The following is a series of excerpts from T. William (“Bill”) Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. As I mentioned previously, Bill was one of the best teachers I ever had. Bill taught his students to understand the essential concerns of architecture, to design richly appropriate surroundings for people that measure up to the best we can imagine and hope for. Architects, he argued, should focus upon making beautiful places that invite people to be beautiful. He emphasized making places that are so clear, so rich, and so right that they genuinely symbolize our most strongly felt concerns about architecture. He urged us to work long and hard to develop ideas to levels that were extraordinary.(1)
Bill knew human purposes and circumstances would always be too diverse and unpredictable to be accommodated well by places that cannot be adjusted to suit peoples’ changing needs. With this selection of passages from various iterations of Synthesis, he addressed establishing longevity, the importance of places being able to accept and even invite change over time:
Opportunity-Rich StructureThe need for diversity and choice in the built environment comes from the inevitable collision between the relative permanence of what is built and changing circumstances. Activities, purposes, and people all change. Sometimes the changes are minor; sometimes they erode the very foundation of what has been built. Because of this, the built environment must be able to flex.
The best places do this without losing the ability to evoke and inspire. By providing open, opportunity-rich structure—structure that offers many possibilities and many suggestive cues—they sustain both their usefulness and their meaning over time. (WK/1988)
ActionsSpatial qualities and opportunities that offer more than what is required by first users and first uses make places that will remain useful and meaningful over time by:
- Providing generous support to activities and purposes. This will cause the place to be more than just basically useful.
- Recognizing and supporting the full family of activities implicit in and brought to life by the building program and the needs/desires of first users (all places attract more uses than were initially anticipated but some activity families are especially active this way).
- Developing spatial structure that is precisely-general; that is structure that is accommodating and evocative without being one-sided or limiting, open-ended in its possibilities without being barren or undeveloped.
- Establishing spatial variety and ranges of spatial opportunity; for example: large/small, public/private, inside/outside, fixed-use/multi-use, edge/internal, stop-in/pass through, changeable/fixed, etc.
- Developing the full potential of in-between, residual, or left-over spaces (they may join or separate adjacent spaces, provide necessary transition, define or clarify adjacent spaces, address or form a larger outside space, accommodate spontaneous use, provide opportunity for interaction, provide opportunity to pause without invading or intruding, provide opportunity for retreat, provide opportunity for detached participation)
- Establishing opportunities for imprinting by:
- Establishing spatial choices and the opportunity to combine and recombine those choice
- Making an abundance of space—extra room (and equipment)
- Making spatial proportions that allow and suggest multiple use
- Making ample and varied storage space
- Making moveable parts
- Making thick walls, niches, corners, bays, deep sills
- Establishing control of visual connections
- Establishing control of sound, ventilation, temperature, and sunlight
- Providing soft, dark, tough surfaces (for nailing, tacking, gluing)
- Developing ways for people to participate in design and construction
- Establishing opportunities for interaction with other people, with ideas, and with events by:
- Extending the public domain (making more facilities and places to share)
- Grouping facilities, services, institutions, and spaces so that they reinforce one another
- Providing physical conditions in spaces so that people will find it easy to pause and to stay there, especially in spaces they will be anyway (entries, stairways, intersections, courtyards, sunny places and shady places, edges and in-between spaces)
- Making paths that overlap
- Establishing opportunities for vicarious experience through detached participation
- Easing entry (reducing anticipated risk) by establishing preview, slow-reveal, messages about what is ahead. and stages in the entry transition to allow gradual commitment
- Establishing opportunities for retreat by:
- Giving retreat spaces enough definition so that they can be recognized as such
- Giving them enough subtlety of definition so that they may be discovered, shaped, and reshaped by users
- Making small places that are bounded, that overlook, that are up-against, that are inside, etc. places that feel defensible and safe
- Making places that can be opened and closed, that are adjustable and controllable regarding the extent to which they are separated from other places
- Making places that are well connected to surrounding phenomena (places that do not feel isolated and out of touch)
- Making places that are secure yet dramatically juxtaposed to what is around (aediculated places)
- Making many places for retreat; that is, a pervasive fabric of opportunities for retreat
- Diagramming important longevity-related ideas so that they may be fully understood and not forgotten as other objectives are considered. (WK/1983)
A built place may contain many places to be if it has large spaces as well as small, private spaces as well as public, edge spaces as well as internal, changeable spaces as well as fixed, dark spaces as well as light, low spaces as well as high, plain spaces as well as elaborate. Consideration of dualities such as these may be used as a way to generate ranges of opportunity in built places. Such considerations, along with normal ones, may lead to added richness in a spatial framework and thus added choice, adaptability, and meaning. (WK/1985)
PostsOnce the designer has made a box or envelope, he must choose the clues to put in it, for the box offers little in itself except perhaps a boundary. A box is not a free place in which anyone can set up patterns of use and meaning, at least not easily. It is paralyzing because anything is possible: there are no points of reference, no ways to begin. Posts are needed—points of departure. Then there would be things to look around and beyond, to be next to and between. The imagination would thus be triggered and the act of possessing begun.
The architect’s responsibility then is to develop a good set of posts in the box—suggestions that can be considered or ignored, suggestions that hold many possibilities, suggestions that can be interpreted many ways. But they must be just that: suggestions. There must be a sort of mystery, a sense that something is not said. If all the answers are immediate, there can be no seeking. Let each person search for and find his own answers and patterns of use. Let the place be tantalizingly incomplete, even a little obscure. Leave multiplicity of meaning. (WK/1980)
(1) Bill’s audience was primarily limited to his students and Synthesis would never be widely published. Bill passed away in 2010; my fear since then is that his legacy will be lost to time. Therefore, I’m making it a point to occasionally feature Bill’s writings here on my blog.