The Official Publication of the Indian Institute of Interior Designers

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Yatin Pandya
19 Oct 2023

From Conception to Perception

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Sculpting Nuances of Spaces to Shape Notions

Space Design & It's Ambit

Design is essentially a dialogue. A dialogue between conception and perception. As space designers, we encode the clues, while the onlooker deciphers and decodes the same. Simple as this may sound, complexities emerge due to the nature of communication a space perception entails. Unlike the other
forms of art, spacemaking does not have the luxury of creating actual scale mock-ups to respond to. Space designer’s training, therefore, involves visualisation of space before getting released in actuality and predicting its impact in terms of desired human responses. Space conception is not only about its visual outcome as form but rather its feel and ambience. Thus, spacemaking is not just an act of building an edifice but creating a spatial construct that engages and emotes. Space can condition human responses. It can influence moods and condition minds. It is this aspect of spacemaking that makes our professional training stand apart from those of engineers, artisans, or builders. Design, thus, is not about asking a single question and finding a single answer to that question. Instead, it is about asking many questions, finding many answers to each of these questions, and then picking one answer that answers most questions. A holistic resolution is a result of multiple concerns.

Any space design, for its holistic outcome, must be sieved through six fundamental filters.

Mystical Light outside the Sancto Sanctorum
Sagrada La Familia by Antonio Gaudi Photo by Hemangi Kadu
Zabeel Grand Mosque, Dubai Photo by Rumman Amin

Regardless of the project type, as space designers, we end up taking six fundamental design decisions: Sitting and location, Form and massing, Movement and organisational structure, Choice of elements, Material and technique of construction and Surface articulation or filigree.

Timelessness and Timeless Aesthetics
A successful design should transcend time, remaining fresh and relevant for generations to come, exalting its aesthetics with enduring appeal.
Sociocultural Appropriateness
Considering the end user's cultural background, aspirations, and way of life is vital to creating spaces that resonate with their identity and foster a sense of belonging.
Environmental Sustainability
As professionals, we must balance individual needs with collective well-being, ensuring environmental health and sustainability by evaluating the broader impact of our design choices.
Functional Efficiency
Space designers are hired to optimise functionality, crafting layouts and arrangements that facilitate seamless operations and enhance productivity.
Economic Affordability
The project's financial viability is essential, necessitating wise material choices and cost-effective solutions that deliver value within the given budget.
Structural Stability
Designing robust structures with adherence to safety standards is paramount to ensure long-lasting, secure spaces that instil confidence in their users.

So design is never about it being good or bad, it ought to be seen as appropriate or inappropriate, to the milieu of place, people, and program.

Spatial Narratives and Experiential Engagement

Design begins with an interpretation of the programme. For example; a school is a school is a school, and the programmatic brief hardly varies anywhere. But visions like designing a ‘Living Garden’, learning beyond the classroom, etc. have shaped many school spaces as learning environments integrating indoors with outdoors and thus visualise school not as a conglomerate of geometric classrooms but as a spatial construct that inspires teaching and learning regularly. Even interior spaces inspire interaction and participation through light, colour and wall communication.

Similarly, sacred spaces have also ably demonstrated how the shaping of space has shaped human response as well as the mental construct. Hindu shrines, with an idea of prayer as introspection, have created spatial journeys gradually transiting spaces from bright to dark, open to enclosed and enormous to intimate. Thus by increasing the sense of enclosure, decreasing the sense of scale, diminishing illumination, and transcendence from the horizontal plane to the vertical axis; it transforms one notionally from corporeal to spiritual. Even sculptures and motifs help conjure associations and bonds to create a notional context. The dark, intimate and enclosed sanctum sanatorium creates space for personal dialogue.

Christianity interpreting God as almighty and humankind as guilty of succumbing to the lure of an apple, creates grand and lofty spaces to put God as almighty on a high pedestal. Axiality, linearity, symmetry, and verticality through clerestory light all help enhance formality and grandeur in churches. Stain glass art and richly ornate pulpit and interior elements further enhance a sense of God’s glory.

Islam having emerged from a desert context with distant habitation, called for meeting more and more people and socialising even for basic survival and exchange of goods and gossip. Mosque therefore notionally becomes a social space. A venue to meet more persons and as a default the virtuosity of the collective praying. The space thereby simply translates as a courtyard to gather, a colonnade to rest and Mihrab / Wall to orient. Minarets serve to call for prayers.

