The two categories of architecture that I wish to discuss are the Intangible and the Tangible.
By the intangible, I mean something not immediately discernible to your reasoning powers. Something that is not quite clear in its meaning or effect. Something that causes an emotional response before you realize it.
Architecture has a story to tell. Sometimes it’s a nice cheerful story, and other times it’s a scary ghost story. Let’s examine the differences. Starting with space, the building encloses the space, and creates an effect on the remaining space around it. How this is handled is fundamental to the profession of architecture.
Is there lots of light, wide corridors, spacious rooms inside. Is the facade of the building pleasing and inviting? Or, are the halls narrow and poorly lighted? Are the windows too small, resulting in poor lighting and stuffy overheated conditions? Is the facade drab and uninviting? How about entrances. Is it easy to get into the building, or are things forbidding?
The intangible in architecture isn’t really intangible. Someone made it that way on purpose to cause the response that it causes. It was thought about, measured, and calculated. Someone decided that the door should be small or large, and if the corridors should be wide or narrow. All of this falls into mathematics also. Perhaps more on the engineering side of it. Absorption or refraction of light, noise level, sharp angles, etc.
Let’s talk about the response to this as the intangible aspect. If you go into a government building to pay taxes or maybe to get a license, the halls may be narrow and dingy; the floors may be marble and echo every footstep; there may be very dim lighting; the doors in the corridors all look alike; you step into the office you think you need and no one’s there or maybe lots of people are working behind desks with their backs to you. Kind of creepy? Yes, but no accident.
In his book “An Inquiry Into The Origins Of The Sublime And The Beautiful” Edmund Burke goes into quite a lot of detail as to what things cause certain reactions.
By the sublime, Burke means those things which connote danger and instill a feeling of fear and terror. By the beautiful, he means those things which connote a sense of joy.
Some things that are related to the sublime are: roughness, hardness, darkness, unpleasant smells, unpleasant tastes (bitterness), silence, vastness, uninterrupted repetitions, largeness of size, strong contrasts (such as coming into a dark building from bright daylight), loud sounds, deformity, and unpleasant proportions.
Some of the characteristics related to the beautiful are: smoothness, light, softness, color, pleasant smells and fragrances, brightness, gradual variation, gradual change, delicateness, fragility, gracefulness, elegance, and congruency in proportions. These characteristics are also related to ideals which are considered beautiful. Justice, Wisdom, Virtue, Love and Truth. Thus, the architecture itself can be used to communicate any of these things. It might be the terror of a mansion in a ghost story, or the serenity of a church.
The Intangible in architecture is the emotional impact that a building can have on a person.
As an experiment visit some buildings around New Haven. How does being in the Greyhound Bus Terminal make you feel? How about the Top of the Park Restaurant? What are some of the differences experienced being at Teletrack or City Hall? How about a court of law or your favorite tavern?
The buildings themselves can affect you, and that is the intangible quality of architecture.