Robert Smithsons “Spiral Jetty”
Seeing Site and moving through Site are intimately linked in “Spiral Jetty”. The experience of walking on the jetty is a choreographed circulation that causes you to see the desert in successive 360 degree views. The same experience could essentially be accomplished by simply walking in a circle twice. ‘Spiral Jetty’ encourages us to see Site through circulation and by doing so circulation becomes Program; Smithson has programed the desert.
Original image curtesy of “Fine Art America”
The idea of succession in circulation, of a choreographed experience, is a method of control. A path of circulation provides a specific experience but it also provides a controlled experience. The expectation of an experience, and the realization of that experience are Program; the effort to control experience is Program. A trail through a field gives a participant an expectation of a hike, and the means to have a hike. You can hike without the trail, and you could picnic on the trail instead of hike, but the trail communicates the Programmatic idea. The expectation is the trail will take you somewhere neat, but it also controls you because you are expected to stay on the trail. The volatility of hundreds or thousands of people walking through this field is mediated if not completely controlled by the trail. The fact that people use the trail is the culmination of societal cues both explicit and implicit.
Architecture controls the volatility of human movement by defining program and circulation. The question is: what effect (intended or unintended) do these architectural controls on human-volatility have on our spatial experience? The trail through the meadow is an example of an “architectural” intervention that has an extremely limited spatial constraint on our spatial experience of the meadow/program/hike.
Images curtesy of Google Image Search
Increasing the degree of control over volatility (both human and environmental) to an elevated path, then one with railings, then a covered path, increases the spacial effect of the intervention. Concurrently the program is subtly changed and shifted by these interventions. The more volatility is controlled the less Programmatic flexibility; the picnic becomes less of a programmatic possibility.
So what is gained and what is lost by an increased response to human volatility? Programmatic flexibility is lost, but control is gained. Put another way, human volatility can be seen as a Programmatic asset or a liability. The simple trail provides a primary Program, but allows for the infinite creativity of human volatility to provide secondary Programs: picnics, slack-lines, camping, hackie-sack, yoga, bird-watching, etc.
Image curtesy of google image search
There are instances when the controlled Programming of circulation are deemed necessary and the architectural and spacial tactics that have been designed for the perceived control of human volatility are nearly innumerable, but worth a careful study.
But what why should we allow for human volatility in Program, what I referred to as secondary programmatic flexibility? Because it offers freedom of choice, but also because circulation itself is the essence of secondary programmatic flexibility. The control -or freedom- of our movements within a space radically alter our perception of that space and our potential for enjoyment of that space.
Image curtesy of google images
The Shopping Mall is programmed for shopping, but I would argue it is circulation through a volume that makes shopping malls fun. It is easy to imagine a section of the shopping mall in which our senses (sight, social desire) induce us into movement to-go-to-the-other-place with as much freedom of choice as we can architecturally muster. At the end of the day, especially for teenagers, no actual shopping has been accomplished, just the circulation. Successful spatial constructions can encourage human volatility to the point of programming it.
Denver International Airport
Image curtesy of google image search
Airports provide examples of both restrained and unrestrained circulation. Like the mall the terminal is often directional – or linear – in terms of circulation, but provides for some degree of human volatility.
So what spatial qualities do these buildings that are essentially devoted to circulation take? Why do we devote these huge volumes -especially height – to airport terminals?
It is interesting how large volumes of space are employed to induce movement, and yet our tactics of control within these spaces can be as subtle as retractable belt stanchions. It requires more research to support this hypothesis, but on first blush it looks as if we spend millions on the creation of huge volumes of space to make movement enjoyable (perhaps even possible for huge numbers) and yet we have been so sensitized to barriers that all we need to cancel human volatility is a two inch wide belt strung between poles. In a world of barriers what happens to the creative act of movement?