Published on the 1st of August, 2018
Our protagonist is brought to life and opens her senses to the world around her. Her eyes are the first to notice her surroundings, all she sees is “white”. She wakes up to a complete blank canvas of milky whiteness. She scans her proximities and explores the endless sea of white. Looking down at herself, she starts to comprehend her human body and notices her feet – she begins to understand that she is a movable body with controllable limbs. She wiggles her toes and notices that she is standing up right, not falling down. Somewhere in this white blob there is a support system that is holding up her body, a plane of some sort that she is standing upon holding up the rest of her body. Her second sense is activating as she feels the hard support beneath her toes. This is when she starts to grasp the concept of “ground”, and on that second, the plane beneath her ceases to be white and started to take shape. She has discovered her first “boundary”.
As time passes and her senses start to become more aware of her world, her brain starts to understand her surrounding and earthly objects start to manifest. As she could only identify “white” before, she can now differentiate between the textured ground and the sky above it. She could also start to establish a sense of orientation between her and the natural physical boundaries around her; be it the body of water ahead of her that seem to merge with the sky in the far beyond; the shrubberies towards the east embracing a field of green; the trees to the south hovering above a hill of shadows, and the school of mountains far in the distance towards the west. This is her world. Is this it? Is this all there is? Or will she discover more as time passes? She starts to wander if she is alone in this world or if there are others experiencing similar discoveries close by her. Enter “man”.
At first, our protagonist was enthralled that she had discovered “man”, and he also was rather excited to have found someone other than himself that he could share his world with. They embraced with interlocking limbs with one another, as if they were one item that was separated in creation. They felt complete and whole when they were with one another, in perfect union …. Or so it would seem.
But alas, dear reader, this is not a love story, as sooner or later our protagonist started to feel a tad bit smothered by man’s advances. Yes, it was amazing to connect with one another and share eachother’s space, as they were lonely for quite some time, sooner or later they felt that they were two separate entities that needed their own space. Our protagonist draws a line in the sandy plane beneath her; and thus she became the first “architect”. A simple line in the stand was all they both needed to understand the concept of man-made boundaries; they would cross it from time to time when they felt lonely or in need of companionship, but for the most part they both respected that soft line and had to redraw it from time to time when the wind blew the sand away.
One day, their bodies started to shiver and suddenly the sky started to cry droplets of ice cold tears on our protagonist and man. They were too scared to venture into the hill of trees ahead of them yet were unsure how to protect themselves and eachother from all this cold water splashing down upon them. Our protagonist, the architect, instinctively draws with her fingertips a plane above their heads and allows this plane to be made out of a solid material. They noticed that sharp ice water droplets from the sky could not penetrate said overhead plane, and they were able to create a shelter from the weather; a boundary between their bodies and the unpleasant sky above.
As time passes, the protagonist and man have noticed that they are not the only living beings in this world, and they find themselves being confronted by some angry creatures on four legs. Some of these creatures are too scared to approach them and run off, others try to pursue them and the find themselves having to run away from these creatures for a long time. One day, our protagonist decided to build a long linear plane that separates the couple from the hill of trees (as all the undesirable creatures seem to creep out from underneath the trees from the depths of shadows). Ever since created that boundary, they noticed that they felt a lot safer, especially during the times when the big orb of hot light was not shining above them.
Soon, our lovely couple met other couples and they banded together under the plane our protagonist created for shelter from the sky. As time passed, the couples grew sick of one another and felt that they needed their own space as a couple (not to mention each of them had drawn a line in the sand when each wanted their alone time). Instead of building one collective plane for the band of couples that have grouped together, our protagonist built a series of overhead planes that each couple would use to seek shelter. When some couples would get a little too noisy at night, our protagonist built extra boundaries around each overhead plane, similar to that she built to separate their little community from the trees behind her but much shorter to allow the couples to still interact with one another from time to time.
Time passed, the couples grew in numbers, and our community discovered other community and formed a society. Then our society discovered other societies and formed a civilization. Then our civilization discovered other civilizations, and before forming a collective community, they realized that they feared one another and decided to build big vast boundaries, similar to that their protagonist ancestor built when protecting her community from the evils beneath the shadowy trees. They built large boundaries to protect them from other civilizations, and the armies of enemy civilizations would take a long time to break down these boundaries or barriers before being able to cross through.
As many cycles of time progresses, and these civilizations learn to communicate with one another (while sometimes forming alliances against other allied civilizations), the concept of boundary creation has evolved into what is now called urbanism and architecture. We now create such boundaries to build our places of living, work, entertainment…etc. A lot of our boundaries are now created unconsciously and subconsciously, where we build up a wall and we aren’t entirely aware of the psychological significance of this wall.
This is something that interests us in RiadArchitecture, as we often strive to ask “why?” We try to free ourselves from traditional norms or automatic responses in creation – we try to figure out why these boundaries were created in the first place, whether or not the reasons for their being historically makes any sense in today’s world, and what kind of affects would the creation of such boundaries have to influence society’s thought process or behavioral patterns.
We asked our friends on our social media pages what their understanding of “boundaries” are, in both the physical as well as invisible boundaries (psychological / perceptional) that are man-made. We have noticed that many of these boundaries are formed as response to one of three issues: Our need for privacy and feeling our own individuality (just as our protagonist and man felt after happily finding one another); our need to feel sheltered from the natural weathering conditions (just as our happy couple felt when it started to rain and hail on them); and our need to feel safe from other living beings (just as our happy couple felt when attacked by wild animals).
There are of course other boundaries that are created for different emotional responses, but for sake of this article, I have broken them down to the following: comfort, health and fear.
Since the era of our protagonist, we have established shelters and created boundaries that respond rather well to weathering conditions, and have been able to use what other eras would feel as adverse conditions to our advantage. However, creating architectural boundaries that respond well to weathering conditions remain one of the top priorities in the built environment, and this has less to do with psychological factors than the other two boundary responses.
We create many of our invisible boundaries to keep ourselves comfortable. A friend of mine noted that while sitting on a bus, plane, or cinema that does not have any assigned seats, he makes sure that he is able to find a spot that is less crowded and places one of his belongings in the seat next to him, ensuring that others would think twice before trying to occupy any seats around him. He drew an invisible personal bubble around himself to keep others at a safe distance whether he could be comfortable being alone. What if someone talkative, or rude, or smelly sits next to him? That would make him rather uncomfortable. If someone desirable (like a hot female potential companion) would pass by, he would voluntarily lift the personal bubble boundary by releasing the seats around him from his personal belongings and inviting her to come sit by him, and perhaps a conversation may facilitate itself due to the proximities of how close they are to one another, sharing personal space.
Other boundaries are created in fear, and we often see this in physical form in the built environment in droves. The concept of a “Gated” community is a concept entrenched in fear (more so than comfort). Gated community dwellers are very much invested in their loved ones security that they take a plot of land, built a gate around it to have a community of “like”minded families, each of which would build another gate around their own plot of land, and then cross another boundary (the building envelope of their homes), to cross another boundary (their rooms).
In the creation of the boundaries around us, we are all entitled to live and create as we please, but are we always aware of the consequences of the boundaries we create? We are interested to know how the gated community dweller would change after years living in areas that are constantly surrounded by not less than 5 or 6 physical and invisible boundaries? Why do people the need to create invisible boundaries (through body language) when engaging with certain people in certain locations but not others? How does all of this reflect on the built environment and on our behavioral patterns on the long run?
This is the first article in a series called “architectural perceptions” which we are currently embarked in. Join us next month when we discuss “enclosures”.
Mahmoud M M Riad
Director of RiadArchitecture