Spatial vs Visual

How we experience space is largely determined by our biopsychology. In 2014 research from Edvard and May-Britt Moser won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and medicine. They discovered a series of geometric grid-like cells inside the brain of rat, in an area known as the entorhinal cortex. These cells, which are also present in the human brain, function much like a GPS system, allowing us to spatially map and navigate space in an objective way. By using acceleration, movement and speed, our brain records how we move through space. This means that for each spatial situation, there is an objective recording and reading occurring within our brains. We are able to dimensionally map rough floor plans and sectional relationships within our brain, using spatial information written by our internal GPS.

Supplementing the spatial recording in the entorhinal cortex is a recording of visual properties in the hippocampus. This deal withs recording colours, textures and recalling memories that have occurred in visually similar spaces. A complex series of information exchange occurs between these two distinct portions of our brain, allowing us to write, recall and place memories. This duality help explains why memory is so closely tied to place.

The discovery of the entorhinal cortex disproves the linguistic theory of deconstructivism. If every person has the ability to write spatial memories, then it is not our language or culture that dictates how we react to a space, but rather a combination of objective human nature and hyper-individualistic responses. The spatiality of various architectural typologies are powerful not because of their cultural meaning but in the way that they are able to affect the biopsychology of an individual in a particular moment and time in their life.

Spatial Types

Symmetrical spaces create the effect of monumentality. The perfect reflection of one space along an axis creates a subservient role for the user. Asymmetrical spaces are less monumental by their very nature, as they allow for more variation and dynamicism and do not have such a rigid hierarchy.

The spatial effects of scale differ as to whether it is the absolute scale of an object or space or relative to that of another. Absolute scale is best used when the user can experience a large object and slowly approach it, fully understanding its vastness. Variations in scale are best used in section. Entering narrow passageways before being led into an expansive void is a compelling spatial effect.

The spatial effect of bearing and being borne is especially effective because it is universal. It is a common to all cultures and all architectural movements. The very essence of architecture or building is the constant fight against gravity, the suspending of an object off of the ground. The more reduced this structural relationship is, the more elementary it becomes.

Porosity is the measure of voids within a solid. It exists purely in three dimensions and is spatially significant because it creates spaces that are varied and interconnected. It blurs the hard boundaries between space and architectural elements. Porous objects are varied in their scale and composition, characteristics that put the user in the forefront of the space or object.

“I do not claim to know what space is. The longer I think about it, zhe more mysterious it becomes. About one thing, however, I am sure: when we, as architects are concerned with space, we are contending with but a tiny part of the infinity that surrounds the earth and yet each and every building marks a unique place in that infinity”. — Peter Zumthor

Spatial Conclusions

There are numerous spatial effects that have been used compelling throughout the history of architecture. It is our role as architects to evaluate each project, site, client and function with careful consideration and to decide which types of spaces we want to create. We should never forget that the vessels we are designing are there to contain space and that powerful spaces have a primacy that goes far beyond that of provocative shapes. Architecture is one of the only professions that create space and we should embrace the opportunity to better understand the spatial qualities we are designing. By doing so, architects have the chance to reposition the value of our role in the process of conceptualizing, designing and building an architectural object.

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