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 [I-place] counseling

                         

 

Each of us attempts to enact some primal dialogic relationship with the world. This relationship is then enacted in all our encounters. The explication of this relationship is the goal of therapeutic psychotherapies that attempt to enhance people's wellbeing and fullness of life.

Since the world encounters us as place, place after place, place within place, the primal [I–world] relationship is lived as a reoccurring [I–place]. In our encounter with the spatial conditions prevailing in a place, including with its boundaries and space, we attempt to enact our individual or collective [I – world] relationship.

The [I–place] counseling procedure to be introduced in this chapter enables people to explicate these relationships with the spatial presence of places in a way that enhances their well being and fullness of life. This counseling procedure is essentially a therapeutic approach to the spatial presence of places.




To be in as place is to be immersed in a web of relationships: with people, space, objects and, at times also vegetation and animals. In all of these relationships one can discern various degrees of holding and disengagement. For example, being part of a group and keeping one's individuality, taking care of a plant and letting it grow without interference, sitting in an armchair without sinking into its soft body.

There is an ongoing interaction of reinforcement and compensation between your relationships with a place and your relationships with other persons that share the place with you. This observation is supported by Dr. Hava Schwartz's doctoral thesis (1998), supervised by Dr. Arie Peled and Prof. Mario Mikulincer: "Human attachment styles, home attachment and the spatial configuration of the desired home". Her research found correlations between her interviewees’ attachment styles and the spatial configuration of their desired home. Each of them created such a configuration by using a "Location Task to be described further on in this webpage.

Each individual, couple or group have their own uniquely appropriate way in which a place may hold them so as to enhance their well-being and add to the fullness of their lives.
When designing as place one should strive to create spatial conditions that will generate this unique configuration.

Some of us have an intuitive awareness of the dialogic relationships offered by places, of the unique way in which a place holds us that is right for us. Some may even intuitively create places that hold them well. Others experience lack and uneasiness in their encounter with places in which they live, without being aware that this loss of fullness and joy of life is due to the alienated spatial conditions in which they live. To them The Humanist Architecture Center offers the [I-place] counseling  procedure.

The procedure enables individuals, couple, families and representative members of staff and customers of a company to become aware of the spatial dialogic relations offered by places in which they stay and of the unique spatial configurations that will enhance their well-being and add to the fullness of their lives. The method employs techniques developed by Dr. Peled that enable participants to express their dialogic relationships with a place with a minimum of intervention by the interviewer.

Even when we ultimately intend to explore the spatial conditions that are right for a couple, a family or a company, we have to first explore the [I-place] relationships of each individual.

 

 

Counselling to individuals

To illustrate the application of [I-place] procedure in counselling individuals, following is a description of the process of explicating the place embrace right for Tal, a young businesswoman with her own small PR agency, that approached the Center to advice her on the redesign of her 85 sq.m, apartment. The place was facing the street on the second floor of a Tel Aviv condominium.


A. The Tasks

The Location Task, a major component of the [I-place] counseling procedure, allowed Tal to actually plan an ideal home for herself.
The task is based on the anthropomorphic construing of the inanimate, and in our case, of places. In our dialogic relationships with a place, we construe it in terms derived from our own bodily experience as a quasi-embodied entity. We endow the "place body" with meanings derived from our own "embodied existence", to use Marleau Ponti's definition; hence, the Location Task board, which is a schematic representation of both a human body and a place body.

 

 
 

Tal was asked to use a Location Task board was placed. She was invited to imagine the kind of place she would like to live in under ideal conditions, i.e., if there were there no social or budgetary constraints to limit her choices.
After choosing the location of the place where she would like to live, Tal was asked to list all the rooms she would like to have in it, the views she would like to see from it, and the various exterior places she would like to have adjacent to it.
Once this initial process of introspection was completed, Tal was asked to copy each of her chosen places onto a round sticker, 2,5cm in diameter, and physically position the stickers on the 50 x 50 cm Location Task board. She was asked to arrange the places/stickers in a spatial configuration that she found pleasing and then define regions by naming them and drawing lines around groups of places included in those regions.
Finally, after she had finished designing the spatial configuration and contents
of her desired home, Tal was asked to describe the qualities of the various regions she  created and of the place as a whole.
This is what the Location Task of Tal's desired home looked like:

 
 

The interpretation of the Location Task is based on a core relationship that reoccurs in dialogues between people and places. During our extensive exploration of people's dialogical relationships with places, we discovered that they experience places as providing different measures of immersion and disengagement, and that they design their Location Tasks accordingly. Thus, regions that are inside/interior, central, in front, on the right-hand side or on a lower level of a place are those that are perceived as offering a tighter holding, while those on the exterior, periphery, back, left-hand side and on a upper level are perceived as offering a looser holding.

