FNP - The project ‘S(ch)austall’ as published by DBZ-online

Alder, M. & Giovanoli, D., 1997. Soglio: Siedlungen und Bauten / Insediamenti e construzioni 2nd ed., Birkhäuser Basel.
Hillier, B., 1996. Space Is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture, New York: Cambridge University Press.

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