Archives for category: environmental planning

trees shadow 2

We may not give much thought to shadows, but dare so we’ve all enjoyed a picnic under the dappled shade of a tree or taken shelter on a scorching day to avoid the searing heat of the sun.

Parents and practitioners can’t help but have noticed children’s fascination for detail, and with shadows acting like huge lenses on the world, they bring delight from magically stretching things to giant proportions!  We sometimes forget what it’s like to experience the world from a child’s height, but our shadows give us a taste of what this feels like, while for children there’s something irresistible (not to mention wonderful for self-esteem) about suddenly being 10 feet tall! Then there’s always playground favourites like the challenge of stepping on your shadow or counting and jumping your way from one island of shade to another. Seasoned story tellers are skilled in exploiting the potential for shadows, whether it be piquing excitement, adding intrigue or let’s not forget in the case of the Dementors, introducing monster proportions and a chill factor to a tale.

Shadows clearly have a place in children’s lives but I wonder how often adults give a thought to the impact of shadow when we plan and use spaces? It takes a skilled eye to fully appreciate what will be the impact of architects and designer’s vision when magically transformed by the touch of the sun. A discreet or nondescript feature can suddenly become noteworthy or a well-proportioned structure magnified into a grotesque giant. As these images illustrate, shadows can introduce architectural interest, indicate our expectations and use of the environment, provide shelter and vitally, delight young and old with their playful results. What’s more there’s something very alluring about their fleeting presence and fact that no two shadows will ever be the same.

Just like snow transforms the ugly and mundane into sculptured beauty, so too shadows can turn a monstrosity into a visual spectacle. Simple functional pieces can be given unexpected aesthetic qualities, like these cast iron hooks which as the shadows stretch off the wall, magnifies their architectural qualities and seemingly implore us to use them to hang things on!

Well considered details like these geometric railings, can reap dividends, being magnified and duplicated. While the railings themselves may go unnoticed by a passer-by, its shadow grabs our attention, seemingly shouting ‘look at me!’ As well as shadows elevating even the most ordinary features to amazing sculptural displays they also bring welcome relief from the intense heat. Just as a space entirely in shade might feel cold, gloomy and oppressive, so too the opposite, an exposed site with no escape from the blazing sun or no private spaces for ‘hiding’ in, can feel equally unappealing. A combination of light and shade provides a range of ambient temperatures and as importantly generates spaces with different energies, moods, feelings and ways of being used. So the shade of a tree or trellis may invite people to pause and gather; while an open expanse of direct sun is a place to move quickly through; and a darkened corner, perhaps a cosy hide-away.

With careful planting and simple backdrops the impact and architectural qualities of plants can also be magnified. Like these lavender plants, look carefully and you will see how much of the picture is an illusion – only the bits above the wall are actually real, a lesson in how to maximise value for money! Some patterns and details may be a happy accident, like the extra textural interest on these seats hewn from stone. Complementing the rough granite sides, the geometric pattern provides a welcome light show for commuters and tourists.

Other images like this, effortlessly capture a single magical moment in time, with the shadows elevating a sensory experience and literally making it larger than life. Next time you’re out and about in the sun, spare a moment to consider the illusive work of the most transient artist – the touch of light and shade.

IMG_6440 camels shadow

To contact me or find out more about my books, research and the resources and services I offer go to http://www.playtoz.co,uk

  

Sue’s inspirations and background

Sue Gascoyne is a qualified Town and Country planner with a focus on design, conservation and architecture.

Sue is also a qualified Creative Arts & Play Therapist – an area which has given her an insight into the impact of environments on children’s emotional, behavioural and cognitive wellbeing.

As an Early education researcher, with a specialism in sensory engagement, environments and new materialism Sue has an interest in not just the affordance of environments but how these actively shape human’s actions and experiences as agents in intra actions.

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bench-black-and-white-city-new-york

You can tell a lot about a place and its culture from its seating. In this article I explore…

  • What environments for sitting in, says to us about individual’s rights and societies expectations and culture?
  • How the design of seating in the public and private realm shapes how we feel?
  • Compare approaches to function and form when planning seating solutions

Picture some atmospheric seating in a favourite spot outdoors. I wonder where your imagination took you? To a solid hewn stone bench atop a castle or riverside location; an ornately carved metal bench curved round a shaded tree trunk, or a wooden bench carved from a single tree slice? Or did you envisage something grand and huge, rustic and quaint or fantastical? Whether you’ve travelled near or far you’re sure to have encountered an array of seating solutions created from a myriad of materials. Whether they’ve ‘planted’ themselves in your archives of ‘noticings’ and memories, will I suspect come down to their successful marriage between form and function.

