How do we as designers, architects and planners represent the use of space, before buildings are completed? From the early days at architecture school, we have drummed into our way of thinking, an empathetic understanding of lines on a plan. We are taught to read the plan like a visual text. Instinctively we look for a north point to note where the sun comes round, the front door to assess where you start to understand the building in terms of its movement and then with practice the eye begins to float over these plans making sense of the connections between spaces. In more complex buildings we need the plan and section to negotiate a number of levels, probably baffling to most non architects.
To make life clearer for that more general public, the name of a space traditionally would be its use signifier - living room, entrance courtyard, or even more synoptic particularly in housing - din, liv, kit or in the ultimate short hand - D, L, K, M, F, the latter, shorthand for male and female toilets. Implicit in this terminology is the idea of explaining the code of the drawings through identifying the activity to go on in the building.
They can be somewhat limited explanations, conventions limiting the understanding of the use of the space. Are their other ways? We have been experimenting with typologies of explanatory diagrams, such as abstract signs in our Woodside Health Centre to represent the range of activities and flow lines to explore how our plan for the Centre for the War Blinded in Paisley might be used, by different users, on a day by day basis and in event mode.
What emerges is that the gradual transformation of how we communicate and share our building documentation is challenging the conventions of plans, sections and room titles with the potential for layered stacks of information which is brighter, more illustrative, embedded with content and potentially dynamic. Nothing beats the real space though for stimulating thoughts about activity but as a necessary step to getting there the tools we use are opening our eyes just a little wider.