Sunday, December 14, 2014

Responding to Place

I’ve been a little slow on the blogging front lately as work and the holiday season’s social commitments have taken priority. Nevertheless, I do like to maintain a pace of at least one new post a week, so being able to draw upon the rich trove of Bill Kleinsasser’s writing is always a godsend. 
The following excerpts from Bill’s 1983 iteration of SYNTHESIS succinctly capture his thoughts on the importance of responding to place—achieving connection, particularity, orientation, physical continuity, and appropriateness vis-à-vis setting. 
In today’s hyper-connected world, people are increasingly failing to appreciate the characteristics that make a place special or unique. More and more, we’re losing our sense of authentic attachment and belonging to places of meaning and significance to us. Consequently, Bill’s words ring even truer today than when he wrote them more than thirty years ago. Read for yourself: 
When a building or place is made in response to the particular setting in which it is located, it established a silent, lasting definition of that setting. In its embodiment of the tangible and intangible qualities of place, it explains the place. 
A place that has been organized and shaped in response to its particular physical context establishes an opportunity to become more aware on that context. Responding to place entails analyzing the setting thoroughly in regard to the following characteristics and conditions: 
Solving Place Problems
  • Responding to weather and climate (the heat, the cold, the humidity, the dryness, the precipitation, the wind, etc.).
  • Responding to the physical character of the land (the topography, the vegetation, the drainage, the subsurface conditions, the ecological patterns).
  • Reducing scale (creating security and shelter), if appropriate.
  • Establishing appropriate separation and control.
  • Making necessary transitions.
  • Respecting the rights of others.

Developing Place Opportunities
  • Organizing spaces to let in sunlight.
  • Organizing and developing spaces to dramatize sunlight.
  • Utilizing solar and other natural energies.
  • Establishing connections to local features and phenomena.
  • Using the whole site (treating the building as one element in the making of a larger room) and going beyond the site to an even larger room by:
    • Reinforcing a larger order by continuing or completing an existing pattern or structure;
    • Reinforcing a larger order by augmenting the collective life space—that is, improving or adding to the spaces, paths, services, institutions or other facilities needed by those who will occupy the space, including those nearby;     
    • Embodying and expressing the essential spirit of the place, reflecting in the way the new construct is made the unique and distinguishing qualities of the place; and finally:
    • Diagramming important place-response ideas so that they may be fully understood and not forgotten as other objectives are considered.

Through its embodiment and expression of its setting, any built-place has the capacity to establish connections. By being of its setting through its designer’s response, a built-place can both define and dramatize that setting, including the processes occurring there, people and their values, and even moments in time. And we need to sense the connections between ourselves and all things—how we belong to each other and to the world—for, as we do so, we expand not only our experience but also our conception of reality and life. We enlarge our image banks and frames of reference. We grow in our ability to make a better world.


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