Architecture students explore interface between heart, mind and form

09 September 2002
"PLACES are just like people," says guest academic and architect Dr Arie Peled. "Depending on the spatial features of a place and our own emotional needs, it can be experienced as friendly or alienated, tranquil or restless, condescending or humble. The place bears you like an infant in its mother's arms. It holds you within its space and boundaries; walls, ceiling, roof, floor – "

Peled's view is that for every person, family or employee, there is a place that "holds them well", providing a sense of well-being and enrichment. The philosophy developed from an unusual interface between architecture and humanistic psychology. A BArch graduate from the Technion Institute of Israel in Haifa, where he also teaches, and PhD graduate in environmental psychology at Strathclyde, Glasgow, he recently spent six weeks at UCT using his techniques with a group of enthusiastic second-year architecture students.

Peled, who has been teaching for 25 years, first visited South Africa eight years ago while on sabbatical. "I fell in love with the country and with Cape Town and have been back several times on short holidays," he says.

He specialises in adapting offices, homes and spaces to the emotional needs of the people who use them and has built his [Self Place] consultancy (now available also as an interactive web site) for architects and laypeople using the concept. Using techniques that he has pioneered, Peled allows his clients to express the nature of the place that is most emotionally suitable for them, indicators that inform the designer to create "the right place" for the users. The UCT students worked with Peled's techniques on a housing project based on two- to three-storey buildings. They explored the place they wanted, at a feeling, intuitive level, as their home and to what extent their project created this spatially. Employed as a basis for design, Peled's person-based techniques elicited a positive response from the students.

On August 19, in a lecture on "post-patriarchal places", Peled introduced his audience to an innovative type of place, based on his work on the experience of places, that reduces the inherent spatial coerciveness of places.

At first glance the technique may seem esoteric, but it is an architectural approach that can be adapted to any budget, for existing or planned buildings and developments, and can be adapted to suit the cultural demands of any group of people, whether urban or rural. As a local case illustration, Peled describes how he used, in collaboration with Professor Julian Cooke of UCT, the technique on a group of South African migrant workers. "What came out was an idea of terraced housing, with the street as a place of communal sharing."

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