Why a Building and its Rooms Should Have a Human Character

  • 2016-08-19
  • The Conversation

We take for granted that buildings are classified and designed according to a specific use: a library, say, or school, prison or hospital. A room, or an open area (“a space” in our modern jargon), too, is determined by its function, so we label them as bedroom, living room, boardroom, office, study or even a gift-wrapping room (if you are a Hollywood star).

Such classification is relatively new in human history. In pre-19th-century Europe and pre-modern China of more than 3,000 years, there were very few or no building types.

In modern times, overt specificity and its opposite, open planning, have caused a few problems: short building lifespan, on the one hand, and bland, lifeless open buildings, on the other, are two.

Rooms for cooking, washing and answering nature’s call must cater to these specific uses. Still, these rooms, like others, can be conceived and designed with singular or multiple characters.

We can, for example, wash in a particular room, but we may also bathe or even read there for pleasure if the room has a serene character. We often speak of rooms in terms of human character: a secretive room, a cheerful room, a gloomy room, a feminine room, a dreamy room … the list goes on.