People and Proximity

Vidushi Sharma is an architecture student in Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Gurgaon. I have an insatiable passion of learning new things and expressing myself through words in the form of art and literature. I often indulge myself in cooking, dance and reading. I believe that words can change the world.

Space is both neutral and subjective; the philosopher’s space seems to be different from the architect’s space which is also different from many people’s spaces. However, in reality (of our everyday life) we conceive space in similar ways especially when spaces are designed for specific purposes (Suvanajata, 2001). It is never in isolation but relative. A space also attracts experiences, creating an intersection of such unique occurrences and social encounters. Thus, these interactions form another incidence, which bonds the people with the memory of the spatial experience. It is the creation and sharing of the experiences that create (communication and bonds) a community. In a community or a group of individuals, many factors determine a person’s experience in a space. Thus, irrespective of its function, a space can make people think and form attachments to fragments of built and unbuilt spaces like a home or a neighborhood park or a national monument.

Spatial order tends to embed the experiences and associates itself with the relationship the individual shares with strangers, acquaintances, and relatives.

Spatial cognition involves the active interpretation of symbols and events happening in the space around us. This cognitive relationship can be at various levels- starting from the scale of a dwelling, to a neighborhood, to a city, and even the burgeoning urban context. (Raipat, 2021)

Spatial order can be inviting or intimidating, comfortable or uncomfortable, pleasing or apprehensive, and this is responsible for determining how users interact with their fellow users in the given spatial order. Spatial organization is responsible for transforming cultural patterns, which induce meaning to the space that eventually responds to users’ needs and fancies. User behavior and beliefs, in turn, impose onto the space around them a specific order which reformulates the spatial organization in such a way that space becomes more user friendly and dynamic. (Raipat, 2021)

People and behavior

For memory, architecture symbolizes a point of reference in time – a proscenium against which experience can be recalled; in architecture, memory reveals the essence of form which allows the built environment to lend itself to human spatial comprehension. (Hopkins, 1996)

The built environment of a place significantly impacts human behavior and, most importantly, it affects the ‘ human to human ‘ interaction. It signifies that the relationships that people can establish on streets and any other private, public, or semi-public space are greatly influenced by the specific spatial order that exists in that place.

The spatial order of a space alters the perception of the user and provides them with a sensory impulse. It also governs the type of interaction people encounter, the number of people who use the space at a time, the function of the space, and incorporates various elements that can significantly impact people’s behavior like green spaces, enclosed spaces, a central courtyard space, etc. It can also be seen in jail cells and rehabilitation centers where the spaces are made to feel like enclosures with barbed wires and alter people’s behavior into a more disciplinarian one.

Proximity and interpersonal relationships

The proximity of spaces and the design strategies incorporated to create a space wherein people are in certain propinquity affect the relationships people form during their interactions in that space which can be further understood by proxemics. It discusses the distance of people from each other and the objects around them. It also considers the nature of things that influence the emotion and experience of a place and space.

Spatial empathy emerges, which forms the basis of interpersonal relationships formed or encouraged in a space. It identifies the individual with the ambiance of the place. The architecture of a space, even the planning of a city, can urge the users and residents to look at the people around them. “As we roam through the city, the input from our sensations triggers emotional responses, which are referenced by our emotional memories. These experiences make it possible for us to align with others. The research shows that the sensorial experience of the body is the foundation for the development of a feeling of ‘spatial empathy.’” (Cristiane Rose Duarte, 2016)

It happens that as time passes, the relationship with people changes too. And the circle of our emotional proximity is reflected in our physical proximity as well. “Intimate space has been classified as that ranging from close physical contact to 18 inches, personal space from 18 inches to 4 feet, social space from 4 feet to 12 feet, and public space from 12 feet and beyond.” (E.Rakel, 2012) Thus when strangers become friends, the relationship strengthens, and the distance shortens. With the outbreak of the COVID-19, the spaces have been put up to a test of re-evaluation. At the same time, social distancing (with at least 2m distance) has become a norm, and people have restricted access to public spaces. It has created a sense of enclosure for people within their houses and emphasized the importance of the living areas and terraces in homes.

Thus the spatial order has a consequential impact on the way people react and interact with each other. It can also significantly impact the relationships between the people and the place. A place can also be significant if it has a memory attached to it, like a childhood playground or grandmother’s backyard.  Thus it is the space and the elements in it that can make a place inviting or intimidating. It propagates how designers and planners with slight sensitivity to the space can change its overall experience and memory and how a non-functional structure can become a landmark. Therefore sensitivity to culture, heritage, and experience should be among the key factors molding a space and a city. It is for the users and the designers to form a healthy bond. The spatial order envelops the houses, the streets, the neighborhood, the shops, the roads, transport, the educational structures, the prisons, the playgrounds, the heritage structures, and most importantly, the people. Thus it is the responsibility of the designers to shape and structure the relationships of the people and the city.


Baldassare, M. (1978). Human Spatial Behavior. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 4 , 29-56.
Cristiane Rose Duarte, E. P. (2016). Spatial empathy and urban experience: a case study in a public space from Rio de Janeiro. (pp. 611 – 616).
Volos: HAL.

E.Rakel, R. (2012). Chapter 12 – Establishing Rapport. In R. E.Rakel, Textbook of Family Medicine (eighth edition) (pp. 146-159). Chapter 12- Establishing Rapport.

Gunnar Olsson, S. G. (1968). SPATIAL THEORY AND HUMAN BEHAVIOUR. Regional Science Association International, Vol. 21 , 229- 242.

Hopkins, S. (1996). On Memory and Architecture. Retrieved June 28, 2021, from Syracuse University Libraries Surface website:

Raipat, V. (2021, April 14). IntechOpen. Retrieved June 28, 2021, from

Suvanajata, R. (2001). Relations in Architectural Space. London: The Bartlett, University College.

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