what makes an architect…

tactile graphics

While doing some surfing on the net I Googled “what makes an architect” and came across this fantastic image.  “The interesting riddle for me, then, is: if you take sight out of the equation, what makes for good architecture?”  Chris Downey, who finds blindness simply a new credential in the making of architecture.  Chris is a blind architect architect recently featured in The Architect’s Newspaper.  Yup… that’s right, a blind architect.

I go back to the question at hand…  This is a very good question to ponder.  Is it sight that makes architecture or need I say great architecture?  Or is it something more “sensory”… tactility, touch, smell, temperature, sound…?

Try to imagine a building without seeing it.  Tactility and the sense of touch seems like the next natural thing to rely upon.  After all, as seeing architects we use our hands to create a physical image from a mental one… why not use our hands to create a mental image from a physical one?

I have always been a huge fan of stairs, not just any stair, but stairs with thought.  Stairs that, by their design, invite you to ascend and descend, sliding your hand along the handrail that guides you effortlessly from point A to point B.  There is something very sensual about one’s interaction with a stair, and the handrail in particular.  The material and finish of the handrail can tell the story of the stair.  It is the point of interaction.

A wobbly or loose handrail leads to a sense of uneasiness, a firm sturdy handrail one of confidence and stoutness.  A wood handrail can be shaped to fit to the hand and finished to provide a warm feel that changes over time with usage.  A metal handrail lends a cold, harsh, a more direct interaction.  Not that one is better than the other… even though I do have my preference, but think more of how materials can be used in conjunction with one another to tell a story… almost choreographing the next step.  Perhaps a transition from wood to metal at landings to signify a change from a descending motion to a horizontal motion.

Chris Downey (Photo by Tony Deiffell for NC State magazine)

Or door hardware… Chris describes the “front-door handle as the handshake of the building”

I say all of this to try and get you thinking about how we interact with architecture.  While there are spatial experiences that are very visual experiences, they can also be acoustic experiences as well.  Hard materials that reflect sound are experience in completely different ways.  Think of a terrazzo floor in a 6′ wide corridor… now think of that same terrazzo floor in a cathedral.

As Chris states: “There are so many places in a building that are meant for touch, yet architects are so inundated with drawings and production that they can forget what it’s really like to inhabit a building. With all the technological development around us, architecture remains a full sensory experience. You can’t get it on your iPhone or on the web. Perhaps that makes it nostalgic—or perhaps it actually makes it more vital and alive.”

Get out there, experience architecture with all of your senses.  Design and create things and spaces with multiple sensory experiences.  Don’t take it for granted!

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