Since the start of mankind, there has always been a role for the architect to construct and design buildings. Although from humble beginnings, they may not have operated in the capacity they do today. One of the first was Imhotep from the third kingdom of the Egyptians. Considered one of the first architects and engineers, he created the famous step pyramid that still exists to this day. He managed to create effectively, a long legacy of professionals effectively creating and designing buildings that went above and beyond, utilizing beauty, form and function.
By the middle of the renaissance period, the profession had been formalized and architects and designers began to create massive structures using techniques developed by the Greeks and Romans. Filippo Brunelleschi pioneered the use of linear perspective and using the same techniques as the Romans in the construction of the Parthenon, covered the huge empty space of the Duomo in Florence. Architecture would only become bigger and grander after this.
While the architects of yesteryear are a far cry from the amount of work and legislation of today's architects, the profession is relatively the same. To create space that people want to be in, space that modifies how people behave, act and respond. Sometimes, it elicits positive response, sometimes negative, but it's the fact that a building or space gets people talking. How we change a space can be as simple as rearranging the furniture or as large as building a new house from scratch.
Very easily, many of us have undertaken a home renovation on our own without an architect and usually this isn't much of a problem. Most renovations involve changing the cabinets in a kitchen and putting in a new counter top, painting existing cabinets and what not. But once you enter the realm of an addition or tearing down walls, that's when it starts to get a little hairy.
We consult architects to help us create space and visualize space. Architects are the ones who point people into the direction they're supposed to move. When you build a new home, there is a massive amount of paperwork that goes into construction, title 24 regulations and stuff that would normally cause a massive brain explosion (see visual)
So while the idea of paying an architect, engineer and contractor sounds like a daunting dip into your wallet, it saves you a lot of trouble in the long run as opposed to hiring a sole contractor. A contractor will build you something that is effectively space but with little form. An architect works in details, rather than having two sliding patio doors right next to each other, perhaps he/she came up with with a folding partition door that opens up the entire space. If you want space you want to be in, consider someone who is working in space and details.
When we live in a home or building, we don't think about a good many factors that may or may not be included into the design of space. Over the years, the longer we live in a space, we look at a home as merely a place where we keep our things, eat, sleep, bathe and repeat.
Whenever we give visitors directions in a city, we use certain elements to help them navigate around. "When you get to the clock tower, you want to make a right and keep going until you see a short pink building on a corner selling candies. You'll usually see a line outside so make a left there and keep driving until you see the park on the right." We do the same thing in a new house. When you have a friend over, you invariably get asked, "Hey, where's your bathroom?" and you begin a line of direction that's similar to how you give directions in a city. "Go down three doors and when you see the dresser in the hall covered in photographs, make a right and then it's the first door on your left." When you learn to live in a city, you learn to navigate it and likewise your home. When you learn your home by heart, you can easily tell anyone where to find anything.
Urban planner Kevin Lynch wrote The Image of the City in 1960 talking about three cities in particular: Los Angeles, CA, Jersey City, New Jersey and Boston, Massachusetts. Los Angeles being the modern city, Jersey City being an edge city and Boston developing from the original basis of an old world city. The five things that help define a city are Paths, Districts, Nodes, Edges and Landmarks.
Now, in the context of a city, we can understand how these five things behave, but ask yourself: "How does this even begin to apply to the design of my house and home?" So we approach each one of these to the house and home.
1. Paths - In the context of the city environment, paths are what define how we get around. From a huge arterial road to a belted green way, we communicate with the city by experiencing it on the most basic level: on foot. We can look at the home in the same way, that we cannot communicate between rooms without having to utilize paths that we create and establish through partitions and furniture.
2. Districts - We can recognize this word instantly and associate it with a neighborhood that's distinctive in it's culture, financial status, ethnic composition and architecture sometimes even. Chinatown has its distinctive style, Harlem is known for its brownstones and Lakewood for its tract homes. While on the individual home scale and level this might be a harder thing to associate, we create distinctive spaces in design. The cooking and eating area might have a theme, so might the bedroom as well as the office. It is a very rare occurrence that we ever visit someone's home and cannot find any distinctions between areas of activity.
3. Nodes - Think of a train station along a commuter line. Now, intersect where that station is with a light rail line moving perpendicularly. We can take it further, imagine radiating from this train station, a multitude of bus lines crossing it. Just one more step, let's add shops and higher density housing around it. We've just created a node. The node in the home isn't as obvious since it might not be a part of the formal architecture. We understand it as the television set we all group around, the dining table we all sit at to eat with one another, the kitchen where everyone migrates to whenever someone is cooking.
4. Edges - How we define spaces are by edges. When you enter chinatown, it becomes very obvious that we've entered a new space. From the lion gate on Grant Avenue, you've obviously entered a distinctive space from the shopping district of Union Square in San Francisco. While walls end up defining the edges of our room, an open floor plan can create little spaces by the way we arrange furniture and place little amenities. The back of a couch can serve this pretty nicely to create a little lounge area near a fireplace.
5. Landmarks - We know what a landmark is. It's something distinctive that draws our bodies over towards it. From the impressive campanile that marks the intersection of the two squares of St. Mark's in Venice to a humble fountain in someone's backyard, it's these features that draw the eye and the ear over to it. But we want to move the idea of landmark beyond that of just a television set that stimulates the eyes and ears. In the house, create a visually appetizing space: A curving staircase, a swimming pool, a fire pit, you name it.
In many ways, we can learn as much from our homes as we can from the city landscape that we situate ourselves in. Look at it closer, examine it, find what you love and how you can incorporate it into your own personal space. You can make the change today into something that will keep people talking for a lifetime.
So if you haven't noticed, we've changed up a few things here at Biggs Group architecture and we're going to start up this blog and keep all of you up to date with our projects going in and around the office. So these few days leading up to the fourth of July, we've been doing a little bit of in house cleaning (literally) with moving around a little and getting networks set up.
Here's Tom after a hectic morning of making his own CAT-5 cables and moving plotters around. At least there's a coffee in there