knowledge in design

Perception, Design & the Built Environment

As I see architecture, I believe it started for only two reasons; as a way “to provide a physical space” and “to provide a visual delight”. At earlier stages, the function of the building provided guidelines to how that space would be while ornamentations and motifs on exterior & interior surfaces were the only source of aesthetics. But soon after, architects started to use other ways of beautification considering light, spatial relationship, color, form, and texture. Well, of course that wasn’t enough, or let’s say that the puzzle was still missing the most important element, which is “the users”. Then the new questions started to arise; does design affect our subjective wellbeing? Does it manipulate our satisfaction with the space? And how much of that is tangible and how much of it is personal perception? Is it influencing our emotions only or does it extend to behavioural stimuli?

How much of one designer’s vision is affecting a lot of people experience of the space? This question changed the typical approach to design and put a lot of pressure on architects and interior designers to start looking into multidisciplinary approach. Instead of focusing solely on the function and visual attraction, they have to look at the third complementary perspective, which is the consequence of these design decision on the experience of the human being.

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Now we have to agree that architecture and interior design are two inseparable majors; great architects, such as Louis Kahn, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Llyod Wright, used to design the whole project inside out as well as being involved in the method of construction. They had an opinion about everything. Wright used to design even the light fixtures in his projects, decide how much of the structure should be natural or manmade, what type of furniture suits the project and so on. Even nowadays we still have similar examples like Karim Rashid. Current universities are starting to introduce what is called a collaborative studio where students from three different fields, landscape, engineering, architecture, or interior design, work on one project together to achieve that sense of wholesome outcomes. Having said that, with the increasing amount of knowledge technologies, and new materials, we need experts in a specific field, which leads us back to the importance of each field distinctly.

Going back to the pyramid; Functions of buildings are generally categorized as below and usually are defined by the insider space of the building.

  1. Residential & Housing
  2. Office, Corporate, & Industry
  3. Hospitality
  4. Health care
  5. Spiritual and religious facilities
  6. Commercial and retail
  7. Entertainment & parks
  8. Governmental and public facilities
  9. Education & Research Facilities
  10. Sports & Cultural facilities
  11. And lately mixed-use buildings

Next, we have the design elements and principles. Any student majoring in design fields study the elements and principles in their first year of college. What I have noticed from my experience in teaching, students tend to forget about these important design tools (elements) and rules (principles) as regulators of their design language. To develop a design style or language, one must understand the gist of using each aspect and how would it add or take away from the intended design message.

Finally, we have the users. The users of the space are the most complicated, yet, essential element of the approach. Complexity comes from the diversity of users in one space as a start, and the different physical and psychological needs these users might have. Narrowing the focus on specific users of your space can be defined by age group, gender, activities, health needs, etc. Even though we know that the same person can have different needs during the day, we should prioritize the intended impact of the building.

To rap it up, let’s ask ourselves this changeable question before staring the next project:

How would the angle of my windows (design element) affect the productivity (the impact) of office employees (users) in a skyscraper (the building)?

Each word between brackets in this simple equation has multiple deeper layers to it, changing only one of them can change the whole approach. What if a series of elements combined, would they affect the human differently?

Something to think about.


written by Dr. Ahdab Mahdaly.

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