Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Spaces and our relationship with them throughout life

Every minute of our lives takes place in a space of one sort or another, one might even say that this is true before birth and after death but lets not go there.

What I find intriguing is that we often ignore and neglect these spaces, often not appreciating the significance the space we find ourselves in is having upon our behaviour and interaction  both with the space itself and others we may be sharing the space with.

Today I was reading a book sitting on a circular bench under a tree in dappled sunlight located at a busy pedestrian cross roads on campus. There was lots of movement, noise, smells, different languages being spoken, colour, nature etc. I was thinking about Bill Ashby's comment that space is a total sensory experience and then wondered if my cognitive behaviour would be different if I was in a badly lit office tucked away in the far corner of a crumbling building. The answer for me, and I suspect most of the rest of humankind, is yes. I am not prepared to conjecture if it would be better or worse but I think it would most definitely be different. Perhaps the psychologists out there would comment.

We require all sorts of spaces, think about going on vacation, this is very much about the space we visit. Some like museums and galleries, others like mountains and beaches, some like crowds others like solitude etc.

My conclusion, in the context of learning spaces, is that there is no such thing as a one size fits all, a trap we often fall into. There is also often a tendency to design to the lowest common denominator. Designers need to consider and satisfy the wide range of needs to be met by those that will be occupying the spaces being designed. We may get a lecture theatre right for the student but not for the lecturer, a 24 7 student centre good for studying but hopeless for meeting. There are usually compromises to be made but the design process needs to establish what is required overall prior to any compromise being made.

What do others think?

I am currently listening to a very noisy freshers party about 200 mts from my apartment. I hope that they have the right space to enjoy their party (sounds like it). On the other hand I doubt that many of them care by now. The joy of youth.


  1. It is wonderful to see the engagement of a growing number of 'old' friends and new colleagues in this discussion which Nigel has initiated around his working visit to University of Melbourne. One conclusion I can draw after only a few hectic days, is that this kind of professional visit/exchange is enormously beneficial for both the visitor and the host. I have prepared a 'reading program' as part of Nigel's stay here and I can already see how this has stimulated a range of issues and thoughts for him. From my perspective, it quickly became apparent on his arrival that just having a colleague in close attendance who wanted to ask questions and raise issues was a great benefit to me.... having operated in my role for over five years largely alone and without any immediate and regular colleagues. Suddenly I was having a constant conversation about things I had previously only wrestled with in my mind rushing from one project to the next. I hope we can provoke further professional visits of this kind among our community of like-minded colleagues and friends. Oh, I should add that my 'spatial skills' emerged in another forum last night when I played possibly the greatest shot ever in 8-ball pool to break Nigel's heart and win a superb victory in a wonderfully nostalgic, dark and dusty pool hall in an inner-Melbourne suburb. You can imagine the pain he is feeling we are off to visit a Melbourne secondary school where I have lead the design of a new external learning space and outdoor classroom area in a refurbished courtyard. I will take the chance to show Nigel a suite of collaborative classrooms I designed for the school last year too. This work is undertaken under the university's 'knowledge transfer' program where we take our professional expertise and employ it for the wider good of the community. I am sure he will have something to say on return and hopefully some pictures to show too (then he is off for a private pool lesson!).

  2. I thought I would just mention the 5 cushions, six double kisses and the draught from the open window that assisted Peter in this miraculous shot.
    I have just given him $20 to buy my lottery ticket.
    I smell revenge in the air.


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