Message - Re: is the corridor the only way to transfer between two architectural spaces?

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Posted by  Paul Malo on October 03, 2002 at 06:39:40:

In Reply to:  Re: is the corridor the only way to transfer between two architectural spaces? posted by BRUTUS on October 03, 2002 at 04:46:45:

This is a great design problem, not only because corridors are so ubiquitous in our buildings (and so forbidding, uniformly detested) but because the issue provides a revealing case study in how the mind works in the process of design.

The left side of the brain, which is the analytical, planning side, is verbal. It operates by naming things, then processing words. We have learned this WORD, "corridor" (or "hall") and it's in our kit of parts from which we assemble buildings, putting together "rooms" as boxes of space and "corridors" as tubes of space. The tendency is to assume and accept that this is what a building inherently IS--an assemblage of rooms and halls. Designers rarely question this assumption, but simply replicate buildings this way.

Occasionally creative designers have questioned such assumptions, and one of the contributions of modernism was questioning of the "room" concept (for better or for worse).

Functionally, we often need the sort of circulation provided by the familiar corridor--in an apartment building, for instance, or hospital or hotel. What we don't need, however, is the thoughtless form designers usally give us--a door-lined tube. This is mental laziness and want of creative vision.

The formal problem with the conventional corridor, in basic design terms, is that it's a FIGURAL space, but the figure is ugly.
A figural space is one that has a clear shape.

To appreciate this notion, one must understand the figure-ground aspect of perception. This is often demonstrated by the familiar optical illusion, the black-and-white image where first the black shapes are recognizable, but suddenly perception shifts, and the white forms become identifiable. In urban design, the black may represent the solid buildings, the white being the spaces between the buildings. Urban designers flip the usual perception, regarding the white spaces as the intentional figures, defined by the black solids.

Most designers of the Modern persuasion have been object-fixated, only able to see the black solids, concerning themselves with artful arrangment of the objects. The space was totally "residual," or left over as a consequence of placing the objects. Pre-Modern urban design tended to see the white spaces, making intentional figures such as piazzas, as if cut away from a continuous black mat of solid, or "urban poché." Contextualists of the Colin Rowe school (as mentioned in a recent post) looked back to traditional, pre-modern cities, to relearn this way of thinking and designing.

Once one has a clear sense of the difference between figural and non-figural (or residual) space, then the design problem of the corridor can be rethought. If it's an ugly figural space, because the proportions are constrained. OK, so interpret it as non-figural, or residual. In other words, don't allow the corridor to become a "room" with a perceptual figure.

In this instance, perception needs to shift from the white figure of the space to the black, which means giving the solid rather than the void the more positive figural identity. Put it this way: instead of the corridor being an urban street, lined with uniform walls, it may better be a suburban road, non-figural, lined with figural objects. This is the flip of the optical illusion.

How to do this? It requires manipulation of the surrounding surfaces so that rather the being perceived as enclosing planes, they become a series of distinct objects, even if contiguous. The trick is to avert concave in favor of convex conditions, and to articulate discrete solid forms.

At this point, the sketch is worth a thousand words. It's a matter of corners, how the wall meets the ceiling, as well as of breaking up the continuous plane of wall and ceiling three-dimensionally, and even of the floor, two-dimensionally.

As I said, this is a very useful design problem for the studio. Lecture done. Twenty-five cents, please.

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