To Investigate Importance Of Physical Architecture

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The essay aims to investigate importance of physical and non spatial aspects and their interrelation thru series of explorations and understanding by case studies (Old market square Nottingham and St John churchyard Hackney) with theoretical arguments .At the end paper would find out validity of selected theoretical arguments about the physical and non physical aspects. Further the interrelation of the of these aspects will explored .The selected cased studies are Market square Nottingham and St John churchyard, Hackney, London.

'Many designers and architects regard public space as the publicly owned empty bits between buildings. Many of these spaces are useless or dangerous and abandoned, with the result that 'this renders their definition as public space null and void (Worpole and Greenhalgh, 1996)

This essay also opposes the generic way of thinking of planning and designing of the open spaces considering only physical attributes of design. This essay also advocates altogether different perspective for considering the open space and not the stereotype notion of aesthetic, beautification, breathing space, or lungs space.

'The parks are volatile spaces and tend to runs to the extremes of popularity and unpopularity' (Jane Jacob 1960).

Open space is fluid entity and quiet unpredictable in many ways, and have much more significance than mere breathing space or lung space or just to satisfy the open space norm set by the town planning or development control regulation.

'There are far too many sterile plazas and windswept corners that are spaces left over from another function (such as traffic circulation or natural lighting requirements for tall buildings).This phenomenon is Sometimes referred to as 'SLOAP' - space left over after planning'. (Henry Shaftoe 2008)

Open space planning and designing inherently critical compared to other building or land uses this has lowest degree of the spatial innervations but can be extremely vulnerable if not properly thought.

This essay arranged to flow from the theoretical to practical. Attempts to uncover the aspects that constitute public spaces.

1.2 Defining and understanding Open space

Open space has different interpretation for designer and architect and the end-users.

The town and country planning act defines it as 'land laid out as a public garden, or used for the purposes of public recreation, or land which is a disused burial ground'. This definition is result of academic or what town planner & architect feels about the public space as public garden or space for recreation cannot defines holistically.

Conversely Gehl defined the open space on the basis of the activity patterns and more users centric.

'An arena allows for different types of activities encompassing necessary, optional, and social actives' (Gehl 1987).

However Walzer's definition is more inclusive and having social dimension, he says Public space is space where we share with strangers, People who aren't our relatives, friends or work associates. It is space for politics, religion, commerce, sport; space for peaceful coexistence and impersonal encounter. Its character expresses and also conditions our public life, civic culture, everyday discourse Walzer (1986)

The above interpretation gives different virtues of the open space and establishes importance of it.

Chapter 2. Discussion of Theories and Principles

This chapter would deals about arguments of the spatial and non spatial aspects of the public space. Kavin lynch's theory about the visual aspects of the visual aspects of the cityscapes ease with which its parts can be recognized and can be arranged in to coherent pattern (Lynch 1960).

However Henry Shaftoe argues 'People want coherence and a sense of safety in public spaces, but they don't want blandness '(Kaplan and Kaplan 1989, Marsh 1990). I would say place making should consider both aspects as they are equally contribute for making the place social sustainable. I would like to substantiate with Rasmussen argument who says 'It is not enough to see architecture; you must experience it' (Rasmussen 1959)

'Sensuous requirements may coincide or conflict with other demands but cannot be separated from them in designing or judging, nor are they 'impractical' or merely decorative, or even nobler than other concerns. Sensing is indispensable to being alive'. (Lynch 1971p189)

Lynch arguments are pro aesthetic or pro physical development but according to him the physical setting is strong enough to create the sense of the place. Other commentator differs with Lynch

'If our understanding is limited to a visual understanding, we only concentrate on shapes. If, however, we go beyond appearances, we start a spatial understanding, a three dimensional experience. We can enter this space, rather than just see it. The same applies to the design of spaces. We do not create mere appearances but spaces that we can use for different purposes'. (Madanipour 1996 p99).

The project for public space has put forward Ten Principles for Creating Successful Squares.

