It is well documented that our environment influences our behavior. As a School Principal, I often heard parents remark about how their children respond differently to being in school that they do to being at home. Creating the right atmosphere is why, despite being given a sterile impersonal room made from block and ceiling tiles, teachers bring in rocking chairs, hang artwork and post a cacophony of positive images, varied interests to create a warm child centered classroom promoting learning. In fact, parents know which classrooms they want their children in by simply walking down the halls and looking in the classrooms to see how the teacher has manipulated the space to create an inviting atmosphere for learning.
To demonstrate effective shaping of space you can see how this entry pergola visually separates the private space of the interior courtyard from the public space of the driveway. There are two entries through it, one of which is sized to human proportions and defined with a footpath to welcome visitors and direct them to the front door. The other is sized for vehicular traffic.
In the city, we walk on hard concrete sidewalks dwarfted by towering buildings, never making eye contact or speaking with the people we pass. There is such an environmental load of welcome sensory stimuli that we should shield ourselves from straying and try to limit our exposure. In Muskoka, embraced by nature, we wave to every boat we pass and chat with the people behind us as we wait to go through the locks in Port Carling. How does simply walking into the volumous expanse of a cathedral affect our behavior?
Knowing the effect our environment has on us, it behooves us to understand how to manipulate the environments in our homes and cottages to make them conductive to the life we live there and activities planned for each space. Well crafted architecture is good for both our physical and spiritual well being.
Not all space is created equally. Space can be broken up and shaped in a variety of ways, some of which feel awkward, and some which feel just right.
We recently took clients to see two cottages that had almost identical square footages. They remarked that one cottage seemed so cavernous, just too large, while the other was so cosy and interesting. How could two almost identically sized spaces seem so different?
The answer lies in the volume created, the shapes devised, the spatial devices employed, and the materials used to mold and visually alter the space. The field of environmental psychology, established first in the 1970’s, helps to explain how our domestic world influences our inner world. Atmosphere is the environmental influence on our behavior, and atmosphere is created by a series of factors, the primary ones being scale and proportion.
Scale is a relative term. The scale of something can only be understood in relation to something else. Moving from a small space into a larger space, you make the comparison in your mind and feel the relative spaciousness of the larger area.
In architecture, we need to concern ourselves with human scale. This means that the measurements of the body are used as a grammar dictating the measurements used when creating a building. Designing to human scale creates a structure that humans can physically and visually relate to. Windows are at the right height for humans to views the outdoors, door handles are at the right height to be opened easily and counter tops are at the height to be ergonomically attuned to the human body.
The proportions of the human body are also used to create a space which The Golden Mean, a set of proportions discovered by the ancient Greeks which are based on the human body. When these proportions are used in domestic architecture they create a comfort and an atmosphere of things looking and feeling just right. The Golden Mean is approximately 1.6180339887.
Scale makes the difference between a room that is more appropriate as a public space and one that is feels right as a private space. A room that is designed to have numerous people in it has to be larger in scale and have more volume, while a private space need to be make cosy by reduced volume.
Architects sometimes make us of very high ceilings in an entry way to make visitors feel small and hence make them immediately impressed with the grandeur of the building. Architects use the strategy of increased volume creating and intimidating sense of grandeur in entryways with soaring double height ceilings. Manipulating the scale and proportion of your home or cottage enables you to achieve the atmosphere you desire.
The items within a room would usually be in proportion to the overall scale of the space. Ten foot doors would look ridiculous in a room that does not have sufficient scale to hold them, while regular eight foot doors can appear too small in a spacious great room with twelve foot or higher ceilings.
In the next articles the prospect and refuge in your home whether it is new construction or the existing structure will be explored.