Humans and the spaces-The impact of spatial qualities on humans

Guruprasath is an architecture student pursuing his final year of undergraduate studies at the School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University. He has a keen interest in spatial design, understanding the qualities and potentialities of architectural spaces to create an impact on their consumers. He likes to express his thoughts and interests through writing.

Humans ‘do not have any mental record of who we are until storytelling is present as a kind of armature, giving shape to that record'(H. Porter Abbot- The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative). Our very definition as human beings, as Peter Brooks says, ‘is very much bound up with the stories we tell about our own lives and the world in which we live. We cannot, in our dreams, our daydreams, our ambitious fantasies, avoid the imaginative imposition of form on life.’

Recording through human history and the social transformation, architecture is evolving with human accomplishments. As an artefact created by humans, architecture is closely connected with humans, and simultaneously, as a shelter occupied by humans at some time, in some places, architecture is closely associated with the world. Human beings design architecture as spatial storytelling to mediate human knowledge of the world, humans and architecture.

In no way, we exist in separation from a space- designed or shaped in some way, that surrounds us. In an urban setting, we move through a continuum of exceedingly diverse areas- the buildings, the streets, the squares. As we walk through the urban streets, we randomly perceive different facades of different heights. The shells of the buildings act as filters between within and without, serving to bind us or separate us from the (hidden) interiors of incredibly different characters and impacts.

Paul Ricover (French Philosopher) states, ‘Life World is a world that humans are willing to engage with and provide various possibilities for human lives to become real.’ In ‘life-world, the world that humans experience every day is not static and unchanging, but an alive and dynamic world for humans to perceive, engage with, and experience at any time; in which humans transform from a ‘nonparticipating spectator, surveyor of the world’ to a lively participant, constantly and actively discovering and experiencing the world.

For Roland Barthes (Theorist), architecture is more than a collection and composition of constructive structural elements- the walls, floors, windows and ceilings. These serve the functional purposes of architecture. However, they also isolate architectural spaces from human beings and the world. He says, “In addition to structural, functional meanings, for human beings, architecture is also, ‘a psychological need, a social prerequisite, and even a spiritual attribute’, which could signify endless, possible meanings.”

‘The world is not a collection of raw materials as opposed to constructed material goods, but rather a complex continuity of material relationships running from our bodies across the world, which are variously constructed into meanings of different kinds, of which nature is one and culture is another’,(Dudley.H.S.- Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretation.) Architectural spaces are a part of this world, having these relationships with nature and culture. Places are formed with different characteristics: some places would invite us to linger merely functioning as transit areas whereas some places create a sense of identity, offering a point of reference to our cultural roots. But, whatever the different social, political and cultural characteristics that influence human perception, it is clear that built spaces generate substantial, individually perceived sensory impressions on all human beings, forming the ‘human space’.

In this relationship between the humans and the built environment, the role of the architect is to recognize and read the spatial potential as well as to understand the societal needs of the people.For instance, research proves that the high ceiling evokes a sense of creative thinking and the low ceiling evokes logical thinking in people. There are findings that the color ‘pink’ calms down people in rage or anger. Thus, built  environment does make these sensory impressions on humans with their form, color, and texture to which human brains can respond. These impressions form the spatial empathy, determining the spatial potential for the architects to respond.

Erving Goffman’s (Sociologist) reading,‘Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life’ presents the unconscious behaviors of humans in everyday life. He describes the three steps happening while two strangers cross a sidewalk. He says that ‘first, at a certain distance, each protagonist has a “quick but open glance” at the other, then looks down (to his phone or the emptiness in front of him). Then, quickly, the glances are raised a second time, right before crossing each other, generally not exchanging eye contact but in a pattern that means “I am not a threat, I wish you are not one either but I do not want to interact”. Finally, the glances are lowered right at the instant of crossing.’ This involves two dimensions: the dimensions of bodies and the dimensions of gaze. Following his theory, an architectural concept known as ‘Passerelles’ was developed. This project aims to demonstrate the aspects of cognition and sociology in architecture. It is the composition of narrow staircases facing different directions offering an open view. Walking up or downstairs is a challenging locomotor task. When crossing a stranger in a staircase, people need to gaze at each other for a longer time than on the sidewalk, thus increasing the chance of eye contact. Even when the gazes are lowered they are still projected steps ahead of their location instead of right in front of the protagonist which also calls for more proximity in the gaze dimension. It proved to play a role in the positive bias towards strangers, establishing the interpersonal relationships between them.

Architecture is often not interpreted or used in the ways it was originally intended. The fact necessitates the need to be open to every new task. It is important to craft the right intention of the building, specific to their humans and the space than crafting the building itself. As an architect, our job is to discover the impact of spaces on humans, detecting the qualities of the different spaces and understanding the interactions between humans and the spaces. If we, as architects, are to develop new ways of reading spaces, we have to explore those that already exist and apply those to new design questions. There lies the reconsideration of the relationships between the people and the places.

Regardless of the particular architectural language, it is about the ability to gain the acceptance of the people who interact with it, the empathy that it creates in human beings. It is humans, who occupy these spaces, experience the ambience and are drawn to them. Simply emphasizing and elucidating the spatial qualities and potentials is often enough for the architects to design for the future urban spaces for the people to communicate and identify with.


  1. Barbara Holser, Architectural Interface: Space- Architect- Humans
  2. Fangqing Lyu, Architecture as spatial storytelling: Mediating human knowledge of the world, humans and architecture
  3. Rébecca Kleinberger – A Language for Empathy based design
  4. H.S.- Museum materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretation.
  5. Ricoeur, P., Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation
  6. Goffman, Erving, ‘Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life’
  7. Abbott, H.P., The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  8. Barthes, R., Elements of Semiology






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