 
 

Tal organized the places she created within her home in three groups:

1. Social places, which she located on the left-hand side;
2. Leisure places, which she located on the right-hand side;
3. Guest places, which she located toward the front.


The right-hand side of our bodies is associated with conformity, self control, and the acceptance of authority ("to be someone's right-hand man"), whereas the left side is associated with non-acceptance of the system’s control. This dichotomy finds expression in both language and culture: the right is associated with the good, the moral, the just, and the supportive, while the left is associated with all that is evil, criminal, and anarchistic. The English word "sinister" is derived from the Latin word "sinistra", meaning left. The French word "gauche" means left, but also clumsy and tasteless, while "droit", meaning right in French, also means good, right, and fair. The ancient Saxon "feht" means right, but also honest and just.
We interpret the left-hand region of the Location Task board, accordingly, as being invested by Tal with a potential of non-acceptance of the system’s control, of disengagement from the place, while the right-hand region is seen as being invested with a potential of accepting the system and adhering to its rules, hence of immersion.
According to this interpretation, Tal perceives a potential of disengagement in the "social" group, while the "leisure" group has a potential of immersion.

The third region, which Tal named "guest", is located towards the front. The front of the body represents "me" - the region of active dialogue, of confrontation, of giving and taking; the back of the body, on the other hand, is mute and passive and vulnerable. A similar dichotomy is also experienced in the body of a place. The front is the communicative side that turns towards the world. It is the side that represents the place, that is directed towards the public domain - a street or a city square, and that is the most open to the world - the main entrance, the largest window. It therefore has both inclusion and disengagement potentials. The back is a region of withdrawal and offers options of inward disengagement from the place as a whole.
Tal seemed to invest the "guest" region with potentials of both of inclusion and disengagement.
The three groups were clustered around the central/back region of the board, which Tal defined as "my space".


As we tend to construe the innermost region of our body – the heart – as being most crucial to our existence, we can extrapolate to a place's center as being the most important and well-defended/protected representative of the place as a whole. Since its central position provides it with potentially direct access to all other regions, the center has a position of control. Tal allocates this region to "my space", emphasizing its importance.
In Tal's case, "my space" included a bedroom, a bathroom, and a sitting room and was located on an upper floor, which she referred to as being "at the top of the hill".

The overall circular configuration of Tal's Location Task and the positioning of "my space" - the most intimate of her home's regions - on the borderline between "center" and "back" generate relationships of inclusion and control. Such qualities of immersion and control are also evident in the positioning of "leisure" within the right-hand side (signifying acceptance and support of the system) and in the formal order apparent in the location of the constituent places of her home.

In contrast to these relationships of immersion and control, Tal created spatial relationships of disengagement and freedom by distributing her places over the entire board; she obviously felt free to appropriate all available space (which also indicates her wish to own the space and to be in control). She placed some open, green spaces on the left-hand side and at the back, thus reinforcing the disengagement potential of such places by locating them in two regions with an inherent potential of disengagement outwards and from the place as a whole.

After completing the task, Tal described the qualities of the place she created on the board as follows:
In a relatively small area I have everything I want in my home – a sauna, a gym...
Q: Why small?

I don't like large houses.
Q: Why not?
They gives me (all kinds of) thoughts. To lock, to be afraid of intruders … I want something cozy.
Q: What gives you a feeling of coziness?

A carpet, parquet floors in some of the rooms. Rooms that not too big and not too small, 15-20 sq.m.
Q: With ceiling of what height?
Not too high. A maximum of 2.5 – 3m.

These statements indicate that Tal is seeking a gentle spatial immersion.
The place that emerges from Tal's Location Task and statements has well-defined/clear boundaries, holds her gently, and allows her a high degree of freedom.