However it would be difficult to apply this principle universally as said earlier Open space is fluid entity and is affected by socio- economy, politics, and demography and other social ills or good qualities. Generalised approach for planning and designing open space may not work as the open space is unique in many ways. Further Ali Midanapour expressed concern over designing without understanding the reality. 'This view of design, as an elitist, artistic enterprise which has no relationship to the real, daily problems of large sections of urban societies, has led to the reduction of urban design to a visual activity' (Ali Midanapour 1997).

Similar to above argument Henry Shaftoe stress on the psychological dimension /non spatial dimension of the open space

'Public spaces serve a number of practical functions, being places for trading, meeting, conversing, resting and so on. Yet there is an additional dimension to public space - it can fulfil certain psychological needs as well as purely physical ones. By 'psychology' in this context, I mean anything that affects our behaviour or feelings. (Henry Shaftoe 2008)

From the above discussion one may sense that there something more than physical dimension, which makes public space socially sustainable space. As space is an enclosing element and it encloses the activity. Activity is not necessarily being only physical enclosure centric.

Chapter 3. The Research Question

'Do only aesthetically satisfying public space can form the socially sustainable spaces'?

The research question would explore the interrelation of the non spatial dimension with spatial one in designing of the open space. Underpinnings and principles of the making successful spaces would be tested on the real-time case studies to validate the arguments. The testing of the theoretical hypotheses may give us the existence of the non design aspects and their importance.

The question also explores how designed public spaces matched to the cross section of the society.

3.1 Framework for investigation.

Since the research question demands explorations qualitative and quantitative aspects. The important virtue of the case study would be visual survey, thru which I would investigate the both physical and non physical aspect of the case study. 'Only through endless walking can the designer absorb into his being the true scale of urban spaces' (Edmund Bacon 1975). The recognisance survey would be distributed over weekends weekdays and different period of a day. Further the case study would investigate the qualitative aspect of the survey through people perception survey. The investigation of non spatial aspects would be done by Reconnaissance survey and the Study of occupancy in different period of week and different period of day. Also examines the occupancy in festive and non festive season.

Non spatial aspects would be done by semi structured interviews with end-users to know what they feel about public space what is lacking. What is the factors attraction or repulsion to the open space? Their aspirations about the open space. Due to limitation of the academic paper the sample of size of the case studies would be small. However the series of visual exploration and reconnaissance survey would bridge the gap.

3.2 Case studies

The case studies for the testing are Nottingham old market square and St. John church green. Idea of selecting these case studies is they share similarities in many ways , some of them are postulated below.

  • Surrounded busy commercial area.
  • Central location of the city and area i.e. east London.
  • Heritage structures around like church and St.Augustine tower in terms of Hackney, town hall and Municipal council office.
  • Areas offer Transport connectivity to the rest of the city or area.

Nottingham Old market Square

Area of the old market square is 4,400m2, quiet geometrical (i.e. inner square roughly 100 x44 m ) . The raw topography of the original medieval square is exploited in the design by gradual levels for wheel chair users and for drainage flow. The council house forms the edge of the northern edge of the market square

Figure 1 The sketch showing the solid and void area of the market square The enclosure of the market square is formed by building around. Inner Square is bounded by the commercial, establishment's cafes, eateries and branded supermarkets via Debenhams. Outer ring of the pedestrianised on North and east side part of the Square.

Strategically located in the heart city commercial area the building has utilised almost 100% of the plot are. The area around the market square represents fine grained development.

3.3 Case study no-1 The St John Church Yard -Hackney London

Area of the public space - 3.83 ha.

The St John Church Yard -Hackney London is prominent pubic space in Hackney central. A mixture of different spaces, the gardens provide a formal setting for the church and Clapton Square to the north. The public space is isolated from the from the busy Mare street.

From portion majorly utilised for the passive recreation and rear areas constitutes the children play area. The St. John Church and St. Augustine tower is major landmark of the area helps in navigating pedestrian traffic.

3.4 Discussion of case studies inferences and theory 3.4.1 Amenities-

'A square should feature amenities that make it comfortable for people to use .A bench or waste receptacle in just the right location can make a big difference in how people choose to use a place' ( 2009).

