Invisible Influence

As self-proclaimed autonomous humans with free-will, we take an incredible amount of direction on how to feel, behave and interact from the spaces around us. Regardless if this is the design intention from the outset (architectural determinism) or a social science employed afterwards to understand the way we make sense of spaces, we are deeply influenced by the design of our environments.

The architecture of behaviour can range from the broad and strategic (e.g. communal areas that enable interaction & participation) to the specific and tactical (e.g. the use of gateways to create boundaries and distinguish space and identity). We get most of these cues from physical (and often static) material – mass, stone, concrete, frames, walls.

Sean Lally paints a radically different picture. I recently came across (and highly recommend) Lally’s The Air From Other Planets. Lally draws you into a series of design fictions that demonstrate how architecture isn’t limited to material, but rather can use material energy (chemical, acoustic, thermodynamic) to create bounded, perceivable spaces that provide us with the cues to understand and interact within an environment. As he puts it:

One of architecture’s primary acts is to define the spatial boundaries that organize and hold specified activities within them. The behavioral properties of the materials used to make that boundary not only influence the physical characteristics of that space (maximum height, span, aperture sizes), but also determine how the human body perceives and senses those boundary changes (opacity, transparency, acoustics), which then informs the behaviors and movements of the individuals using the space.  This definition of boundaries is one that architects have continually tested and subverted as new materials, construction methods, and social trends have emerged over the centuries.  It follows that if energy could be controlled and deployed as physical boundaries that define and organize spaces that the human body can detect and recognize, wouldn’t that be architecture?

When it comes to understanding and enabling collective intimacy in cities, re-thinking the boundaries of physical spaces can play a significant role. By manipulating dynamic material energy, new shared experiences (micro-climates?) or entirely new way of accessing or understanding privacy (isolated acoustics?) could emerge.

Beyond that, if we can push the boundaries of what constitutes the building materials of external landscapes, we can do the same with our our own internal landscapes. In making a case for the invisible, Lally  argues that “the particles, waves, and chemical interactions of energy that continually surround us…are dismissively lumped together and referred to as “air,”” and they are rarely acknowledged. In the same, way, there are information particles, data and energy that exists between people that is the backdrop to our experience within cities, and that can in some ways quantify our collective consciousness. What if instead of white noise, it becomes a material that we use more deliberately to understand and connect with each other?

Below, a few snapshots from Lally’s intriguing book – courtesy of his website.