Towards an environment worth sharing
One of the main goals of the design process is the enrichment of the lives of human beings, whether in designing shoes, chairs, electronic gadgets, automobiles or buildings. This is a responsibility often ignored by the designers of buildings, who are content to copy external stylistic codes in their effort to obtain popular acceptance. They miss the opportunity to create environments that excite the senses, kindle the imagination and generate societal pride, in the belief that these qualities are not to be created consciously. They think delight is accidental. And to some extent they are correct, but the design process does provide the opportunity to reduce or eliminate the dependence on accidents through attention to certain specific design choices. The sensitive designer approaches the enrichment of human space with scientific deliberateness. Patrick Rahming Associates, for example, has developed the term “enhanced living environments” (ELE) to describe its design approach in this respect. These, they say, are environments that support the activities that enrich people’s lives because they have been designed to have social, historical and cultural meaning, climatic appropriateness and ecological balance.
But how do you create such spaces?
Have you ever walked into a space that felt so comfortable that you knew you were supposed to be there? These are places where people feel connected to the significant events, occurrences and ceremonies that occur in those places, and therefore those places have significance because of their social and cultural use. These places respect the behavior peculiar to the community, including the use of materials, selection of colors and textures and the use of decorative details. The manipulation of these factors gives the built environment social and cultural significance. These are the tools with which the designer develops enhanced living environments. We are familiar with the results of this process in the Japanese house, the Spanish square or on Dowdeswell Street in Nassau.
Recognition of the histories of the various ethnic and national groups in a community provides the designer with the opportunity to give buildings historical meaning. Historical imagery, used on building elements, details and finishes, and the use of historical artwork help to provide inspiration and pride for the community, and provide the society in general with a reinforcement of its historical heritage. In applying decoration to building projects these choices are made by the designer anyway, but often without a commitment to a specific experiential or historical agenda.
The climate in The Bahamas is relatively simple by global standards, and therefore somewhat predictable. It has produced a treasury of appropriate responses in buildings. All the elements of traditional Bahamian architecture are in fact responses to those climatic imperatives – the southeast breezes; the heavy, cyclonic rains; the strong, direct sunshine; the powerful hurricane – with which we have become accustomed through common use expressed with historical detail. As new technology becomes available, the responses to those same climatic imperatives are a challenge to the designer. While meeting that challenge, of course, they must respect the same values of the past, since people do not alter the way they interpret their environments as quickly as technology changes. For example, the porch has been largely lost through the belief that the air conditioned house was the appropriate response to the availability of that new technology. Similarly, solar water heating disappeared when electric water heaters became available.
Finally, we would all wish to develop the built environment without disturbing the existing ecological balance. It is, however, extremely rare that physical development is possible without disturbing the ecological balance in some way, and the suggestion that it is reasonable to demand that there is no disturbance is misguided. What is possible, with research and commitment, is the creation of a built environment that acknowledges the prevailing balance and makes an open commitment to a new balance. In the terms used by environmental designers, there is usually an opportunity to “mitigate” the disruption by the use of human ingenuity and nature’s resilience. This is the final requirement of an enhanced living environment.
Designers who work towards the creation of ELEs may or may not win awards for their building projects, but their communities would eventually thank them for providing environments that enrich their lives. And that is what responsible design is all about.
- Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the Northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at [email protected] or [email protected]. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.