Frederick Gibson + Associates Architecture
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 ON PERCEPTION

22 November, 1996 - Email submittal by Kiran Keswani - Glucksburg, Germany

How do we experience Architecture?

What is it that we mean when we say the architecture of the city or the
urban fabric or the planning of the city?

What are cities planned to be?

Why should we plan anything?

When we plan ahead, we perhaps have a goal in mind.

What is this goal, for architects, urban designers and city planners?

The Louvre
Stepping up and stepping down
From one gallery to another.

Their goal is to make environments in which man can live in ways better than he could in the early times when shelter meant only a roof over ones head, or when taking shelter meant seeking protection inside a cave or getting under the tree cover. Man sought to improve his living conditions. He sought shelter that was more comfortable than the one he had before.

Eiffel Tower
From caves and trees, man moved to wattle and daub huts and animal skin tents. Constantly striving towards improvisation to suit his changing needs, he has today, shelter in the form of buildings in brick and concrete, that he has named architecture; gardens and public plazas where he spends his leisure time, these along with the buildings and the spaces between, he calls urban fabric. There are road networks, that link buildings to each other, buildings to public plazas, that link living areas to work areas, or living areas to educational areas, that link living areas to shopping areas.
Man has first fragmented his lifestyle and living spaces, then attempted to join it with roads. What he fragments, often stays fragmented forever. Life for him is still a series of experiences which he sometimes can see as a whole but often not. What was once upon a time harmonious living, is divided up into neat compartments with supposedly greater efficiency. Today, we have intelligent buildings that have automated functions. But, what is the sequence of experiences one can have within these buildings? Does that matter or not at all? Are they experiences that satisfy human nature or is it a contrived environment that is far removed from the real world?
Eiffel Tower

Do experiences generated by this new architecture, by this new urban design, by this new city planning still inspire man to think and to feel? Does it make him grow, or does it strangulate his sense of being?

As an architect or urban designer, must one know all about space and form and structure and nothing about life's experiences, about feeling, about nature? How does an architect or urban designer know about all of life's experiences? Is it possible for one man to know so much about life and what it has to offer, that he can design for the rest of mankind? We live our lives through our daily experiences. Each of us gathers a new set of experiences every day that are different from those of another of our fellow beings. What we are is an outcome of the experiences we have had. And, what I am, decides what I do.

La Maison Roche
My needs are based on my experiences in life. How am I to know what the needs are of all the people on this earth? Must not the people, all of them, think sometimes about the links between the spaces we design for them and how these affect their lives? Why should people accept what architects give them? Does an architect know so much about life to take all decisions about living environments on his own?

Before asking people to share their experiences, I begin to think about the experiences within different environments that I have had in recent times. How do my surroundings affect me? What are the thought patterns that these environments generate? There are images reproduced here in the form of sketches, that my mind captured, at the plaza, on the
street, within a building, on the train or in the cathedral.

Sometimes, of the human senses, it is the eyes that over-ride the others. While the eyes see, visual images form in the mind. These images come together. The mind derives meaning in their coming together. This meaning takes the form of thought. So, a thought occurs. It is followed by another thought. Visual images are the unbiased pictures seen through the viewfinder of the eye's camera. Thought patterns arise but are completely individualistic. No two minds can have the same sequence of thoughts, although the visual imagery registered in their minds could be the same.
La Maison Roche

Experiences in life make us think the way we do. Although two people could see the same things at the same time, they might not always do so. If I walk through a busy street, I see and remember. I walked through the street with you. What I saw is different from what you did. We walk towards the Eiffel Tower. I see the caricaturists on my right. You enjoy the river Seine on your left. I feel the arch above us, that holds the bridge. You see the ornament on the bridge. We walk to the Pompidou centre. I see the pipes and railings. You see the people on the escalators.

The Louvre
If you see the river Seine, you may also see the caricaturists the next moment. If you see the ornament on the bridge, you may also soon feel the arch above us. If you see people on the Pompidou escalators, you may not miss the pipes and railings. Time is a dimension to be considered too, is it not? Whilst walking, what might be within the range of vision one moment, might not be, in the next. If you don't feel the arch above us at this moment, in the next moment, we are not below the arch anymore. Experiences are linked with time, aren't they? Especially it is, when two people walk along a street, you experience in one moment the ornament on the bridge, and I, the arch above. In the next moment, you cant feel the arch and I cant see the ornament. It was only for the moment and that moment is now gone.

So, architectural experiences and experiences through cities are related to time. They result in the formation of both visual images and thought patterns. When we share our differing experiences with each other, we perhaps understand nature and spaces better. A sharing of such experiences may bring about a more meaningful approach towards the design of our environment. I would like to share here some of my own.

It was not really my intention to write poems on architecture. These are observations on the built environment that I put down in the manner that came most naturally, as a stream of thoughts, sometimes disconnected. I think we must sometimes accept the fact that our cities cannot be based on rigid plans because our experiences of life are seldom so neatly or strictly planned. This is not to say that I believe that we need not plan our cities. I think we very much ought to, but in a way that can allow for linear as well as random happenings.
Eiffel Tower

For example, in India, there is a lot that is fragmented and that comes together randomly to form a whole which is so much more rich in nature than a putting together in an orderly fashion, of uniform, standardized parts. My own concern for evolving an urban fabric that is more responsive to our changing needs has driven me to put down my thoughts in this random but natural manner. We must know if the design processes we employ are the same as the thought processes we undergo whilst experiencing these urban spaces that we design. We must know, is it not, which experiences we enjoy the most, how these experiences may come about and if the urban designer must play a role in making these happen, where must he begin?

Click on an image for an enlargement and accompanying poem.

Eiffel Tower
Viewing the form
Above the riveting,
the nuts and bolts.
Eiffel Tower
The fine detail of the steps
Sitting in the centre,
against railing.
Eiffel Tower
Each step up, you are
Into the structure more and more.
La Maison Roche
Then, the opening at the head of the stairs
Looking into the space below.
La Maison Roche
A bridge across space
No feeling of enclosure.
The Louvre
Stepping up and stepping down
From one gallery to another.
The Louvre
Space and movement
Space and people.
The Louvre
The silent, grim faces behind the information counter
Why so grim, in this happy light?
The Louvre
In the rear courtyard
To rest, to wait, to think.
Before The Louvre
The spray of the fountain
Offering itself to all.
The Notre Dame Cathedral
Guides and their tourists
Finding their way in this cathedral.
Paris
The glimpse of the river
Before we come to the bridge
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
1995-2010 by Frederick Gibson + Associates Architecture, San Francisco, California
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