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Can Space be Perceived?

During a Bengal Institute Academic session "Space is Society", Shamsul Wares discussed perceptions are created and how space is a matter of perception.

There is no ‘one’ definition of space that can give us a full understanding of space. Between 200-500 BC, the Indo-Aryan civilization developed, where Vedic civilization began which resulted in Hinduism. A compilation was formed called Vedas, where there was 4 Vedas.  ভূমি (earth), জ্বল (water), বায়ু (air), অগ্নি (fire) and আকাশ (space) are the 5 ingredients of nature.

What we understand as space can be translated into আকাশ in Bangla, which means infinite space, one that is undefined, endless. According to Sanskrit, আকাশ is the space, vacuum, nothingness, inconceivable. Everything, however, feels useless when people start thinking about astronomical space, this is where fear comes in. There is a sense of fear associated with space. We build homes because of protection from rain, sun, animals, thieves and other factors. But in reality, they are built due to fear of destruction. Architecture is, in essence, artificial space. Man’s effort to fight against nature is expressed through architecture. It is a protest against nature because of our fear. For that protection, we create a defined space, the essence of this space is artificial. Space is a non-existent entity or a by-product of form. We create a space, don’t construct it. We construct the form, space is a by-product. In architecture, space is the objective. We create a form for space; space is our goal/destination. We cannot construct a space; we can only envelop it. Artists suggest space in their paintings. Sculptors puncture space through their object. Sculpture doesn’t create space.

Place and space are used literally, not just in the domain of architecture. During the modernists’ era, when architecture was deemed as a language, it was evident that space and place existed literally. This is why modernists were successful in motivating architects and critics that architecture is a language. When referring to a particular location, we can refer to space as the place between a starting and an end. The place is therefore defined; when it is defined, one should be able to perceive, conceive and understand it. Space can affect someone physically as well. Space is a  matter of perception. Perception is primarily through eyes. Hence architecture is often called visual art. Appreciation of space is primarily a visual experience. Other four senses of ours are also relevant. Animals are more perceptive when it comes to sensing space using the senses. For us, it is intuition. For animals, it is instinct.

According to Shamsul Wares, understanding architecture is the total perception of the space; it cannot be a summation of isolated elements. Architectural perception is in totality. All of our senses compute the results of all elements of a space and give us a perception. When it comes to architectural design, care must be given in creating the entire composition. If you focus on individual elements, it will not work out. Even if individual elements work fantastically, as a whole composition, it may be disastrous.


Photo in the graphics by James Duncan Davidson/TED, CC BY-NC-ND