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Why Shaping Space?

'Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into spaceMies van der Rohe Architect.

Two beliefs underlie the RIAl's initiative in producing "Shaping Space". The first is that good architecture and a good environment are more likely to be achieved where there is a well-informed public. The second is that, as citizens, we all need and are entitled to know how we can influence the quality of what gets built around us.

We often tend to think of architecture in terms of walls and roofs, of style and decoration. But what we actually live in are the spaces surrounded by these things. Even when we are outdoors we move about in spaces defined by buildings, walls, fences, roads and hedges. And the shape, size and organisation of the spaces we make reflect the needs - and the values - of the society we live in.

Space is not just a functional necessity. When we say that a house is 'spacious', we do not mean only that there is enough room to fit a family, its belongings and its activities. It is the quality as much as the quantity of the space that we respond to. A house feels really comfortable if the rooms are of pleasant proportions, there is plenty of light and the sun shines in. It may be difficult to define "pleasant proportions", but we know them when we see them. Our first reactions to a building are sensory and emotional - intellectual analysis comes later. If someone's heart lifts when they go into a cathedral, it is not because it was built in the year 'x', as part of a 'y' kind of settlement pattern, and has columns in the 'z' style. It is because the space soars, the structure is heroic and the light beautiful.

Of all the arts, architecture probably has the most immediate and inescapable impact on the everyday lives of all of us. And it is an art which straddles most aspects of human thought and experience. Architects have been inspired by poetry, philosophy, scientific theories, psychology, paintings, technological breakthroughs, social needs, religion, aesthetics, geometry ... Architecture presents endless possibilities for learning experiences which embody the philosophy of the Transition Year.

If 'Shaping Space' helps give young people a stronger sense of what makes good architecture and of how they themselves can influence the quality of the built environment it will have succeeded in its aims.

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