All architecture encapsulates space.
Space is the whole of architecture. Architecture may be described by the same coordinates used to create any three-dimensional space: height, width and depth.
There is also the dimension of time. But we will get to that later.
Imagine that you are standing in the middle of a transparent cube. Look up. There is a ceiling to the cube. Let us call this area up, lofty, spiritual, highly intellectual architecture. Look down. There is a floor to the cube. Let us call this area below as foundational, structural, solidly based architecture. In geometry this is the “Y” axis, the up and the down axis. We will refer to this movement as “The Height of Architecture”.
This may sound overly simplistic but stay with me. Things get wonderfully complex, quickly.
You are standing in the middle of the cube. Behind you is an area we will label as shallow and of-the-surface. Here, there is little depth or meaning. Ahead of you, to the far side of the cube, is an area we will consider profound, full of meaning and import. This movement from behind you, to in front of you, is the “Z” axis. This we will call “The Depth of Architecture”.
Do you clearly see yourself in this imaginary transparent cube? If not, re-read what you have just read until you find yourself standing in the middle of the cube.
There is one more physical dimension to the Space of Architecture to discuss.
Stretch out your arms. The space that runs from your left, though the center of your body through your right arm, is the “X” axis. We will term this axis the width or “The Breadth of Architecture”. The further you go to your left, the greater the social or civic connectedness and attention. The further you go to your right, the more importance given the architect’s signature, singularity or style.
We are standing inside our imaginary transparent cube. The zones above, below, behind, ahead, to our right and to our left are now labeled. We know that things up are lofty and of the intellect. We know that things down are foundational, strong and safe. We know that things behind us are shallow and meaningless and things ahead of us are profound and full of meaning. Things to our left are civic minded, created for the masses. Things to our right are single, signature creative works.
Now, think of any building or any work of architecture and bring it into the cube. Where would you place it?
Let me give you an example.
The architect is Antoni Gaudi. The photograph is of a bench in the Park Guell in Spain. Its free-form serpentine geometry is cast in concrete, covered with broken tiles, a totally outrageous artistic expression that does a specific job. It was also built between 1900 and 1914!
So where in our transparent cube do we place Park Guell?
It is a public park so would lean to the left. It is totally unique to the architect’s style however, so falls to the right. Therefore the park is placed pretty much in the center of the Breadth of Architecture. Antoni was richly unique but he also created for the masses that they might enjoy his work.
The park has stood strong for over a hundred years. It is based solidly on the architect’s knowledge and experience of structures and materials. The project was finally financed and constructed, something foundational to any work of architecture realized. We would place this work on the strong foundational floor or our cube. Except that, Antoni’s design reaches to the highest ideals of delivering ordinary people from workday drudgery to joyful play. This moves the work towards the ceiling and again, we find Park Guell best placed in the center of the Height of Architecture.
Last, we test the Depth of Architecture of Atonoi Gaudi’s Park Guell.
Is the work shallow and meaningless or does it convey deep meaning and intent?
Every building and walkway and patio inserts itself into the natural park fabric. Exquisite attention to detail mimics nature at every turn. Every design decision is impregnated with reason and meaning and yet the whole appears whimsical, filled with intrigue and happenstance, almost accidental.
The shear effort required to imagine, to draw, to direct and construct, to stay committed over fourteen years of construction, this demands that we assign this work profound meaning and intent.
In our transparent cube, we place Gaudi’s Park Guell solidly on the back wall, centered half way up.
Believe it or not, we now have the beginning of a language to communicate and compare works of architecture and architects. And this is a most powerful tool.
Oh yes, I promised we would talk about the dimension of time.
But not this time.
PS … Try the cube out. Pick a building you like or cannot stand. Evaluate it by placing it along the X, Y and Z axis in our imaginary cube, our Architectural Description Matrix.