However Urbanist William H. Whyte's suggested more 'flexible approach' according to him 'in public spaces, people prefer movable chairs to fixed seating. People like to control their own space, and movable chairs allow them to do just that. Movable chairs let people face one another and interact in different ways.' (

This suggests that designing the open spaces should be considering psyche of larger section of the society and not just what landscape designer's wish. According to H. Whyte keeping the scattered would sends a message of trust that people will not steal them. Conversely, since the open space is affected by the society ills and vice versa, this also cannot be generalised principle.

3.4.2 Seasonal Strategy - Is programme is overpowering than space?

'Successful Square can't flourish with just one design or management strategy'. ( 2009). This argument is quiet valid in many ways, public needs to change or adapt as per the seasons. In absence of the seasonal strategy may result underutilisation of the space in certain period of year. The seasonal strategy is well demonstrated in Old market square Nottingham.

Figure 6 Shows the wheel of Nottingham generally opens from February to end of April.


Figure 5 Shows the ice skating arena and German market is main attraction in the winter. During Christmas the space is filled with activities and peoples.

The seasonal strategy is programme that is implemented. The seasonal strategies not only make the best utilisation but also generate activities throughout the year .Further makes space more economically sustainable and can be managed well.

This principle can be supported with Henry shaftoe's argument, he says 'As a species we are sociable animals who like to gather in groups or packs. Thus, when we see people like us lingering in a space, we are attracted to it, over and above any physical or environmental attractions that the place may have'. (Henry Shaftoe 2008)

On the other hand the Hackney doesn't demonstrate as stronger seasonal strategy or programme. Therefore ST.John churchyard isn't able generate activities to attract the people. Even if Hackney church yard has appealing landscaping, the heritage structure Church and St. Augustine tower, vicinity to the busy market street and strategic positing.

However the programming limited for the certain period of time of day but he area around the market square is primarily commercial so this area becomes dull and inactive so leads to less perception of safety .

3.4.3 Flexibility and Adaptability

'The use of a square changes during the course of the day, week, and year. To respond to these natural fluctuations, flexibility needs to be built in. Instead of a permanent stage, for example, a retractable or temporary stage could be used. Likewise, it is important to have on-site storage for movable chairs, tables, umbrellas, and games so they can be used at a moment's notice'. ( 2009).

The principal of flexibility and adaptability can been seen in the old market square. The water feature of the old market square is 1.8 m water fall, rills and 53 jets and a scrim, arranged as terraces. This water feature can be turned off and used as stages or temporary viewing areas. Five listed lanterns and two flag poles have also been refurbished and integrated into the new scheme.

3.4.4 People attracting people or guiding physical attributes of public space

'Any great square has a variety of smaller "places" within it to appeal to various people. These can include outdoor cafés, fountains, and sculpture, ...(

However Henry shaftoe argues 'As a species we are sociable animals who like to gather in groups or packs. Thus, when we see people like us lingering in a space, we are attracted to it, over and above any physical or environmental attractions that the Place may have. (Sahftoe Henry).

If we test above the arguments on St. John churchyard, Hackney, Henry Shaftoe's argument is holds validity. Because St. John churchyard has quiet attracting physical attributes such as St John church, Saint Augustine tower but still fails to attract peoples. Similarly in survey one of the interviewee said, he follows the crowd for using the space. This may because more number of people gives perception of safety and for many users sense community is much more important than the physical appearance of the setting.

3.4.5 Interrelation of the Inner Square, Outer Square, and Series of Small Squares

'Visionary park planner Frederick Law Olmsted's idea of the "inner park" and the "outer park" is just as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago. The streets and sidewalks around a square greatly affect its accessibility and use, as do the buildings that surround it'. ( 2009)

This principle is quiet right and can be seen in the Old market square as the street on the northern and eastern side are completely pedestranised with active frontage facing towards the square. It provides surveillance and also increases its occupancy. Further Henry Shaftoe adds new dimension of series of squares.

