by Durand Seay
Human nature for protecting our backs, discover how this drives architecture design.
|We Are Protected
There is an aspect to human nature that becomes apparent when people gather at a table in a restaurant. Some of those in the party will invariably sit facing the door. They want to see who is coming in the door or who may be approaching the table from the entrance. They recognize that there is an unsettling feeling when someone comes up from behind and enters our space. Friendly or not as those visitors may be, you feel unprepared as to knowing who it is that has tapped you on the shoulder to say hello. This instinct runs true for many applications; the restaurant is one of the best locations to describe a manifestation of our innate feelings.
So let’s say we move out into a field for a picnic. During summer months, first instinct would be to find a tree to sit beneath for shelter from the sun. It is our canopy above. The tree provides a place, our space to relax and lean against as we view the panorama. It becomes a memorable place much more so if we were out in the middle in the sun wiping away the sweat wishing you had brought the damn folding chair to sit in at least. The tree presents the most fundamental opportunity for a sense of a protected back.
Now, let’s place ourselves in a café along a street. The majority of people who will take that table will turn their attention to the street. People-watching of course is the primary initiative. That also places them with their backs to a wall quite often, studying, staring without detection. Many a café will provide a canopy above to protect the space during inclement weather. Planters placed around the perimeter, no higher than seated eye level or above the table, also define the café space. A real sense of comfort is obtained. You are protected to your back, from above, and there is a clear defined space of where you sit and pedestrians walk. The space no longer is a vast expanse of volume for us to make sure no one is watching us from all around. It is one of an intimacy for our position with an experience of security.
This same principal can also apply to a home in the design for the rear patio, porch, veranda, or loggia. In the south we have a need for multi functional areas outside for ourselves. Covered space is great to be protected from the hot sun or rain. Open, uncovered space is great for getting that sun tan next to the water feature or getting warm in the chilled spring and fall seasons. Regardless, all of these opportunities to overlook the garden’s features beyond, a defined space is the common link that makes these functions feel intimate and secure. It is that view outward, with the protected sides we will always feel more comfortable. Even if there is nothing more than a pergola to provide a structure overhead and planters to our sides, a comfort zone is defined. We can see out to the expanses of views, all framed in celebration of those beautiful azaleas.
There is one last place to reflect upon. That is the Japanese tea house. These are places defined by ritual and nature, the icons of our symbiotic connection to the earth, architecture, and to one another. You enter from a walkway of varying textures and changing directions, transitioning us to the doorway platform to remove our shoes. The head of the door is placed lower than head height. This requires a person to bow in respect to the space for which they are entering. The placement of the tea house becomes apparent as a window slides open framing the view beyond revealing the relationship to its surroundings. The window forces us to rest with it set at seated height so that there is a view to the memorable gardens. Made up of a miniaturized reflection in nature, the sight line is celebrated like that of a framed painting. Set in a defined space, a person engages and honors the desire for an intimate connection as the tea is prepared, served and enhanced by the world beyond.
With all of the places I have described, a question arises, why then are some places more memorable than others? Why do we love them so much or more than others? To answer, we enjoy the feeling of an embrace; so then architecture can do the same. It is with these places that accomplish an enduring image in our memories, like as a child being held with love by a mother, we look out to the world with a secured comfort knowing we are protected.