In the massive, flashy, neogeo second volume of the Harvard Design School’s Project on the City , we get a tantalizing glossary of concepts for commercial and city space, both in the shopping-ecology section and in the vocab comparisons of Frank Gehry and second-generational mall-guru Jon Jerde. Sinks, sources, corridors, passages, boundaries, matrices, mosaics, da, da, da. These are operative terms about space, function, and flow that can be used by city planners, architects, and shopping analysts (or whatever it is those asslickers call themselves on their business cards). More significantly, they can also be used by the customers, shoppers, pedestrians, flappy action packers, mallrats, drifters, citydwellers, trespassers- by everyone- in order to understand how they are being directed by space and programs, and how they can work against these directives.
Like all architecture and design tomes, the Project on the City cost its weight in diamonds, so I passed over the purchase. But I did sit in the University of Pennsylvania bookstore and scribble the definitions in one of my handy, all-purpose notebooks. Unfortunately, my handwriting is hieroglyphic and utterly atrocious. I decided, in this case, to use the Harvard Design School glossary as a springboard instead; and to cater my operative definitions more to our purpose. Their lexicon needed some revision anyways. More definition to their defintions, to tease out the jazzy, colorful metaphors they were only implying- the metaphors borrowed from electronics, fluid mechanics, knitting, and so forth. Some are lifted verbatim; some are significantly altered; some are invented. I present to you, the ever-expanding lexicon of Being and Space:
Patch: a relatively homogenous area of defined space, usually with some function or program, such as the Shoe Department, Wrigley Field, or Reading Market.
Superdude: some significant point or place, such as a karaoke stage, rendez-vous point, or the Big Ben Tower.
Flow: the movement of people, things, and maybe energy; between, within, and around patches and corridors.
Pressure: the coercive force of flow.
Direction: self-explanatory- the direction of the flow.
Node: a point, place, or superdude which has varying degrees of attraction and repulsion with respect to flow. A very attractive node- say, an armored car overturning and spilling gold all over the freeway- has flow coming towards it. A repulsive node, epitomized by a blazing fire, has flow going away from it. Most points in patches, cities, or the space-time continuum, are somewhere in between.
Network: a set interconnected of patches, nodes, or superdudes.
Mosaic: a conglomeration of patches and networks, such as a shopping center or cluster of skyscapers.
Matrix: the background or context of a mosaic, including the economic, political, and historical contours.
Event, Program, and Function: three interrelated terms which have slightly different meanings here. An event is an action creating energy, we’ll say. A function is the use of an area or object for some event, usually its intended function. And a program is somewhere in between, like an ongoing event. An example of a program would be the use of checkout lines for the ongoiong action of purchases. I’ll probably use these terms more loosely than the others.
Configuration: a specific arrangement of spatial elements in different places. The layout of Wal-Mart or Burger Kings have similar configurations where ever they may be found on the North American map. And, functionally, most supermarkets have the same configuration.
Fragmentation: the partitioning of space usually in accordance with various programs or functions; again like the partition of Electronics Sections from the Home Improvement and so on.
Attention: the direction of consciousness rather than the direction of movement. A stripmall directs attention towards the front entrance and sales bins and away from the luscious dumpsters around back.
Source: area, patch, node, or superdude where output exceeds input, in energy.
Sink: an area, patch, node or superdude where input exceeds output, in energy.
These last two refer to two kinds of nodes or patches, in shopping malls, public parks, or where ever. A good example of a sink would be a waiting room, or the dining area in a food court- where energy and bustle drain into. A source would a generator of energy, like a ice skating rink, or the stage of a promotional medicine show about space-age knives or wondercures for arthritis. If the dance floor is a source, the chillout room is a sink. Now unlike fluid mechanics, flow and energy are not necessary related. There is obviously flow to sources (people wanting to dance) and flow to sinks (people wanting a refreshing swig of Mountain Dew). It depends.
Fluxenheimer: something made to direct or control flow. An elevator, a lock, a sign even.