'Some of the most enjoyable public spaces are those that consist of a series of squares connected by short pedestrian routes, so that one can wander through a series of Unfurling tableaux.' (Henry Shaftoe 2008 page number 80) This hypothesis is valid in terms of market square as shown in plan the Old market square is surrounded by series of smaller squares of the size (refer fig no xxxxxx).

Figure 6 the sketch showing small public spaces around the Old market squares shown in blue. the smaller public spaces around the market squares makes people to flow into the old market square

Further the evidence of interrelation of spatial character, scale and proportion are derived from how human perceive it. Kavin lynch has put forward some dimension of the outdoor squares based on how we experience the outdoor space.

"We can detect human being from the distance of 1200 m, recognise him at 25 m see his facial expression at 14 m, and feel him in direct relation to us -present or intrusive -at 1-3 meter." (kavin lynch 1 Gary Hack2 1971) further he says the dimension 12 are intimate and up to 25 meter is still an easy for human scale

This hypotheses are valid in the in the smaller squares near to the Market squares viz near to the express holiday in western side. (17 Wide) And second square (as shown in phtoxxx in) northern side 9 near to the, pizza hut etc which is 28 meter (measured from

3.4.6 Natural elements

The natural element are also significant contributor in the in enhancing the experience of the space.

'The feel of the warm breeze, or a sudden chill Draft, the sound of wind through the trees, or gusts of blown autumn leaves waken the passerby to the present moment. These intense experiences of change or difference in nature - especially those that are particularly enjoyable - may provoke shared expressions of delight and pleasure'. (Lennard and Lennard1995 p39)

In reconnaissance survey and the semi structured interview uncovers the natural elements such as the light and shade of trees, thick green grass ,sound of water adds up to the experience of space, so the park is not remain mere physical entity it turns in to experience. And experience of the space makes users to visit again and again.

1.1 Summary of findings, conclusions

In light of the case studies and the arguments of different authors it points out towards our experience of the place is combination of all senses not just visual. This hypothesis forms the outline of the aesthetic and environmental psychology. There are many factors such as right scale enclosures sense of intrigue, ease of understanding, neither claustrophobic nor agoraphobic etc many of these factors interact in very harmonious manner.

The aesthetics dominates desires thinking in many ways for the simple reason it is they are visually appealing , therefore designers approach is aesthetic centric and tends to overlook the non spatial aspects such the noise, smell ,touch, sense of place

The open space phenomenon in the typically urban context is really fluid and dynamic. In my opinion treating the open space more carefully and not just left over or breathing or lungs space or just attractive open space, it much more than that. As architect we should not impose personalised thinking on the open space as end users are one who makes it successful. The physical enclosure of public space is one that starts the interaction and non design aspects are also acting as catalyst to form socially sustainable space.

The essay limitation being academic study and explore more by increasing sample size and also time limitation. Reconnaissance survey and user's perception survey with bigger sample size and including representative of cross section of society i.e. based on age group ethnicity, physically handicapped etc distributed over the year.

We may not arrive at definite solutions or exact configuration of what open space should or should not have but designing of open space keeping users psyche in foreground would definitely give the clues for designing the socially sustainable open spaces

Safety and Regulation of usage of space

Putting things together after every chapter

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  • Andrew M. Manshel. (2009). A Place Is Better Than a Plan. Available: Last accessed 1 January 2010.
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  • Walzer, M. (1986) 'Public Space: Pleasures and Costs of Urbanity', Dissent 33, 4:470-475.
  • Rasmussen S.E (1959). Experiencing Architecture. London: Chapman and Hall. p 33.
  • Madanipour, A. (1997). 'Ambiguities of Urban Design', Town Planning Review. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. p 363-367.
  • Gallacher P (2005) Everyday Spaces: The potential of neighbourhood space. Thomas Telford, LondonEdmund Bacon 1975
  • (Lennard and Lennard1995 p39 Carmel, CA: Gondolier Press, ©1995)

Article name: To Investigate Importance Of Physical Architecture essay, research paper, dissertation