Social process as a healing force Places aren’t static. Just as elemental influences form and balance – or unbalance – them, so do social pressures. Are they losing balance (assuming they ever had it), affluent areas becoming more exclusive, losing the multi coloured palette of life? More man-made, manicured, synthetic? Are poorer ones growing more depressed and hopeless?
More decayed, crumbling back to nature, even overgrown? Social pressures aren’t necessarily self-correcting. Enough societies have been torn apart by them. Nothing out of balance can be sustained for long, so how can we initiate, or develop, not counter-directions, but balancing tendencies?
The more are places shaped by people who live and work there – from janitors to executives, home-owners to teenagers – the more they reflect the needs of real users, and respond to changing circumstance. This guarantees less mismatched – and so unvalued – elements.
The unvalued is always uncared for, frequently resented. Abandoned, it rots, blighting whole areas. Community involvement in design isn’t only socially bonding; the empowerment it gives increases self-, community-and area-esteem. The more occupants improve, and work with loving care on a place, the more its value in their eyes grows for all to experience. This kind of involvement guarantees places aren’t just shaped by thoughts– as easily happens when people who don’t live there design them – but also by feelings.
Thought separated from feeling bred the feelingless aesthetic of much of the twentieth century. Even worse, the attitude that ‘social’ and ‘aesthetic’ are separate, and done for people – and they better like it! – produced the grotesquely inhuman ‘social’ architecture of the 1960s. Some even proudly called itself ‘brutalism’.
Intellect and emotions can, of course, pull in opposite directions. Enough discussions founder in this way. But with appropriate social process, their reconnection can reinforce each other. 1 Design based on communal process is unlikely to come up with blatantly inappropriate results. If it listens to feelings, time-current, spirit of place and community as well as to thoughts, it has an innate tendency to produce what is right for individuals, community and place. This means it will probably be cared-for, last long and be valued enough to be adapted rather than demolished. Environmental costs spread over many years are low.
More conventional, individualistically based design, totally independent of social process, has more of a struggle and less chance of success in this sphere. No wonder so many architectural award winning projects are empty, vandalized, crime-ridden or demolished. Their environmental (and monetary) costs are high and their social costs appalling. Community-loved and cared-for places don’t suffer the same graffiti, vandalism, street-crime and drug-dealing that those designed by outsiders do. However attractive, improvements imposed by an alien administration are disadvantaged from the outset.
Community involvement in place of imposed design is a growing necessity. In the 1950s, much done by others (like the state) for people was widely acceptable. Today it isn’t. Design with, not for, people Development is all about change. Some is imposed and place destructive; some responds to local need.
Process-based design – even here, however, many places are designed by some people (professionals) for others (occupants). Regardless of how much everyone tries, this establishes dependent and non-responsive relationships. Both unfortunate and unnecessary. People who live and work in places know more about their needs and problems than anyone else possibly can. That is self-evident. The immediacy of their circumstances however can limit ability to see beyond the present. When too close to some-thing, it’s hard to have an overview. Local people know best about the past and present, but not necessarily the future. Outsiders can’t suggest viable futures without understanding the present. Neither professionals nor occupants ‘know best’.
They need each other.
The unique qualities of daylight and sunlight make their introduction into buildings as relevant as when there was no viable alternative in artificial
sources. These intangible factors which have shaped man’s development cannot be overestimated, and it is always useful to remind ourselves of
- Change and variety
- Modelling and orientation
- Sunlight effect
Change and variety
Daylight is a constantly changing source, varying from time of day, season of the year and the state of weather, whether sunny or cloudy. Far
from being a disadvantage it is this variety which provides a dynamic and appealing appearance to an interior.
Changes in the weather can be observed, modifying the appearance of a room and helping us to react to the external environment during the
day. This is a different measure of experience from being in a theatre when you only discover what the weather is like on going outside. The
experience of the first fall of snow, with light reflected upwards to ceilings, provides the interior with another facet of its changing appear-ance, as exciting as the first sunlight after a period of dull days.
The human body has a capacity for adaptation, particularly in the field of vision, with a need to exercise this response. Perception itself depends upon a degree of change; the appearance of our surroundings alters with time, and if we have confidence in their continuing reality, it is because changes in their lit appearance allow us to continue an exploration of their character. Change and variety are at the heart of daylighting, as is the medium through which it is delivered, the window.
Appreciation of the temporal quality of daylighting cannot be better expressed than by one of America’s leading architects, Louis Kahn, the
architect for the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas: ‘I can’t define a space really as a space, unless I have natural light . . . natural light gives mood to space by nuances of light in the time of day and the season of the year,
as it enters and modifies the space’.
Modelling and orientation
Daylight has direction because of the movement of the sun from morning to evening, varying as it does from season to season and with higher brightness at different times of day. This direction adds both orientation and modelling to the appearance of a space; it provides clarity.
