The Concept of Space in Architecture

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A space is a physical description of a piece of land, whereas a place connotes an emotional attachment to the piece of land.[1] A Place is a particular portion of space, whether of definite or indefinite extent.[2] It is a “tangible” concept, meaning that we can experience the surroundings, it is similar to the definition of location, for example, and our home is a place where it is surrounded by walls and is sheltered. It is contained within a space, usually bounded by boundaries. A Space is an unlimited three-dimensional expanse in which all material objects are located.[3] However, we are able to limit the space into a place by defining and restricting the expanse according to how big we want it to be.

Figure 1: A place or a space is based on one’s judgment.

An impersonal space is an anonymous region which is not particularly related to a person. To transform an impersonal place into a private place, we can place our personal belongings in that particular dimension, which is sufficient for a person to be able to roam and move about and to carry out day-to-day activities. An impersonal space like a classroom in a school can be divided into student’s own personal zones. For example, each student’s area is defined by the classroom desk where they are able to place their own bag, books and stationery. This is how the students are able to define that area as their own territory.

Place-making is a people-centred approach to the planning, design and management of a space to a public place. Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions to the people who live, work and play in a particular place, to discover needs and aspirations.[4] To create a common area, it should be able to accommodate to the different needs of the various age groups of the residents inhabiting in that area. For instance, if the neighbourhood has a large percentage of elderly occupants, the shared spaces created will be more inclined towards facilities that are senior-friendly. Most probably, there will be more nursing homes, clinics and aerobics corner for the elderly. Because of the existence of such facilities, people gather and thus a community space is created. In this case, the playgrounds and the exercising corners are the material objects in a space, therefore defining a place.

Sensory experiences become integrated through the body, or rather, in the very constitution of the body and the human mode of being. Our bodies and movements are in constant interaction with the environment.[5] To at least some extent every place can be remembered, partly because it is unique, but partly because it has affected our bodies and generated enough associations to hold it in our personal worlds.[6] To counter place-less-ness in transient venues, interaction with the venue must involve all sensory experiences which includes sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

In a temporary venue like a hotel, engaging our sense of sight would mean that what we see in a hotel apartment is replicative of what we have in our own homes. The material objects that made up a hotel room will include a bed, a table lamp and so on, which is what we outline as a place we call “bedroom”. All these are familiar occurrences which we experience back in the comfort of our homes. However, our sense of sight is not a stand-alone experience, it has to be interconnected and reaffirmed with our other senses. Giving an example of a boiling kettle of water, we require our sense of sight to witness that there’s steam and also our sense of hearing when the kettle whistles.

Figure 2: Our sense of sight is not a stand-alone experience, it has to be interconnected and reaffirmed with our other senses.

In a slightly larger context, Singapore is a space, with the various estates and regions representing the respective unique places. Typically, the infrastructure, amenities and buildings distinguish the characteristics of a place. The estates and regions which we termed “Place” is made up of respective material objects which is specific to that region. In Central Business District (CBD), the material objects are skyscrapers, high class hotels, restaurants, and branded shopping outlets. In housing estates, the provision shops, coffee shops and the high rise Housing Development Board (HDB) flats will constitute as the material objects. Interior design can be applied to counter the effect of place-less-ness. “Interior” here means within Singapore. Residents of Singapore can differentiate a CBD area from a housing estate by using their sensory experiences. As described above, the sense of sight could be applied here when the occupants look at the surrounding infrastructures. To use their sense of hearing would be to listen out for the clattering of pots and pans in the coffee shops, or the “clocking” sounds of the heels of office ladies in CBD areas.

In a global setting, Singapore is surrounded by waters, whereas in land locked countries in the Southeast Asia Region, like Laos, there are distinct surroundings that identify the place. Here, “interior” would restrict the discussion to within Southeast Asia. In a hustle and bustle city like Singapore, high rise buildings makes up its landscape. On the contrary, mountainous greenery makes up the landscape of Laos. Making use of our sense of hearing and smell will help us to tackle the problem of place-less-ness. Forestations, mountains and natural vegetation constitute the scenery of Laos, so the sound of crickets calling, the smell of morning dew and the damp forest litter will be what is unique about it. Air polluted with the unbearable smell exhaust fumes, noisy honking of the vehicles on the crowded expressway will be distinct to Singapore.

To have a “sense of belonging” would imply that someone is emotionally attached to a particular place, usually a location where one is familiar with. It is a place where the person feels homely, comfortable and safe. To a Singaporean, he or she might feel that they are at home when they see skyscrapers and high rise buildings. When staying in a hotel, the ambience resembles what a person has at home, and so they feel as if they are staying in their own humble abode.

Wrapping up, a place is a subset of a space, and a space can be transformed into a place by determining the material objects within it. Sensory experiences are used to interact with our surroundings, such that it creates a sense of familiarity resulting in the emotional feeling of a sense of belonging.

Figure 3: High rise buildings are a familiar sight in Singapore.

References

Placemaking Committee, 2008. 11 principles of placemaking – Placemaking Chicago [online]. New York, Project for Public Spaces. Available from: http://www.placemakingchicago.com/about/principles.asp [Accessed 25 May 2014]

Placemaking Committee, 2008. What is placemaking? – Placemaking Chicago [online]. New York, Project for Public Spaces. Available from: http://placemakingchicago.com/about/ [Accessed 25 May 2014]

Dictionary.com, 2014. Place | Define Place at Dictionary.com [online]. IAC Corporation. Available from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/place?s=ts [Accessed 25 May 2014]

Dictionary.com, 2014. Space | Define Space at Dictionary.com [online]. IAC Corporation. Available from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/space?s=t [Accessed 25 May 2014]

Pallasmaa, Juhaini. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, John Wiley & Sons, ed. 2005.

List of Images

Figure 1: Bettina Deda, 2013. A place or a space is based on one’s judgment. [online] Australia, Bettina Deda Colour Design. http://www.bdcolourdesign.net.au/3-proven-steps-to-start-a-room-makeover/ Fig. [Accessed 26 May 2014]

Figure 2: Chris Swithinbank, 2012. Our sense of sight is not a stand-alone experience, it has to be interconnected and reaffirmed with our other senses. [online] US, Chrisswithinbank. http://www.chrisswithinbank.net/2012/08/the-incredulity-of-st-thomas-at-harvard/ Fig. [Accessed 26 May 2014]

Figure 3: Universes in Universe. High rise buildings are a familiar sight in Singapore. Singapore, Universes in Universe. http://universes-in-universe.de/car/singapore/eng/ort/financial-district/img-02.htm Fig. [Accessed 26 May 2014]


[1]Placemaking Committee, 2008. 11 principles of placemaking – Placemaking Chicago [online]. New York, Project for Public Spaces. Available from: http://www.placemakingchicago.com/about/principles.asp [Accessed 25 May 2014]

[2]Dictionary.com, 2014. Place | Define Place at Dictionary.com [online]. IAC Corporation. Available from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/place?s=ts [Accessed 25 May 2014]

[3]Dictionary.com, 2014. Space | Define Space at Dictionary.com [online]. IAC Corporation. Available from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/space?s=t [Accessed 25 May 2014]

[4]Placemaking Committee, 2008. What is placemaking? – Placemaking Chicago [online]. New York, Project for Public Spaces. Available from: http://placemakingchicago.com/about/ [Accessed 25 May 2014]

[5]Juhaini, Pallasmaa. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, John Wiley & Sons, ed. 2005. p40

[6]Juhaini, Pallasmaa. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, John Wiley & Sons, ed. 2005. p41

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