Holistic Space Design

The Vietnam War Memorial is an illustration of austerity of spatial elements and their emotions. Here simply a sloping ground and two triangular black granite glossy walls with etched names of soldiers serve as the Vietnam War Memorial. Situated in Smithsonian Mall in Washington D.C., this national monument manages to involve, agitate and emote. Its configuration in the form of L shaped wall inherently offers directional pointers, satirically- to the Capitol and Lincoln Memorial, as if pointing fingers in the question mark. ‘L’ configuration also traps the visitor at the corner, compelling you to pause and take a position. Glossy granite with etched names of soldiers floating over your reflection on the wall further instigates you to question your feelings and not remain a mute spectator. Names etched on black granite not only give dignity and identity to anonymous martyrs but also notionally symbolises the collective tombstone of the war veterans. Randomly arranged names encourage interaction by having to search for specific names while acknowledging the others. The etched surface of the name becomes a textured plane to touch, feel and caress as if a personal hug. It also serves as a template to put paper over and rub crayons to carry an impression of a name as proud memorabilia of the loved one. A shrine to revere and to leave flowers and notes sharing your feelings.

One more example of spacemaking that engages both physically and notionally, to make the complete experience of fetching water into a social sequence and a shrine, is the step well. It is also an apt demonstration of sustainable concepts like insulated subterranean spaces, conservation of water and local construction. Spatial narratives through a journey of descent introduce a sequential unfolding of clues as well as nuances keeping one involved and engaged. While motifs and sculptures conjure cultural associations. Sequential unfolding of spaces through disparate visual and physical axis; layering of spaces through nodes, junctures and meanders; integration of nature within the built ( Sun, wind, water, vegetation, people); kinetic perception over time - ‘kinesthetics’; and notions triggering associations are some of the key principles of experientially engaging spaces we learn from the heart and soul of the Indian built spaces.

Spatial narratives through a journey of descent introduce a sequential unfolding of clues as well as nuances keeping one involved and engaged. While motifs and sculptures conjure cultural associations.

Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, USA Photo by Ian Hutchinson
Adalaj Stepwell at Ahmedabad Photo by Gloria Manarisip

Space Influencing Quality of Life

Not only timeless aesthetics but sociocultural appropriateness is also a prime concern in spacemaking. Spaces not only satisfy the physical and emotional needs of the end user but trigger their sense of belonging as well as reveries. Space does enhance and help improve the quality of life. Throughout the pandemic, we realised the significance of windows, courtyards, balconies, verandahs, terraces, and compounds. Despite restrictions, these spaces kept us connected to the outdoors, preventing us from feeling confined. Interior design is more than decoration or stylisation; it's about creating emotive and functional spaces that enhance our well-being. Decoration remains appliqué and indifferent while spacemaking is integral and complementary. It is not about esoteric form-making but enhancing the spatial ethos to eventually positively influence the quality of life.

Not only timeless aesthetics but sociocultural appropriateness is also a prime concern in spacemaking. Spaces not only satisfy the physical and emotional needs of the end user but trigger their sense of belonging as well as reveries.

As a doctor of space and master of vital forces, we can make a positive difference through the spatial construct. This is where interior design is not a profession to be the preserve of the few but the positive influencer for all, regardless of their economic standing. Rather than custom-made architecture, in mass housing and mass construction of spaces where the end-user remains anonymous, there is far more need for the space designer to transform a neutral space and customise, personalise for the end user to invoke one's image, identity and sense of belonging. One of the simple spatial interventions done in a slum house is apt to recall. Typical house form of deep long row houses with three sides commonly shared with neighbours renders them dark, suffocating the interiors. A magical positive transformation in the user’s life could be induced through a dormer window in corrugated translucent fibre sheet replacement in the roof. It could now bring in natural light, and ventilation, as well as a view even in interior spaces, rendering them cheerful to use. One year post-installation study revealed health quotation, as well as education index, improved with healthy illumination within. Not only that but on average there was a monthly saving of a minimum of Rs. 250 per dwelling in an electricity bill as well as a minimum increase of Rs. 1500 per month in income doing home-based economic activities for longer daylight hours.

Another example is of creating a toilet cafe at Gandhi Ashram using recycled elements of toilets and transforming them into seats, tables, light fixtures etc. to serve as reminders of washrooms to consciously alter the mindset related to toilets; from disgust to awe, in keeping with Gandhiji’s concept to raise awareness amongst people for self-cleaning rather than scavenger practices.

This space design can make a positive difference in improving the quality of life. However, to do so rather than giving value to Gandhian currency we may have to make Gandhian value itself the currency.

A factory shed with a dormer window
Toilet Cafe at the Safai Vidhyalay, Ahmedabad
Salvaged wood used for the door at Manav Sadhna, Ahmedabad

About the Author

Yatin Pandya

Yatin Pandya is an accomplished author, academician, researcher, and practising architect, known for his firm FOOTPRINTS E.A.R.T.H. With over forty National and International awards, his expertise spans city planning, urban design, mass housing, architecture, interior design, product design, and conservation projects. His internationally published books, like "Elements of Space Making," reflect his profound knowledge.

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