Just like art, architecture needs to satisfy more than just the pure functionality purposes of a design. The composition, the space, the forms and the interior body of the architecture give sensation and meaning to the design to create an experience famously known as "emotional architecture" founded by the great Mexican architect, Luis Barragan.
Space is one of the most important elements of design. Space is an intangible attribute of a design defined in terms of forms, shapes, size, color, smell, time, location and atmosphere. In this article, we will discuss the basic elements of form and space, what makes up the space in architecture and how the positive and negative elements in a space create a unity of opposites that defines our visual field and experience.
Architecture is a art when one consciously or unconsciously creates aesthetic emotion in the atmosphere and when this environment produces wellbeing. Luis Barragan
The Point, The Line, The Plane, The Volume, The Mass
Space by itself is inherently formless and can be as open or as closed, as cluttered or as empty as intended. It can be the smell of flowers in the garden or the cloudy sky occupying our view from the windows. It can be consciously meaningless or meaningful based on our brain associations with the form and mass in our visual field.
It all starts with a point in the space in a given time. A point marks a position in space. Two points define the composition of a line. A line that moves away from its inherited direction forms a plane and the plane establishes length and width in the space. One of the key characteristics of a plane is shape which is the characteristic outline of the plane and the primary means for us to recognize and identify the visual constructs around us. Color, texture and pattern of a plane affect the visual weight and stability it carries in our visual perception. In architectural design, we define the outer layer of a space with three types of planes: Overhead Plane (ceiling), Wall Plane and Base Plane (floor) to define depth and the horizontal and vertical volume of a space. The interaction of these planes with each other and their own color, size, texture and shape properties define the three-dimensional volumes of mass and space. A plane moving in a direction other than inherently anticipated starts the concept of volume in architecture.
While a plane gives the space width and length, the volume has width, length and depth.
Form & Space- The Positive & The Negative
"As space begins to be captured, enclosed, molded and organized by the elements of mass, architecture comes into being." Ching- Architecture: FORM, SPACE & ORDER
Space and all these elements of form that we discussed shape the meaning of architecture. In architecture and art, form is the primary identifying characteristic of a volume and it arranges and coordinates the elements and parts of a composition into a coherent image. A form is established when planes interact with each other and create a volume. Volume is the external identification and outline of the image and is defined by shape, size, color, texture, orientation, position and visual inertia. The gap and distance between the planes defines the vertical and horizontal measures of the volume and controls the limits above, below and the sides of the volume. All these properties of volume are constructed and manipulated by the conditions of our visual experience, lighting and our conscious and unconscious memories related to each property. These elements are measured against the quality of physical and emotional movement in the space that can significantly define and influence our experience and feelings about the whole space. Different physical points of view and perspectives can change the shapes we see and as the result the form we perceive. As we move along the space and see the planes and shapes and forms, hear sounds, smell and feel our surroundings, we gain new perspectives and capture new forms and images about the space. Space cannot be seen only through one single point of view but rather it is a cumulative experience of our movement sequences in time, unwrapped one image at a time. The second turn that we make moving around the space redefines the initial experience we developed when entering the space as each new experience and perspective from movement strengthens our relationship with the space and adds to the overall experience in our brain.
Positive/Negative and Public/Private are two key concepts of space in architectural design. We will of course focus more on these two very important concepts in later articles but we cannot discuss form and space without truly understanding the concept of negative and positive space.
A space is a combination of positive elements that attract our attention and the surrounding and contrasting elements that we call the negative space or the Ma. The shapes, colors, textures and other key properties of a composition in a spatial space define the forms that are developed within and around the negative elements and distinguish the positive from the negative. There is no form or any structure or composition without the negative space. The negative space is the empty space, the air, the gap, the silence between the notes in music, the white blank space on the canvas of a painting and the air and empty volume of a spatial space in architecture.
The interactions of the positive and negative elements in the space define what we see and perceive in the visual field. The higher the contrast between the positive and the negative space in terms of color, size, texture and other properties, the more dominant the forms and shapes become. As the positive elements grow more and more and occupy much of the space, the contrast diminishes in size and other elements within and around the volume begin to compete for our attention to the point that the relationship between the figures and volumes in the room and their background becomes ambiguous, the line between negative and positive gets blurred and the identities of forms become jeopardized as we simultaneously go back and forth between the negatives and positive spaces. To highlight an object, we need negative space surrounding the object with careful and strategic attention to distance, location and orientation of the object. The lower the contrast between the negative and positive elements, the more blurred and modified the shapes and structures of the positive elements become to the point that the previously registered familiar shapes and forms like the letter A hold no true meaning or recognition of their own. The ideas of minimalism and the concept of "less is more" are to save the value and integrity of figures and shapes in an architectural space by allowing the positive to stand out against the negative elements.
"We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; but it is on the space where there is nothing that the utility of the wheel depends. We turn clay to make a vessel; but it is on the space where there is nothing that the utility of the vessel depends. We pierce doors and windows to make a house; and it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the utility of the house depends. Therefore, just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the utility of what is not.”
Tao Te Ching- 6th Century BCE
Curated by: Aidin Belganeh
Reference: Francis D.K. Ching- Architecture FORM, SPACE, & ORDER