A transition space: Entry porch, Ajanta Caves, India
This is another in my series of posts inspired by 1000 Awesome Things, the Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The series is my meditation on the awesome reasons why I was and continue to be attracted to the art of architecture.
Life, and the act of being in this world(1), is nothing if not about transitions. In life, we are born, grow up, go to school, graduate, embark upon a career, get married, raise a family, retire, and live out our years. Transitions can be welcome turning points, mileposts, or markers along our life’s path. Sadly, they can also be unpleasant events (health crises, divorce, losing a job or loved one), which provoke acute anxiety and stress. Every transition focuses our attention upon the moment at hand and the possibilities, potential, and opportunities it presents. Each one heightens our awareness of who and where we are in time and space.
Transitions in architecture—like those in life—can be momentous and ripe with possibilities. Poorly conceived, they can induce apprehension, uncertainty, or withdrawal. Orchestrating how people move through, occupy, and appreciate spaces that connect, separate, and differentiate is something architects do. Mastering the design of transitional spaces is a key to developing vivid and life-affirming architecture.
Spatial transitions occur everywhere. Entries, thresholds, paths, courtyards, edges, thick walls, and stairs are all examples of architectural transitions. Old-fashioned porches, which provide a comfortable way for people to be both private and sociable at once, are another. People pass through transitions, meander along their sides, or linger within them. They are both places to be and experiences in time.
Transitions can also be implied (rather than literal), and marked by the absence of structure or exactness. For example, the Japanese concept of Ma (間), loosely translated as “interval,” regards transitions as the meaningful and ambiguous gaps between spatial or temporal things rather than those things themselves.
Transitions frequently occupy spaces that are otherwise residual, leftover, or in-between. They buffer, join, or separate. They define and clarify. Transitions can consist of layers, creating a here, there, and beyond. They often correspond to opposite conditions (inside vs. outside, above vs. below, public vs. private). Their symbolic and aesthetic value is immense; their potential to convey meaning unlimited.
We can design transitional spaces to be more significant by incorporating opportunities for vicarious experience through detached participation. We can do this by allowing users to preview, slowly reveal themselves, and gradually commit to participation if they choose. We can enhance transitional spaces by making connections to surrounding phenomena so that users do not feel isolated or out of touch.
All transitions are richer when designers take the time to consider them well. Our duty as architects is to ensure that we do so. Fundamentally, transitions are about possibilities, choices, and turning points. We celebrate life’s milestones through ceremony and ritual. Let’s also celebrate the AWESOME potential of architectural transitions by always making the most of them.
Next Architecture is Awesome: #9: Windows
(1) Precisely in the Heideggerian sense.