Throughout the design period of the Newcastle School of Arts, I had concentrated my attention on the arts and community spaces as the most interesting opportunities for architecture. This came at a cost. The project called for a level of accommodation as part of the program, and until this point in the design, it had existed merely as an afterthought, a series of spaces thrown together loosely developed on the theories I had already developed for other programs in a part of the site I saw as the greatest opportunity. This was the element I had continuously tried to breeze past, and the element that was continually picked during crits and questioned. Damn!
The next period of design [Developed Design] offered the opportunity to develop a single part of a larger project in an attempt to really understand the project in much finer detail. I saw this as a great opportunity to really try to understand the accommodation within the project, and to explore what it should be. This process started to separate the project into two distinct parts for me; the accommodation employed with the task of re-building relationships, confidence, and developing the power of independence within the individual, and the arts program, a series of spaces where these same people can feel free, unrestricted, and able to share anything in a creative way.
The accommodation led me to think about how we live, and the implications of our homes, our lifestyles, and the way we perceive these things in terms of creating environments which encourage interaction, and promote social development. This re-introduced my earlier diagram from Madanipour’s texts, outlining the way we interact across each of our three perceived boundaries [mind, body, personal space] and the way this affects our behaviour. The concept of “perceived boundaries” and the way space influences our behaviour through self regulation as a result of surveillance [actual or perceived] offers an opportunity in which perception sets up a hierarchy of space without physical boundaries which break down the communicative needs of the participants.
The diagram of this immediately suggested an open plan in which separation and privacy existed only as a perceived boundary. The accommodations utilised a series of level changes, which are complimented by a change in materials to create these boundaries. With the concept of removing walls taking hold, the floor became a hierarchical driver, much like traditional Japanese architecture, where the Tatami matt sets the hierarchy of a space in its proportion and arrangement. In this sense, the spaces of the accommodation were arranged on plywood panels in order to set up a hierarchy within a single space, coupled with the level changes which effectively reduce the height of the space and change the perception of exposure and comfort within the space. This also allows several opportunities to establish proportion systems within the space, much like the Tatami. Le Corbusier and Kahn both showed evidence of the way proportion alters our perception space, with simple ratio’s [2:1, 3:1 etc] offering greater comfort and peace within a space as we understood the space more than one which did not make sense to proportion.
This diagram is repeated over three floors, which has its own hierarchy of accommodation in the vertical movement of the participants. While the initial social interaction and development is crucial in breaking the isolated nature of the participants as they begin the program, the accommodation is employed with a higher order of development in its vertical arrangement. As the program moves higher, the shared accommodation reduces inside, allowing a higher level of intimacy within the relationships, while making social interactions less frequent and therefore more difficult to seek. The participants must wither seek these interactions or accept the isolation and build a level of confidence with independence from this. Ideally both will occur. While the social development encourages interaction, often the most demanding times in seeking social media are those where we are in isolation, in which this media becomes a drug of convenience.