Sunday, April 14, 2013


Questions... and More Questions?
By: Van Dwinnells

"My next blog will take closer a look at how just what and how we can modify and manipulate specific aspects of an environment to achieve a direct correlation between the perceived behavioral control and actual behavior."   
It is a quote; one that I wrote only a few weeks ago.  Yet I must first digress and ask more questions.

What transcends time?  The solidarity, yet refined poignancy of classical architecture humbles our nation before it with its symmetry and hierarchy.  It has ingrained within our society a substance, one that represents value, persistence, integrity, and lastly, power.  The strength portrayed by weight and mass are manipulated in harmonious strokes bowing down to pay homage to the thoughts of our forefathers.  It is transcendental as it still pushing the boundaries of our desires and forcing us to learn from history and do better and be better. It is a manner that shapes life, guides us, not just in the limited moment of the temporary, but throughout our lifetimes.  Our children, their children, our great and even great-great grandchildren will be shaped by the legacy we leave.  Shouldn't we secure the message, secure the memories in form?  Is this why our capitals are defined in this manner?   

I pose many questions, but what is important to you, the designer?  No, that is wrong.  I pose another.  What is important to society?  This is more right.  What is important to our current predicament and how will the future generations evolve from now?  This is the design question.  Where is the solution?

What is the figurative right hand? Is it representative of strength?  Better yet, is it an executive, a decision maker?  What about the balance? Does this not prelude a tipping to the judiciaries and the creative legislative?  Digression diverted. Now for more questions.

What does the plaza present to the people?  The walking spaces, the driving spaces, the community spaces; How do they all connect?  Kevin lynch explored what these things meant in a cognitive way and upon analysis, delineated that we recreate a city within our mind based upon experientials we encounter within a given environment.  More questions.  What are the distinctive and memorable elements of the city in question?  How do we mentally navigate a city and how does this translate to the physical environment? 

Kevin Lynch proposed a system, a framework if you will, of how we assess our environment especially within urban areas.  He defined 5 distinct elements within the built environment. They are as follows:

·         Paths: (lines of movement) the streets, rail tracks, trails and other channels along which people move. Often, paths work like basic structures along which other elements in the built environment are arranged.

·         Edges: (transition zones) clear transition zones and linear boundaries between two areas, e.g. between water, walls and nature and the city. Water is an important edge for those cities that are located on coasts or rivers.

·         Districts: (distinctive city sections) quarters, neighborhoods and other sections of the city with a distinctive character. Not all districts are such “full thematic units”; some will be only recognized by people who know the city well.

·         Nodes: (Strategic Meeting Points) strategic meeting points in a city, e.g. squares, junctions or stations. Obviously, the more distinctive a node, the more memorable it will be.

·         Landmarks: (Singular Objects) singular objects that serve as general public reference points. Some of these are distant (e.g. towers and spires), while others are local, such as sculptures and signs.

These elements have laid the foundation to better understanding how we absorb key components of our environment whether they be directly or indirectly, consciously or non-consciously.  He later, in his book Good City Form, suggested that the mental maps people create are not only formed by their “sense of place” but they are directly related to the importance of the situation, giving the place a “sense of occasion”.  This directly relates to a city’s image and its imageability.  So what is imageability?
Imageability -  “that quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer” (Lynch, 1960, p. 9).
These senses can come from the five elements but also from impermanent events like periodic festivals, events, parades, as well as other temporary activities.  It can even be created by the likes of signage, banners, or way-finding methods. 

It may seem like a long tangent to get there, but we must incorporate many social triggers to create a functional and memorable spaces within our cities' urban fabrics.  In order to do this we must contemplate how those things affect us. Incorporation of these social triggers explain how we manage to preserve our history and yet, at the same time enable progress.  This is how we push forward, perpetuating our learned knowledge. We step toward the future upon the foundation of our current designs and agendas pushing the envelope ever so slightly, and thereby define what is better education to our future generations.  As architects, WE provide the more appropriate facilities to do just that, facilitate; Facilitate knowledge, facilitate growth,  and to facilitate legacy.

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