Theory Week One – What is Space?

In this session we looked at various conceptions of space.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines space in a number of ways.  The definition usually meant in interior design is:

‘The dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move.’

First Thoughts

My first thoughts when we were asked to discuss the concept in groups was Rachel Whiteread’s work.

Whiteread produces casts of the spaces within and around objects.  Her iconic piece ‘House‘ has captured my imagination for a long time. I love how she has reversed things, challenging her audience to think differently about space:


Photo by Sue Omerod in Apollo Magazine


  • can be either bounded or limitless
  • is the ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate)
  • can affect our feelings and behaviour
  • becomes places when it develops meaning. Meaning is something that develops over time.

Space and Design

Design happens when we use our knowledge of conditions such as scale, form, light and dimensions in thinking about and working with a space, and that it is important for designers to think in terms of positive and negative space.  Positive space is usable and well designed, and negative space is unused/unusable and badly designed.

The orientation of the objects used to create the space play a key role in whether the space will be negative or positive. Also, just because there is nothing occupying a space, this doesn’t mean that the space is negative. For example we were shown an image of a building in Hong Kong which had been designed almost as if a large piece had been cut out of it. The piece that had been ‘removed’ added a great deal to the space – offering interesting views, shade, shelter and light to the building’s occupants.

Atmosphere and Response

One conceptualisation of space talks about successful spaces evoking a sense of ‘atmosphere’, or perhaps an emotional response in those who occupy it (e.g. P Zumthor 2006 Atmospheres).

I really like the idea of a successful space being one that evokes a response (although at the same time I can’t help thinking there must be spaces that should be purely functional – bus stops and newsagents perhaps?)

Group Activity – Ideal City

We were tasked with working in groups to design our ideal city, in half an hour! I actually really enjoyed how there was no time for perfectionism in this task, which I thought I would find difficult as my preferred method is to take a lot of time to consider and come up with ideas.  However it felt really creative and fun to talk about these ideas in a group and I was impressed by what we agreed on and produced in such a small space of time.

There were a lot of commonalities in our group’s ideals.  As well as the usual elements that make up a city, the main theme that came out of our discussions was that we wanted a green, environmentally sound space, with accessible public spaces, masses of trees, wildflowers to attract bees and butterflies, communal allotments, and public greenhouses containing beautiful and exotic plant breeds.

We wanted excellent cycle paths, and trams and cable cars as public transport.  We wanted lots of water – lakes and swimming pools, and loads of connection between the inside and outside – so lots of glass in our buildings! And because we could design its shape, we went for oval.  I really liked this idea – an oval city is like a round table to me – inclusive and democratic.

image Oval City


Apollo Magazine. (2013). Ghost House. Retrieved from

Art Angel. (Unknown) Retrieved from

Gagosian. (2017). Retrieved from

Oxford Dictionaries. English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from

Zumthor, P. (2006). Atmospheres (5th ed.). Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser.




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