Everyday we move in different spheres, working, playing, traveling and resting in many different spaces. Have you ever wondered how environments affect us, or questioned our relationship to the spaces around us? Coming to a better understanding of these spaces-whether the small spaces in which we work and sleep or the larger society in which we live-can change our lives.
Don't be frightened by the title, The Power of Space. The author, Bih Herng-dar, an associate professor in the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning at National Taiwan University, is simply reminding us to open our eyes to the world around us. Bih believes we can discover a surprising number of new things by taking a fresh look around us. His book also shows readers how to use creativity and imagination to add color to what might seem to be a monochromatic life.
A spatial philosopher
Bih Herng-dar's fundamental philosophy of life is relatively straightforward: Life is about "people," and "people" are thinking, self-determining beings.
With that philosophy in mind, Bih chose a people-oriented field-urban planning-when he first went off to graduate school. Years of academic and professional training further refined Bih's people-first approach to problems. It also strengthened his resolve to go back to school in environmental psychology.
Bih explains, "Environmental psychology grew out of critiques of mainstream architecture and psychology. As such, its critical tradition is very strong." Six years as a PhD student in the City University of New York's graduate school of environmental psychology gave Bih a different perspective on society. Bih's classmates at CUNY were drawn from all segments of society, and included people from poor backgrounds, minorities, women, and homosexuals. Moreover, the variegated academic and social tapestry through which he moved in New York encouraged him to think about life outside the mainstream.
When Bih returned to Taiwan in 1992, he began teaching environmental psychology, gender and environment, and a pioneering course in disaster psychology at National Taiwan University. He also began writing. His report on the radioactive steel used in the Minsheng Villas inspired an examination of the spaces in which disasters have occurred. In The Power of Space, Bih draws together a number of long-held interests as he examines space from the perspectives of gender, environment and culture.
Taking another look
Space, much like air, surrounds us but is usually taken for granted. According to Bih, the key to a new conception of space is "a childlike curiosity and an open mind. With these we can always discover something of interest or a different perspective on the spaces around us."
We can begin with objects from our everyday space. Bih has his students at Taiwan University "rub for treasure" by looking for human expressions in rubbings they make from tree limbs, tire treads, the surface of a paved road and keys. What he calls an "affectionate dialogue between people and objects" gives rise to a sense that there is more to everyday objects than their explicit function, a sense that we can give them more vibrant meanings. For example, to a student attending a school far from home, a little rice cooker brought from home might carry with it memories of a home-cooked meal.
Spaces can speak
The book also treats a number of social issues as forms of spatial reality. These issues include heterosexuality and homosexuality, the uprooting of veterans to make room for the No. 14 park, and the fate of those who lost their homes in the Lincoln Mansions disaster and the Chichi earthquake. In Bih's conception of space, each of these issues is a speaking "person." Bih takes readers to the core of these problems and allows them to understand the issues from the perspective of those involved.
Bih also reminds us to take a fresh look at public spaces that we may have glanced at without really seeing in the past-our roadways, for example. Bih notes that roads are designed exclusively for people who drive cars; their design forces pedestrians to use over or underpasses and even requires motorcycles to duck and weave. In Bih's view, we should provide pedestrians with comfortable, unobstructed spaces in which to walk. He further believes that mass transit systems, not more roads and parking lots, are the solution to our traffic woes.
Taking the campuses of our schools as another example, Bih notes that the tall bronze statues of Chiang Kai-shek present on every primary school campus are not objects of veneration to the students. Instead, they become part of games of hide-and-seek during the day, and transform into a source of ghost stories after dark.
Readers read to discover new things, to see the world from previously overlooked angles. By opening his readers' eyes to space, Bih hopes that they will take what they have learned to create and improve the spaces around them.
Author: Bih Herng-Dar
Publication Date: June 2001