 

This interpretation was reinforced by the results of an additional task in which Tal was asked to select four "photographs of places I like", and explain what it is about each that she likes. Tal chose the following photographs:

 
 

Two main themes arise from scenes Tal chose:
First, all of the photos are of outdoor places, indicating Tal’s wish to get away, to be free, and to distance herself from the constraining effects of the man-made environment.
Second, all have clear boundaries, whether they are cliffs in the first picture, a wood in the second, a range of hills in the third, or palm branches in the fourth.
Thus, the need for boundaries alongside freedom finds unique balance in her choices.

In another task, Tal was asked to describe "a place whose spatial conditions she found pleasing". She wrote:

In Ireland, in the south-western islands I rode a bicycle, there were no cars. Small islands. A lot of water landscapes with very high cliffs. An ancient place – a romantic feeling.
Q: What was it about the place that indicated that it was ancient?

The people wore ancient garments, primitive, made of wool. It gave me a feeling of infinity.
Tal’s choices reflect a wish to get away from civilization, to touch the wilderness, thus expressing a craving for freedom and independence. Her response to her "feeling of infinity" is also an attempt to free herself, to erase boundaries.
Thus, it seems that the various tasks of the [I-Place] consultancy elicited a certain duality from Tal: She wanted clear/well-defined boundaries but did not want to be restricted. She sought an openness that would allow her free expression and autonomy.
Ultimately, the right place for Tal is one that
• embraces her but does not stifle her;
• Offers her spatial freedom but provides clear boundaries; and.
• Allows for social interaction but enables her to withdraw into a private region.



 

B. The renovated apartment
 

Tal’s [I-Place] couseling procedure indicated that her residence should have clearly demarcated boundaries and large windows [freedom] that do not over-expose her [clear boundaries]. The home-space should not be cluttered [order]. Furniture should be sparse, lightweight but soft, the flooring should have a wooden texture [cozy], and the walls and ceiling should be painted in warm, pale colors. Spatial conditions of a loose embrace that include a minor component of holding.

Tal’s existing apartment  was situated on the second floor of an 8-flat condominium. It originally included a living room with an attached balcony, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a small utility room. The windows of the living room and of one of the bedrooms opened out onto a quiet residential street with a few trees and parked cars. The kitchen windows and those of the other bedroom opened out onto the building's narrow and neglected backyard. The bedrooms also had smaller windows that opened out onto the narrow gap that the law requires be left between neighboring buildings.

The actual floor area was small and limited (85sq.m). The apartment was surrounded on three sides by a staircase, the backyard, and the narrow space that separated it from the neighboring building. Windows to these three directions were unacceptable since they would over-expose her. The only outdoor place that could offer her any option for disengagement was the street with its inherently liberating sky, public domain, and vegetation. These spatial conditions created a tight embrace.

Based on the insights gained in the [I-place] procedure, we made the following decisions:

a. Tal's apartment should be as spacious as possible so that spatial constrains are mineralized, since the larger a space, the more open options there are for entities to be in it and for actions to take place.

b. The apartment should have elaborated views of the street, offering options of visual disengagement to other places as well as to the vast expanse of the sky.

c. There should be no direct exposure to the building's backyard and the intrusive gazes of those living around it.

d. There should be plants, which by being, at least partially not under human control, offer a certain degree of independence and freedom.

e. Furniture should be sparse so that the space remains relatively empty and uncluttered, maintaining a high degree of open options for entities to be in it and for actions to take place.

f. Furniture should be soft and lightweight and colors should be warm, pale, and unsaturated so that they provide gentle and loose embracement.



The redesign of Tal's apartment achieved maximum spaciousness by leaving it mostly empty and sparsely furnished. This spaciousness was further emphasized by dividing the apartment into only two main regions: A front open plan region comprising living room, kitchen, and dining area, and a back region with a bedroom, bathroom, and WC.
Further options of disengagement were provided by opening a large corner window in the living room. This window offered a more extensive/longer view down the street, in addition to an immediate view of the part of the street adjacent to the window.

Since a window in the back wall would have exposed the bedroom to the unwelcome gaze of neighbors, we opened the room up by means of an "air curtain" onto a deep, side balcony, which was then populated with an abundance of plants that acted as filters, providing an indirect and veiled view of the outdoors and of the sky. The very presence of plants enhances the disengaging potential of the room. Plants in the round bathroom window had the same filtering effect and prevented exposure to the gaze of neighbors.

