Three Dimensions of Space

Space can be one of the most complex concepts to ponder. Lefebvre’s treatise on space is philosophical and theoretically complex, however, an extremely simplified version can still prove useful. Lefebvre proposes that space has three parts: mental (conceptual understanding and apprehension), physical (perceptual – how and what you see) and social (as acted, practiced, lived or used). Keeping these three dimensions of space (as opposed to width, height and depth) in mind as you design expands your spatial thinking so that you do not treat space as either pure form (abstract and objective) or pure experience (subjective).

The lines you draw represent walls and openings which describe a physical organisation – a geometry. However, different organisational types represent different philosophical approaches, and so it is also conceptual – an idea about space and architecture. Finally, at some point, some people will live in, utilise, pass by and engage with those imagined, conceptualised and drawn organisations. Those people will interpret and partially recognise and partially reject particular aspects of what you have done. They will perceive, in their own way – dynamically, over time and mostly while distracted by life itself – those ideas which for you were primary and most important.

A lot of energy has gone into defending objective and formal approaches to architecture and just as much energy has gone into defending subjective, perceptual and experiential approaches to architecture. Neither approach is correct if taken in isolation. Lefebvre’s idea allows us to think about space in a more complex, layered, and ultimately more fruitful manner.

Source: Henri Lefebvre

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