So what do we understand by function? For Donald Norman, as well as providing ‘delight and fun’ (2002: vii) things should be designed to be legible, that is, clear in their function. Gibson’s concept of affordance goes further, understanding the power of environments as agents in a two-way process, suggesting potential uses for individuals, but also depending upon an individual’s lens, shaped by the individual’s perception of usefulness. So to a child, the kerb may suggest ‘sit-on-able’ (Heft, 2010: 19) qualities but to an adult this is much less likely due to the disconnect between leg length and the affordance of a low step or kerb as a seat. Key to James Gibson and Harry Heft’s ideas of affordance of environments is the sense that ‘affordances are relational properties of the environment taken with reference to a specific individual’ (Heft, 2010:17).

Taken literally a seat is something to be sat on, but it should not be separated from its wider cultural and emotional affordances. Like the design of the other aspects of street furniture which shape and define our experience of the environment, the type of seating that we provide and its generosity of design, materials or size, can go a long way to providing an indicator of the value placed on people lingering in a space; the sense of safety (or otherwise) conveyed; and whether the environment is for individuals or groups.

If the raison d-etre of seating is to be sat on, what then of seats when they are empty? Reminiscent of debates about whether a tree really falls if there’s no-one there to witness or hear it, how does the design and materials of seating solutions impact upon children’s and adult’s enjoyment or experience of them when not being used as intended? And in order to garner maximum value from resources, should we be expecting seating and street furniture generally to be multi functional so as when not being used it becomes a sculpture, barrier or visual divide?

This riverside seating design actively engages people to stop, sit, lounge and socialise whilst taking in the views. The generous size and robust construction and materials suggest their ability to withstand real and varied use, be it alfresco eating, smooching couples or groups sat on the seat backs. Their nod to a sofa gives permission for people to relax, enjoy and treat them as if at home, while the bright playful colours shout out ‘use me!’ The designer has cleverly used scale not just to increase their versatility and use but as importantly, I feel, to create a surreal Alice in Wonderland-like quality, as these over-sized chairs have the effect of potentially making adults feel more playful and child-like.

The generous size and robust construction of this design invites a laid back or group interaction, suggesting to the viewer that not only is this place safe but it’s a good place to linger and relax.

IMG_8785 long picnic bench Essex uny

Compare this to a metal bench in a park near a children’s play area, the lack of back and demarcation into generous yet separate seating areas encourages a temporary form of sitting, the type characterised by perching on the edge of your seat as you wait for something or pause to watch the world go by. I wonder what was in the brief, ‘provide robust seating which encourages parents to pause without providing a space for sleeping or anti-social behaviour’ and whether in planning to prevent the ‘abuse’ of the benches, we have metaphorically thrown the baby out with the bath water as we’ve minimised adult’s comfort and therefore likeliness to linger longer while children enjoy the important business of play?

The thinking behind the seating choice and location is further muddied by this curving modern design. In many ways more inviting and open to be used flexibly by adults and children, its’ position, with back turned to the very same play area is confusing and ill-conceived. Why would we want to be encouraging parents not to visually appreciate the shared joy of children’s adventures and mastery? Or if intended for child-less passers-by, why would you choose to take in the limited view of green grass with the noises of a playground immediately behind? There is a lack of harmony between the public and private realm, creating what might be described as a ‘Norman bench’ not through its links to this historical era, but after Donald Norman, and his conclusion that ‘far too many items in the world are designed, constructed, and foisted upon us with no understanding – or even care- for how we will use them’ (vii2002: vii).

In contrast, some benches, the kinds with lots of dividers (like those annoying seats at airports), and hard and uncomfortable materials, make it abundantly clear that people are not welcome to linger. Indeed, lingering in places like these is in danger of being redefined as loitering. Comfort is not the aim because passers-by are not to be encouraged to get too comfortable. The result of such designs is to give a clear message about what is and what isn’t considered societally acceptable. Some utilitarian and poorly maintained designs can even instill a fear and feeling of the space not being safe.

stone seats

In contrast the need for plentiful seating at this river fronted location next to a busy metro stop and transport node has inspired these satisfyingly solid blocks of granite. Each block seats 4, in the lip shaped spaces, but with the potential for cross-legged sprawling too, managing to suggest multiple users without enforcing this (as the metal dividing bars of the above bench do). The roughly hewn straight sides contrast with the smoothly shaped rounded seat tops, adding textural interest and visual contrast from the way they respond to reflections and shadows. Serving as sculptural pieces when empty they have also been designed as a visual barrier to, and reminder to pedestrians of their shared use of space with trams and cars.

