Architectural Surround as Space and Thought

Architectural surround can simply be defined as that which exists in a limited or predefined area or as Arakawa and Gins puts it, “its boundaries and all objects and persons within it” (39). Arakawa and Gins feel that it is the nature and configuration of our architectural surrounds that can affect and ultimately control our mortality. When done correctly, creating a space that works with and in service of our bodies perfectly, forms the protection and fortification of a “second, third, fourth, and when necessary, ninth (and counting) skin” (Arakawa and Gins xv). Although the term architectural surround can encompass a large territory of Arakawa and Gins themes, I have chosen to point out two ways in which I see it defined in chapters two and four- as an auxiliary thinker and as a constantly changing space, respectively.

To make my explanation clear it is important to understand another theme of Arakawa and Gins, that of landing sites. They define landing sites as that which is noticed and noted, either subconsciously or consciously. When a person walks into a room they are immediately creating landing sites, and many of them. “Surroundings are for a person what comes of her ubiquitous siting: that is to say, they exist as a result of her having dispersed landing sites ubiquitously within a circumscribed area, leaving no square nanometer uncovered” (Arakawa and Gins 8-9). Therefore our architectural surrounds are only made up of that which we have realized through a landing site. Theoretically, things do not exist in an architectural surround for a particular person if that particular person has not noticed them.

In chapter four, “Architectural Surround,” Arakawa and Gins introduce the general definition of the term- its boundaries and everything in it. As it is presented here, it is a space filled with things. Things are constantly changing, and we, as humans, are almost always in the action of creating landing sites, or noticing these changes. It is only natural that as a result of these two facts, our personal architectural surround changes according to the new information we are constantly receiving. Arakawa and Gins describe the process as,

A rounding of multiple foci into a supposed whole occurs again and again, continually. One such surrounding of oneself follows upon the last, and there comes to be a layering of surroundings, a summing up of surroundings, into the singular plural of ‘the surroundings’ (41).

This is why two people will probably never see the same room in the same way or as Arakawa and Gins points out in describing a living room in relation to time, “recognizable as the type of room it is, but never read the same way twice” (43).

Because an architectural surround is basically a gathering of landing sites, it is possible to take away or purposefully place certain landing sites in order to guide ourselves in a particular thought process. For example, if I know I have to take a pill every day for seven days before I leave for class and I’m not used to having to take a pill, instead of leaving it all up to myself to remember to take this pill, I may decide to place the bottle of pills in front of my door the night before so there is no way I will be able to leave my room without seeing the bottle of pills, thus reminding me to take one. I purposefully placed the bottle, what became a landing site, in a place that would simply help me think in the morning. On the other hand, if I just broke up with my boyfriend and am trying my hardest not to think about him anymore, I may decide to remove any pictures I may have of him in my room. Therefore, there will be nothing for me to notice that will cause me to think of him. In both of these situations, I am changing my architectural surround through the manipulation of landing sites in order to force my surroundings to help me.

Arakawa and Gins illustrate this idea in chapter two through the story of Karl Dahlke, a blind mathematician who solved the seemingly unsolvable Polyomino puzzle. Because he could not see and this obviously was not a puzzle that could be solved in a matter of hours, he would have to remember where he left off and what he had done last every time he decided to take a break. The further along he got in the puzzle, the more he was forced to remember and the harder it became. Up until this point, Dahlke had been using what Arakawa and Gins call imaging landing sites, “an un-pinpointing way, dancing attendance on the perceptual landing site, responding indirectly and diffusely to whatever the latter leaves unprocessed” (7), which “act, for Dahlke, as stand-ins for visual perceptual ones” (16). Basically, because he could not directly see the puzzle, he had to create the next-best-thing in his mind using indirect information. Soon, Dahlke decided to use LEGO blocks to construct a model of his progress. The LEGO blocks, his landing site, meant he no longer had to remember every move he was making and he didn’t have to remember exactly where he was when he left for breaks.

There is also a way to use one’s architectural surround to help the thought process that doesn’t necessarily involve the manipulation of landing sites. If taking into account where the sun rises and sets, one can build a house so that a certain room receives light in a certain angle through a certain window towards a certain bed so that it wakes the person up at a certain time. If they are in fact the type of person who will wake up to sunlight, then there will be no need for an alarm clock and no need to think about time. Humans have come to build our rooftops so that most of us no longer have to worry about pockets of water destroying our walls and ceilings. We are placing electric sockets higher on the walls so that parents no longer have to think about keeping their little children away from them. Consequently, there are many ways to use architectural surround to help humans survive.

Our architectural surrounds have the ability to make life comprehensible and, according to Arakawa and Gins, everlasting. “Architecture, in anyone’s definition of it, exists primarily to be at the service of the body” (Arakawa and Gins xI). According to the two ways the term has been defined, that would mean that our space and everything in it, which would ultimately mean the entire planet, would have to be arranged perfectly and we would have to learn to use our architectural surround in the most efficient way possible through the use of landing sites and other elements.

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