Many designers, as well as laypeople, have recently latched on to the phrase “sense of place”. It has become a goal; a statement of quality. “We create great places”, or “we strive to create and implement designs which impart a strong sense of place”, would be a few examples of the current buzzwordiness sweeping the professions of landscape architecture and architecture.
But what if we should be focusing not on creating a sense of place, but a sense of space? And not only a memorable space, but one that increases the vitality and happiness of its user?
Using a biological approach to design, we can assume that human beings respond best, and thrive most, in environments which are closest to the habitat in which they evolved. This was a habitat void of concrete, lumber, brick, and steel, in which paths either did not exist, or were no more than well-worn lines of earth exposed by repeated use.
Dwellings, caves included, were small and only used to shelter the inhabitants from inclement weather and nighttime predators.
An un-adultered natural landscape offered clues to our ancestors as to safe refuge, the location of water, possible danger, and the location of food. Changes in micro-climate and vegetation, while not recognizable amidst urban heat island effect and homogenous, designed landscapes, would indicate nearness to a body of water, a change in geology which might yield a harvest of edibles, or the presence of certain prey or predators.
I don’t make this point to paint a Ferngully-esque picture of early humans walking about barefoot and so in tune with nature that they can smell a rabbit before catching sight of one, although that may have been the case.
What I propose is to take into account, first and foremost, the effects of spatial cues on the rythm of your daily motion and on your thoughts. Do you think more clearly in certain spaces than in others? (Wine enthusiasts are currently shouting YES!). Does a certain arrangement of furniture in your home create stress more than another? Why (from a biological perspective)?
If we design for the proportions and demands of the human body, while consciously creating spaces that sooth or invigorate the mind, we can better shape the world from one which deteriorates human health to one which elevates it.