IMG_8383 bench with legs Budapest

A skilled designer can introduce a sense of playfulness and movement into anything. Take this, on the face of it, simple bench, but look closer and its ‘walking legs’ inject humour and surprise, elevating this fantastic piece of Budapest street furniture to something which has the power to change how we feel. Sometimes architectural moments like these are happy accidents but more usually, intentionality is key. Just as it is essential that our interactions and the environments we plan for children are infused with intentionality, described as ‘seeding the child’s learning environment (Siraj Blatchford, J. & Brock, L. https://schemaplay.wordpress.com/about/) so too the success and impact of the environments that we provide and experience are shaped by our aspirations and underlying culture. With life moving at an ever faster technological pace, why not join me to pause a while. Are you sitting comfortably?

To contact me or find out more about my books, research and the resources and services I offer go to http://www.playtoz.co,uk

Thanks to Pexels for the headline image. All other images copyright of Sue Gascoyne

 

Sue’s inspirations and background

Sue Gascoyne is a qualified Town and Country planner with a focus on design, conservation and architecture.

Sue is also a qualified Creative Arts & Play Therapist – an area which has given her an insight into the impact of environments on children’s emotional, behavioural and cognitive wellbeing.

As an Early education researcher, with a specialism in sensory engagement, environments and new materialism Sue has an interest in not just the affordance of environments but how these actively shape human’s actions and experiences as agents in intra actions.

 

building-bricks-wall-gutter

Think of guttering and drainpipes and I hazard a guess that you’ll be picturing something like this. Am I right? But functional things like guttering do not have to be hidden or dull. Playful approaches to guttering are not new, evident on a wealth of historical buildings if we take the time to look up.

Sometimes subtlety is the most appropriate approach. With ornate details like this Indian arch, there’s no need to make a feature of managing water flow, so simple geometric openings suffice. In other buildings, prominent and scary gargoyles showcase architect’s playfulness, combining form and function with ease.

These over-sized channels on a university building playfully echo the slides of the young adult’s childhoods and the associated sense of release, freedom and fun – fitting evocations for an innovatively designed building dedicated to open mindedness and learning.

For this modern building in Budapest, the guttering and hoppers could so easily have followed the traditional straight up and down path, but instead the designer has skilfully used them to accentuate the building’s design, enhancing the details and form, much like the geometric lines so characteristic of Art Deco architecture.

For the Naze Visitor Centre, an Essex Wildlife Trust building, the drainpipe has been reimagined as a sculptural piece. Dripping like a chain necklace when dry, it’s so straight and still that you have to touch it to make sure its not a playful piece of trickery, with fused together chain links. When wet the chain strands encircle the falling water creating a mesmarising water feature. With a wall of glass and views of the cliffs and sea not only does this cleverly avoid visually dividing the view, as more traditional guttering would, but it provides a playful feature to be admired as visitors within enjoy tea and cake in inclement weather!

Strange as it may sound, playfulness and guttering are also natural partners when it comes to children!

Children love to play with water, perhaps because of its sensory qualities; wealth of sounds; ways of sparking or mirroring emotions, be it calming and absorbing or excitable fun; or because children love to move with their whole bodies and water does too! In the hands of a child some offcuts of guttering and lengths of pipes can free children up to a world of problem solving and make-believe adventures.  Attach some pipes or guttering to an underused wall outdoors, (fixed centrally to enable them to pivot), provide some buckets and smaller containers and watch children’s experiments and cooperative skills flourish.

But as these young children demonstrated, the addition of water is not a pre-requisite to their productive use. The provision of a piece of broken guttering destined for the rubbish pile as it had a hole in it, became an added feature as children fed a selection of small objects, from conkers and corks to plastic milk bottle lids down the enclosed pipe, using the fortuitous hole as a spyhole and entry point for clearing blockages. The addition of some sturdy cardboard tubes added to children’s play, which was at times excitable and at others calm, not unlike a scientist at work.

