North Eugene High School Commons (Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc): An opportunity-rich space
The following is yet another brief excerpt from the late Bill Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. In this passage he makes the case for an architecture that is free of ego and yet rich with helpful conditions that are supportive of life and experience. He wanted his students to realize that an opportunity-rich organizational structure cannot be determined simply by acts of personal expression alone. He wanted us to understand that architecture is the making of places in ways that establish lastingly significant opportunities for people.
I think that environmental supportiveness has to do with establishing opportunities for people, not determining what they should do or how they should feel. For example:
- A place that is changeable establishes opportunities for its occupants to make changes as their circumstances change. It does not cause them to do so.
- A place that is imprintable establishes opportunities for its users to imprint and perhaps to possess the place more so than they might otherwise. It does not cause them to do so.
- A place containing spatial variety establishes opportunities for its users to find support for many purposes and states of mind, but does not cause them to do so.
- A place that collects great amounts of natural light and that also has a system for controlling the light establishes opportunities for light variation.
- A place that is ever-changing because of the way it gathers in and dramatizes natural light establishes opportunities for its users to find pleasure and refreshment in that quality.
- A place that has been organized and shaped in response to its particular physical context establishes an opportunity for its occupants to become more aware of that context.
- A place that is organized so that spaces may be separated or joined establishes opportunities for its users to utilize this characteristic if and when they wish.
- A place that contains many carefully developed, clearly differentiated subspaces establishes opportunities for multiple-use, and a place that is organized to be more than just a series of unrelated subspaces establishes opportunities for even broader interpretation and use.
- A place that builds upon what had previously existed or upon memories (whether personal or archetypal) establishes opportunities for its users to find meaning (whether trivial or profound) in that historical continuity.
So it is with supportive conditions in the environment: With them nothing is determined or caused, but without them much may be lost.
Environmental designers make the stage, not the drama (and the drama is usually more important). Sometimes the stage is for a very specific kind of drama. More often, as time goes on, it must support many dramas. To be a good stage it must be full of possibilities, full of opportunities, full of evocative and helpful conditions.