The Built Environment and You! (actually, me)
The built environment around us has countless effects on our lives. It defines who we are, what we do and how we do it. To start with, I will explain several oppositions to man.
The first opposition is man and physical nature. Both are powerful forces, but we need to learn to live together. Human beings are very resourceful creatures that can think and have a tremendous impact on the environment. Nature and the physical realm on the other hand is equally impacting on the lives of human beings. The relationship we have with nature is mutual. Throughout the lifespan of human beings, we have had to adapt and respond to what nature throws at us. One example of this is in California, on the San Adreas fault line. This techtonic plate movement affects how we live and build in the area. I'm sure after the devastating earthquake back in the 80s or 90s, whenever the big one was, architects learned how to build more intelligently. They started making buildings specifically for earthquake zones so that they can better stand up during these events.
Another opposition to man is climate and enclosure. Because the climate is so variable throughout the world, different cultures design their buildings accordingly. For example, the inuit peoples of Alaska designed the igloos. They are designed to be a smooth, closed form, trapping the air inside. They use little whale-oil lamps to heat the entire structure and the smooth form deflects the chilling winds of the arctic. They designed the dwelling to act against nature. Another example is in tornado zones, like tornado alley in the midwest USA, where all houses have basements. The house I grew up in, in North Dakota had a basement and if any of the houses didn't have a basement, they had a storm shelter built underground. When I took a trip to Texas a few years ago, I was shocked to hear that none of the houses in Waxahachie, a town about 20 miles south of Dallas, had a basement. But if there's no threat of tornados, then there is no reason to have one. This just goes to show you that human beings build according to their environment.
The opposition of gravity and movement is also an important one. Obviously all cultures around the world will need to deal with this one. That is why stairs are universal. They are useful in acting against gravity and can be seen in just about every culture imaginable. From the Myan pyramids to the Islamic architecture in Iraq to the staircases in our modern day million dollar mansions, stairs are used to oppose gravity.
Opposition of permanance and entropy is probably the most interesting opposition for me. Entropy is the measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system. This also includes time and timelessness. Any work of architecture can be seen as a living organism. There is a beginning, from the moment it starts to be assembled, a period of use and growth and modification, in which the building changes form over time in response to different factors such as nature or man, and a time of reuse after the modification stage. This is not always the case for every work of architecture, for example, there might not be the desire or the funds to modify a building, so it may just be torn down. Architecture may or may not have a planned lifespan. The architect could intend for his or her work to last for eternity, or maybe just a generation.
The last opposition that affects who we are is the opposition of material and tools. In early civilization, the tools they had were their hands, or tools made out of bones from animals, stones, or sticks. Pretty much whatever they could find. These limited the advancement of buildings. Once our tools and material with which to work and build with advanced, we are capable of building much more complex designs. This is another example that shows how humans are resourceful and are ever-evolving.
So up to this point, I have explained how everything around us reflects who we are. I felt this was necessary because it illustrates how human beings as a whole are affected by their surroundings and this leads us to build the way we do. Of course it affects me personally, but on a more specific level. My whole life is affected by the built environment. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed at night. I wake up to the alarm on my phone (because I'm too cheap to buy a real alarm clock) which is designed to get me up in the morning. I take a shower in the shower because that's what it's designed for, and so on (I'll spare you the torture and not go through my entire day-you get the point). But I will touch on some aspects of my life that define who I am. I am a French Horn performance major at the U, so I spend a lot of time in the music building. There are many designed elements that make up Ferguson Hall. Every room in that building has a purpose. There is Loyd Ultan recital hall which is utilized almost every day of the week whenever someone or a group of people put on a small concert. There is the lecture hall, room 225 in which all lecture classes are given. The classrooms, which are used for discussion groups or any other small class, are located in the center of the building. They are surrounded by the faculty offices. In the basement are the practice rooms. They are numerous small rooms designed for individual practice. There are several small ensemble rooms and three large ensemble rooms, used by the band, orchestra and choirs. Last but not least is the large concert hall, Ted Mann. This is where all public concerts are held. I am in almost all of these rooms on a daily basis and the design of the building as a whole makes it easy to travel back and forth throughout the building, because each room has a specific purpose and every possible room you would need, as a music major, is in this building.
During the warmer months, I like to ride bike to my classes. The layout of sidewalks and streets makes it easy to ride bike all over campus. If the roads were not paved or if the sidewalks were uneven, it would deter me from riding on them, but for the most part, they are smooth and even. During the winter months, I need to find another way to get to class because it is hard to ride bike in the snow and the freezing temperatures. The university has designed a bus system to run through campus to make getting to classes easier in the winter time. I'm sure I could find many many more examples of how the designed environment shapes who I am, but I think this blog is long enough and I hope you enjoyed it.