Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life Space

The following is yet another excerpt from one of the many iterations of the late Bill Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. This selection dates back to 1970, and is perhaps his most unequivocal definition of experientially supportive design. Regardless, it only hints at the potential to create architecture that is stimulating, rich with diversity and choice, and full of opportunity. 

Bill struggled to successfully convey to his students the fundamental importance of how the buildings architects create are actually used and experienced; we were too easily distracted by the aesthetic and philosophical trends and fads of the period. Unfortunately, even today our profession is still too often beguiled by the latest shiny offerings from self-appointed taste makers. This is why returning to the basic principles that guide what architects do is important. Bill wanted us to always remember who it was we designed for and how the quality of the life spaces we designed for them support and enrich their lives. 

As a generative consideration frame for the design and analysis of the environment, LIFE SPACE is best defined as follows:

The precise network of facilities and spatial qualities needed to provide the opportunities and supports that people must continually have to be able to realize their full potential as alive human beings.

Each person's LIFE SPACE is a continuum and is part of a continuum. People's experience in the environment is continuous. Experientially at least, places do not exist as isolated units apart from other places; therefore, experiential support must exist in as much of the environment as possible, not just in some parts of it. Any specific LIFE SPACE must encompass at least some of the following scales:
  • Personal living spaces: These include the inside of places of habitation (the most personal and private parts), together with spaces immediately outside which extend to varying degrees into the surrounding spaces.
  • Intermediate places or rooms: These include all those frequently traveled paths, places, or sets of places that may not fit into the personal category but which are nevertheless important because people may usually spend much time there.
  • Territory: This includes all frequently visited or frequently used places. It changes with time and varies according to time. For example, a person’s territory for one week will probably include fewer places and less space that the same person’s territory for one month or one year, etc. Also, one’s territory for one period of time may not be the same for another period of time. 
LIFE SPACE includes much more than places of habitation. A fine house, if set in a desert, would be an impoverished life space for most people most of the time. On the other hand, a modest house together with a diverse, facility-rich, and accessible place would be a reasonably supportive life space for most people. It is clear any specific LIFE SPACE must include: 
  • The facilities, services, equipment, and dimensional relationships that may be needed for the physical, psychological, social, and cultural well-being of the people involved. This means that there must be a precise arrangement of transportation and communication support, medical care facilities, shops, places for meetings and social contact, play spaces, places for intellectual pursuit, places for wandering and solitude, places for wondering and contemplation, places for rest, places that are completely personal, places shared, etc. 
  • Inasmuch as this part of LIFE SPACE involves “what” and “where” (but not “how”) it is possible to diagram it. Any specific diagram would show: places of habitation, required facilities, frequency of facility use, required facility grouping, required maximum distance from facilities to place of habitation, and path systems used most frequently. The diagram would need to be changed as circumstances change. It could emphasize one scale or all LIFE SPACE scales. It would identify critical areas for design; that is, those places and paths that are of special importance because people will be there very often. A diagram could be for one individual, it could be a composite diagram (overlapping many individuals), or it could be a group diagram (showing requirements for groups rather than individuals).
While the facilities, services, and relational characteristics of LIFE SPACE provide certain kinds of support, they alone do not ensure an experientially supportive environment. Each specific LIFE SPACE must also embody many relatively intangible or immeasurable structural qualities if it is to be personally meaningful for those who inhabit it. An experientially supportive environment implies by definition a place (places) that people will find good and right in the broadest sense. An experientially supportive environment will be challenging and stimulating, understandable, meaningful on many levels over time, full of opportunities for spontaneous involvement and innovative use, full of diversity and choice. 

It is clear that LIFE SPACE for one person is not necessarily the same as that for someone else. Because of the many variables in life circumstances, the same place may be experientially supportive for one person and unsupportive for another; or supportive at one time and not at another. 

It is also clear that a person’s LIFE SPACE must change as that person’s circumstances change. As a person exists in time, that person will become a new person many times over and consequently will need many LIFE SPACES. If that person stays in one place, that place will have to provide many different LIFE SPACES. 

These last observations suggest the need for many LIFE SPACES that coexist and physically overlap. In other words, whether because of the simultaneous presence of many people or because of changes that occur constantly, an experientially supportive environment must be tightly packed with diversified opportunities and supports. 

Finally, it is clear that the description of LIFE SPACES for individuals and groups will identify both the particular and the shared experiential supports needed by those people. This description of needed supports constitutes a criteria base that can be useful in several ways: 
  • To make comprehensive and detailed analyses of existing environmental quality, identifying both desirable and undesirable characteristics. Such analyses will allow us to determine definitively when an existing place is superior to a proposed new one. 
  • To make comprehensive and detailed evaluations of proposed projects in advance of their construction. Evaluation of proposed developments using this criteria base will show up narrowly conceived and unsupportive characteristics. 
  • To generate new design proposals. The extensive criteria base which can be developed from analyses of LIFE SPACE will suggest not only many design ideas but areas for design and the need to be involved in many environmental scales simultaneously. At first, when little experience with this criteria base exists, design ideas will develop slowly but as experience accumulates the criteria base will become better understood and more ideas will come. These in turn will tend to both clarify the criteria base and expand it. Soon it will be possible to begin designing with a comprehensive and precious awareness of experiential considerations for any environmental situation. 

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