For another child a long length of pipe became a tool for focussing yet also limiting eye contact in a one-to-one play therapy session. As the child controlled the position of the tube, it provided opportunities for developing attachment in an age-appropriate way.

I hope I’ve persuaded you that there’s more to guttering and downpipes than meets the eye and that we’re never too old to play!

I’d love to hear your ideas and playful wonderings!

To contact me or find out more about my books, research and the resources and services I offer go to http://www.playtoz.co,uk

  Sue’s inspirations and background

Sue Gascoyne is a qualified Town and Country planner with a focus on design, conservation and architecture.

Sue is also a qualified Creative Arts & Play Therapist – an area which has given her an insight into the impact of environments on children’s emotional, behavioural and cognitive wellbeing.

As an Early education researcher, with a specialism in sensory engagement, environments and new materialism Sue has an interest in not just the affordance of environments but how these actively shape human’s actions and experiences as agents in intra actions.

In this article I explore some thoughts about…

  • What environments say to us about individual’s rights and societies expectations and culture?
  • How can the design of environments and spaces in the public and private realm shape how we feel?
  • Is a focus on function and form enough when planning street furniture, spaces and buildings?
  • What do we understand by function? – As in the literal function of something, e.g. as a bollard to stop cars damaging a tree, property or people, or its wider cultural and emotional affordances, as an indicator of the value placed on pedestrians as opposed to cars?
  • Does it matter and how might it help better shape environments for children?

Take a look at these bollards on two Budapest streets and jot down any thoughts and reactions that they evoke. I did just that and this is what my list included. I then grouped these into the following different themes:

Quirky

Interesting

Exciting

Novel

Eye catching

Unusual

Anti-establishment

Challenging

Creative

Animated

Fluid

THEME Novelty
Fun

Sense of humour

Playful

Child-like

Movement

THEME Playful
Sculptures

Design

Art forms

Public art

‘Look at me!’

THEME Art
Safe

Reclaiming the streets

Pedestrian power THEME Control

 

Influenced by the world of design and planning (the focus of my MA); our knowledge of the emotional benefits of the environment and the importance of sensory engagement for wellbeing; and the exciting field of new materialism (the idea that environments and objects shape us as much as we them, and the potential in the ‘space’ in between this intra-action, for creating and experiencing a unique assemblage), four qualities of spaces and environments emerge for me:

Legibility – how clear it is about how spaces, structures or environments can or should be used and experienced?

Emotion – if and how spaces, structures and environments influence our feelings?

Safety – how safe or unsafe these spaces, structures and environments feel?

Engagement – if and how these spaces, structures and environments invite or resist interactions and if so, whether as individuals or groups?

All the above factors will influence an individual’s and community’s sense of Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence within the space. These three psychological needs are cornerstones of Deci and Ryan’s Self-determination theory (2000) which is founded on the idea of humans being naturally curious, and provided they feel secure, intrinsically motivated to explore their environment. Relatedness encompasses caring for others and feeling connected and belonging to a community, while ‘competence is defined as the need to experience oneself as effective in interacting with one’s environment’ (Whipple, Bernier & Mageau, 2009). Autonomy is about having a sense of being able to make your own choices and is not at all equated with independence. If all of this seems unrelated to those bollards let me try to make the connections!

ARC in Action

If we view bollards simplistically as a barrier to movement, then we see that a barbed wire fence will fulfil much the same function as the bollards, but with startling different effects:SMALL arc BOLLARDS

Of course, barbed wire is an extreme, but there are a plethora of other barriers to our entry in streetscapes around the world, which have been created with their function, (primarily as a device to keep people out), prevailing over form. Without much if any consideration, these utilitarian designs will be subtly influence if and how we interact with environments, how we behave, how we experience these environments and how they make us feel.

