Measuring Distance with Time

Metrics are a funny thing.  There are all kinds of units out there to measure mass, volume, length, duration, ratios, rates.  And there are all kinds of ways of processing these numbers to make judgments about things like returns on investment, energy efficiency, job performance, throughputs; and determine things like status and rank.  Healthcare institutions live and die by numbers every day.

But what kind of metrics do we have for emotion?  For perception and understanding? As architects, we bridge the world of what is measurable and what is felt.  The spaces we create have to facilitate performance, and also provide the kind of intangible benefits that are linked to people feeling better about their surroundings, and therefore functioning better within them. We obsess about the design of space in three dimensions, but often forget there are other dimensions like time, light, sound and smell.  People move through space and experience it in the context of the time of day and seasons. They also experience space within the context of their own lives.  Someone who is mentally debilitated by disease may view a sound, odor or pattern as disturbing.  Someone who is harried and stressed out may become frustrated in an environment where they cannot immediately find their way to critical destinations.  Someone who is afraid can easily become overwhelmed by the scale of a building.  Someone who is physically compromised can be agitated by loud noises and glaring lights.

We navigate this world with our senses.  Our environments influence how we feel, then think and act.   As a first step, think about just one of these dimensional variables, that of time.  Use it to generate a whole different kind of metric- a metric of experience.  Is a corridor 10 minutes long?  What does it feel like to move through a space for that length of time?  What if you have a sore hip or are in a wheelchair or have a young child with you?  I hope that you will encounter many revelations as you move down that path.