Corridor: a path connecting two nodes or patches in a network, which can take a variety of forms:
Passage: a corridor whose purpose is explicitly the movement from one patch to the next, as expediently and fluently as possible. Maximum flow, in other words.
Filter: a corridor where flux is slowed, which itself has programs or interests, like a patch. The filter can either decelerate flow to direct attention to programs (like mazes of impulse buy items), or invent programs to direct attention away from the flow (as in the preride histrionics before a roller-coaster, to make the wait seem shorter). Also, if memory serves, the Harvard dudemasters had these meanings switched, which seemed counterintuitive to me. I guess there is no black and white in connotation.
Boundary: a boundary serves to demarcate an area or patch. Now usually, a boundary has another purpose- to direct flow. Not all boundaries direct flow- county lines, for instance- but especially in dense, urban settings, a boundary wall or fence becomes as much about keeping flow parallel as it is for distinguishing one patch from the next, for its own sake. This double function will pop up alot later, I promise.
Edge: a boundary which differs in someway from the areas it separates; like an ostentatious facade. Basically, any boundary with some distinctive features of its own.
Threshhold: where a corridor meets a patch.
Sign: any feature, area, or superdude that purposefully conveys information; such as a clocktower or marquee.
Okay, the less axiomatic, less Euclidean definitions, mostly stolen from Harvard:
Stepping stone: a place or point where flow can stop along a heterogeneous route; a bench, for example.
The Venturi Effect: increased flow pressure due to narrowing of corridor.
Curvilinearity: a condition that increases activity and usage along boundaries and movement through threshholds. Given the model we’ve been formalizing, it’s no wonder. Pure Newtonian physics here: curvilinearity acts in some ways like a filter, in that it meddles with flow by meddling with direction. When the body is on auto-pilot, heading dead-straight Northeast or whatever, it has no reason to swerve or stop. If space itself curves, the body must consciously notice its environment; for merchants, this means increased sales.
Optimum Patch: optimized use of space. Harvard said something about being “spaceship-shaped,” but my explanation is illegible. I’ll get back to you on this one.
Bottleneck: a threshhold which is intensified through lateral spatial constriction and usually visual emphasis.
Gesture: this is a breakdown of form and function, usually for architecturally expressive purposes. This was mentioned in the Gehry/Jerde comparison because it is a well-used concept in the Gehry repertoire. Gestures can be, in my mind, as plain as marble terraces, or as eccentric as those Venturi pseudo-columns.
Frame: a structural element which serves no structural purpose. Maybe just an archway that frames an entrance or acts as a viewfinder.
Figured Ground: a disruption of the ground plane; weird steps and terraces or twisty handicap ramps.
The Souk: outdoor, halfcovered street with structure and lighting.
Interior of the Block: space carved out of the city block, where the exterior walls, street, and sidewalk seamlessly wrap into the interior of an area, directing flow likewise.
Elongation: a characteristic of space that increases heterogeneity but decreases activity. The more a patch is elongated the more it becomes a corridor, and the more curvilinear a corridor is, the more it becomes a patch.
The formalization is over. How now, what next? Well, hopefully, this formalization will help us get a firm handle on the way space is folded and made to effect us; and provide some novel redefinitions of the everyday crap surrounding us. For instance, the redefinition of a door as a “half-boundary, half-threshhold;” and of a window as a “half-boundary, half-sign.” Or the redefinition of an escalator as “a fluxenheimer for smoothly blurring the unwanted boundaries that gravity imposes on space.” I will not elaborate all the possibilities here; that’s what the actual prose should do. This is just a reference table, to be hyperreferenced left and right in the tales to come. The Surrealist and Situationist lexicon should also be added to this list; including the concepts of dérive, détournement, psychogeography, and many more. ing the unwanted boundaries that gravity imposes on space.” I will not elaborate all the possibilities here; that’s what the actual prose should do. This is just a reference table, to be hyperreferenced left and right in the tales to come. The Surrealist and Situationist lexicon should also be added to this list; including the concepts of dérive, détournement, psychogeography, and many more.