Is the glass half empty or half full? Do you see the empty space defined by the glass and liquid? Or do you ignore it? What about campus space? How do you perceive it?
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The S p a c e s in Between
People in western cultures, it seems, have difficulty in holding two divergent ideas at once. That is possibly why concepts of yin and yang seem abstruse to most Americans. Skillful use of positive and negative ground, though, is one aspect of artistic composition that separates masters from apprentices.
Buildings are objects, things — the positive ground. Space is the negative ground or the non-object, and contains the notion of place. Social interaction — teaching and learning — occurs not in objects themselves, in accord with the basic laws of physics, but within spaces inside of or created by objects. The negative ground, as the slang expression goes, is where it's at.
We learn in classrooms (space). We meet our friends on the quadrangle (space). We gather for commencement in theaters, at amphitheaters, or on lawns. The writings of Larry Ford [Spaces Between Buildings, The John Hopkins University Press, 2000] recall earlier generations' work on the general topic, urban planners and social psychologists such as Gorden Cullen, Jane Jacobs, Kevin Lynch, Bernard Rudofsky, et al. Creation of spaces is a social and socializing act. Creation of campus spaces — i.e., collegial places — may garner inspiration from the full array of theorists.
As campuses are developed, the focus of attention is usually on the objects in space — buildings — rather than on the spaces being formed by those objects. The singular thing, the positive ground, is easier to fathom than the ether surrounding it, the spaces or negative ground formed by collections of buildings.
The site plan for Grove City College illustrates a range of spaces and possibilities formed by the surrounding objects (buildings). A small courtyard adjacent to the main quadrangle has purposeful potential.
Things are easier to photograph and describe in glossy magazine articles than is the absence of things. And whereas credit can be readily attributed to an architect for the design of a building, few people have the patience or endurance to await the formation of an open space.
It may take a generation, or several, as buildings are funded and then realized in three dimensions to surround a space. In theory and practice, campus open spaces are the work of many hands and minds over time. The most memorable spaces, though, represent a common experience and shared consciousness.
Participatory campus planning is a means of creating a shared perception. A well-wrought plan focuses on the creation of useful campus open spaces through careful placement of future construction sites, as well as advantageous use of the campus's natural topography and those structures already in place.
The spaces in between existing and new buildings become the venue for future events, ceremonies, and day-to-day comings and goings. What is useful is not what is there, but what can occur there.
Social spaces at the ground level of the Ketler residence (at the right in the photo) open onto the sheltered courtyard. Benches or cafe tables and chairs would complete both imagery and functionality.
A grand focal green is not the only spatial aspect of a plan worthy of mention. Small spaces in between buildings can offer a compelling welcome for pedestrians who thus enter into a larger green and into the greater campus.
Every green space is a potential act of generosity. Open spaces can be endowed and named, as a living tribute to a donor or to memorialize a special person or epoch in an institution's evolution and continued maturation. Even little ideas and leftover edges can become places. They are possibilities, these things that start as no-thing.
A planning principle now accepted almost universally has been in force at our office for over four decades: keep the car in its place.
The car has a place, and its place is critically important. A community college cannot thrive without providing adequate, convenient, safe and plentiful parking. On residential campuses, purists would argue that most students have no real need for a car.
Often, however, institutions are reluctant to deny their students this “right,”“privilege” or convenience if it might cause the prospective student to re-consider attending the school.
Urban campuses have an even greater need and incentive to control the impact of the car.
Let's grant the necessity of the car, but keep it in its place, focusing on management — making parking and circulation efficient, convenient and safe. The operational rationale is evident, but the real purpose is to ensure that the core campus can be a special environment, free of the distractions, noise, fumes, clutter and hazards of moving and parked vehicles.
A campus must be designed for the comfort, stimulation, delight, and safety of people. In our increasingly virtualized world, educational institutions have an obligation to create environments that encourage and celebrate people and their face-to-face interactions.
Focus effort on:
DLC+A is working with an MTSU committee of university administration, faculty and staff to develop detailed use and design plans for the proposed science building.
College Planning & Mangement Article
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Learning Spaces and Technology Workshop
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