We perceive and understand the spaces we inhabit by their three dimensional quality. Daylight provides changing modelling and increases
our perception of time and space, with the added aspect of orientation, giving a person an awareness of where he is in relation to the exterior.
Daylight modelling, or the emphasis provided by shadow patterns on surfaces and form resulting from the direction and flow of natural light,
is related to building orientation, coupled with the nature of the windows or means of daylight entry. The appearance of the interior architecture is determined by the physical surfaces, edges and textures when acted upon by the light falling on them.
Interior spaces are judged to be pleasant, bright or gloomy as a result of modelling effects. Horizontal modelling from side windows is the
general experience, as affected by the window embrasure. The modelling on a dull overcast day is a different experience from that of a sunny day.
Light from windows on adjacent walls assists in modelling, with the main direction of light being supplemented by reflected light.
Modelling from overhead daylight is of a different order, with greater vertical emphasis, and is useful in art galleries displaying sculpture,
where the nature of the modelling more closely resembles that from the daylight outside.
The importance of orientation is acknowledged in the setting of the build-ing on its site and its relationship to the sun path to achieve the optimum natural lighting solution for the building’s function, whilst a knowledge of the world outside assists an individual’s understanding of his where-abouts within a building.
It will not always be possible to provide the optimum orientation for a building on its site, or its best relationship with the sun path, for example where a building is set into a rigid street pattern or where there is overshadowing from a neighbouring building, but the question of orientation should always be a consideration.
The best solution should be simple enough to achieve on a greenfield site, when there is no excuse to get it wrong. When
in doubt it is useful to model different solutions to test them out.
A good example of this is shopping centers. Victorian examples permit-ted daylight to enter through roof lights, providing necessary environmental information but the role of daylight was misunderstood in some of the early shopping centres in the 1960s which were built as blind boxes. The latter were not liked, and it is unlikely that such solutions will be repeated today. People enjoy shopping during the day in spaces lit well by daylight, whilst at night it is accepted that there can be a complete
change of atmosphere, created by artificial conditions.
Where possible the orientation of the building will have optimized the entry of sunlight; this increases the overall level of light, and assists in providing other environmental factors mentioned.
Variety, whilst ensuring delight – the delight, for example, experienced when getting up to a sunlit day. This is not something that can be
measured, and is therefore difficult to assess by engineering formula. When sunlight is available, there is a human need for it to be taken into account, and a sense of disappointment when this is denied.
Sunlight is to be welcomed in buildings and often provides a positive architectural element, for example when shafts of sunlight are directed
through windows at high level, as in gothic cathedrals.
It is equally important in small scale programmes such as in the home. Sunlight is fundamentally good both therapeutically and visually, but it is always important to consider the obverse side in terms of heat gain and glare.
Control may need to be exercised over the sunlight entering a building, depending upon geographical location and the purpose of the building.
There are some programmes, such as art galleries, where for conservation reasons sunlight needs to be excluded, but even here the effect of
sunlight may be obtained without its energy affecting the works of art.
Man developed in natural conditions and so we instinctively believe the colours of objects seen under daylight. Whilst the colours produced by
artificial light sources have greatly improved and do not produce the distortions associated with early electric lamps, we still take things to the light to confirm their true colour, and by ‘the light,’ we mean daylight.
Daylight is the colour reference, since all other forms of light change the perceived colour to a greater or lesser degree. Daylight is thought to be the true colour despite the fact that it varies in hue from morning to evening and is enhanced by sunlight. This is of particular importance in buildings where we have learned to adapt to the natural change which occurs and a white surface still appears white in evening light.
In the nineteenth century large department stores encouraged daylight entry for a variety of reasons, not least because of the advantage of ‘real colour appearance.’ However, the practice was discouraged in the twentieth century, partly to allow multiple floors of shopping area and
additional wall space for displays. This led to blind boxes, which not only produced artificial conditions within but unhappy results externally as dull cityscape.
With the present renewed interest in daylighting, some large stores have been designed to introduce daylight, in a low energy ethos. Here the feeling of well-being of shoppers is enhanced by the knowledge that the colour of goods and materials on sale are their natural colour. There is an additional benefit to those who work and spend long hours inside the shop.
Windows – through which daylight is introduced to the interior, where the light is modified and controlled, and from which the views out beyond the building are obtained – are at the heart of the matter. Windows through-out history have often determined not just the appearance of the exterior but the whole form of the building. Similarly, the absence of windows dictates the exterior appearance, emphasizing the artificiality of the interior.
The view out through a window or how we perceive the world outside is a dynamic experience associated with changes in daylight, sunlight and
season. At its lowest level a view satisfies man’s physiological need for the eye to adapt and readapt to distance by providing an extension of
view and stimulating an awareness of the environment beyond the building.
The quality of the view is clearly of importance. Some views are of exceptional beauty and provide inspiration and delight, but any view that
extends the experience of the world beyond, however banal, is better than no view. Research in Pennsylvania suggests that patients in hospital
recover more quickly where there is a view.