Returning to the 4 qualities identified above, lets compare our potential experience of the following environments as pedestrians:

  1 2 3
LEGIBILITY I can choose to move quickly or slowly. I feel safe and protected. I have permission to move within the barrier. The barrier is to keep me and the tree safe not to restrict my movements. This space is part of the public realm and I can use and enjoy it. This is not intended for me. If this sturdy building is at risk from cars then I must be too. This is a space to move quickly through. I need to be cautious and vigilant as there is a danger of hazards. I am not allowed to access this area. I don’t belong there and it is not mine to use. I mustn’t be curious but accept the limitations. I can’t interact with the environment.
EMOTION A sense of fun, laughter and playfulness. I feel positive and enriched. I feel capable and in control of myself. I feel like a valued member of the community. I feel liberated not trapped. Austere, harsh and jarring. An eye sore and reminder of the power of the car. I feel on the periphery. Excluded and caged. Trapped and not free. Negative and controlled. Questioning why the area is restricted and is it safe.
SAFETY I can interact with the environment and feel empowered by it. I don’t need to rush. I could pause perched on a bollard and children are beckoned to run around the bollards. I must be unsafe. Accidents are likely. I need to be vigilant, cautious and not linger. Cars are threatening and powerful. I am vulnerable. Is the fence protecting something or keeping me safe? What’s the threat? How could I safely get over the barrier if I needed to escape? Am I being watched to see if I behave?
ENGAGEMENT My interaction is welcome and invited, whether as a positive feeling when quickly passing by or as an open invitation to linger and pause.  I have a strong sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence (ARC). My interaction is not welcome. The colour and stripes make me cautious and alert. This is not a place to linger. I don’t have rights of way. I don’t feel valued, capable or in control so have a poor sense of ARC Keep moving and don’t come too close. Lingering here could be seen as loitering with intent. If I look round, I’ll look guilty.

I don’t feel included, able to make choices or interact with the environment so have a poor sense of ARC.

These are just four possibilities and you may have come up with your own equally, if not more valid tools for appraising spaces, structures and environments, in which case I’d love to hear these. Of course, I’ve purposely picked extremes of environments for maximum effect, but I hope in doing so it has made apparent the effect, whether intentional or not on our experience as pedestrians. So far we have viewed this through the lens of an adult, but change the scale to introduce the child’s perspectives, and these positive or negative consequences are potentially considerably greater.

Context is Key

Returning to those delightfully animated bollards, their designer clearly understood the importance of context and consistency, ensuring that the paving and other street furniture – in this case the wonderful eye-like tree openings, acted in harmony with the jaunty bollards, so that they complemented rather than competed with each other. Quality materials were also key, as was a natural palette of colour that would have been intrusive. Rather than creating them in highly visible colours and uniformly spaced and angled, which would facilitate quicker and easier parking, the bollards serve as a traffic calming measure, effectively slowing down manoeuvres and reclaiming the streets for pedestrians. For a child coursing down the street the quirky angles break up the bollard’s height, provide a sense of movement and invitation for a child to run round them. They also create exciting shadows to be noticed and delighted in.

I’m conscious that by trying to quantify something ethereal I may be devaluing the very source of wonder and delight which was worthy of sharing! Like Maria’s Montessori’s plea that we don’t try to ‘pin the butterfly to the board’ in our eagerness to understand a child’s actions. The best design solutions are not born out of a checklist of do’s and don’ts, but an awareness of the power vested in environments to shape people’s experience, emotions and perception of rights and values.

Food for thought

Having praised these bollards for their playfulness and appeal to people, unfortunately this is the very thing that’s missing from the photo! So picture a child you know (or the child within you!) and think about if and how they would notice, react to, interact with and be affected by these quirky structures? What might they do? How would they use them and the space? How might their experience of these differ to the utilitarian bollards in the article? Now think about the environments in which children spend much of their time – these are likely to be early childcare centres. Next time you have an opportunity, position yourself at a child’s height and consider how does the existing design, layout and qualities affect children? Try to view he environment and spaces through the lens of a child. What messages and emotions do the spaces and designs convey? What changes if any, could improve children’s experience? Whose purpose do they fulfil? What impact, if any, do they have on children’s sense of safety, control, rights and values?

I’d love to hear your ideas and any challenges you may have to my wonderings!

To contact me or find out more about my books, research and the resources and services I offer go to http://www.playtoz.co,uk

 

 

Sue’s inspirations and background

Sue Gascoyne is a qualified Town and Country planner with a focus on design, conservation and architecture.

Sue is also a qualified Creative Arts & Play Therapist – an area which has given her an insight into the impact of environments on children’s emotional, behavioural and cognitive wellbeing.

As an Early education researcher, with a specialism in sensory engagement, environments and new materialism Sue has an interest in not just the affordance of environments but how these actively shape human’s actions and experiences as agents in intra actions.