The redesign of Tal's apartment achieved maximum spaciousness by leaving it mostly empty and furnishing it only sparsely. This spaciousness was further emphasized by dividing the apartment into only two main regions: A front open plan: front open plan region comprising living room, kitchen, and dining area, and a back region with a bedroom, bathroom, and WC. Further options of disengagement were provided by opening a large corner window in the living room. This window offered a more extensive/longer view down the street, in addition to an immediate view of the part of the street adjacent to the window.
Since a direct window would have exposed the bedroom to the unwelcome gaze of neighbors, we opened the room up by means of an "air curtain" onto a deep, side balcony, which was then populated with an abundance of plants that acted as filters, providing an indirect and veiled view of the outdoors and of the sky. The very presence of plants enhances the disengaging potential of the room. Plants in the round bathroom window had the same filtering effect and prevented exposure to the gaze of neighbors.

 

 


 Counseling to Couples

When the [I-place] counseling procedure is employed with couples or groups, each of the spouses or, in the case of a group, each member of a representative sample, is first asked to carry out the various tasks on his or her own.
 

During the second stage, the emerging data is discussed with the couple or group members, in an attempt to create a place that will provide each member of the couple or of the group with the place embrace that is right for her or him.

 

What makes it difficult at times for a couple to create a place in which each of them feels at home, is their often unexpressed assumption that they are about to create something together, like conception of a child. In fact each of them attempts to enact in their home her or his [I-world] dialogic relationship. The [I-place] counseling enhances their well being by enabling them to create a place that is a collage of their respective homes, as well as those of their children's. This process can be combined with couple therapy.

In the home page we described the case of a couple, she a physiotherapist and he a music teacher, who were about to redesign a home they bought in a community village. The existing house was surrounded by a garden and its rooms were organized around a small dining area that connected them spatially (a location supposed to promote family interaction and unity).
Both husband and wife found the existing spatial conditions unsuitable. Following the [I-Place] counseling procedure it become apparent that for her the home should offer a loose embrace, while for him the spatial embrace of home should be tight.

We proposed a number of changes that would convert their home into a place that enables his and hers homes to co-exist side by side:

We cancelled the home's centralized organization around the dining area, and instead created two semi-separate areas, alongside each other. To cater to her needs, we opened the right-hand side of the house onto an extended garden with a separate entrance leading to her clinic (which we located beneath the living room).
For him, we had the left-hand side of the house border with a number of enclosed gardens, his studio opening out onto one of them. Thus, he was able to teach without detaching himself from the body of the home and, at the same time, without disturbing his family (thanks to acoustically insulated sliding doors).
 

 

      

Counseling to corporations
 

In creating a place for a corporation, what often causes the alienation of spatial conditions is an attempt by management and professional designers to build a symbol or a representation of their values or the image they want to project to themselves and the public.  [I-place] counseling helps management and staffs explicate their dialogic relationships with the place and to create spatial conditions that enact these relationships (as well as creating signs and symbols that represent them).

A veteran British corporation decided to introduce changes in its main research center in the 1990’s. The company asked the Environmental Psychology Unit at the University of Surrey, England, to study staff attitudes and create guidelines for designers. The head of the department, Prof. David Canter, asked us to diagnose the spatial configuration desired by the center’s staff.
We assembled three feedback groups, which constituted a representative sample of the center’s employees. We met each group twice.
During the first meeting, each of the participants used the Location Task to create the research center configuration he/she found most desirable.
After we analyzed the written and graphic materials, we held a second separate meeting with each group and discussed the findings with them.
An analysis of the material revealed a desire for a spatial embrace that balances between the holding expressed in the desire to maintain connection with the center in general by means of easy access and the ability to observe other departments, as well as the desire to maintain the traditional building style of their country; and freedom and disengagement expressed in their desire to maintain the clear spatial identity of each department and the emphasis they placed on open areas with a wild character (to the point of making them a living space for foxes).
In order to create the desired balanced spatial embrace, we proposed the following configuration:

Holding is established by locating the departments around a clear center and connecting them to a sequence of rest/catering and management areas.
Disengagement and freedom are created by situating a garden in the middle of the premises, by spatially defining the departments (and their parking lots) as separate units, and by allowing open areas to penetrate each department and enveloping the entire premises within a continuous open area.