Where’s the language in a everyday walk? – Part I.

Note: The following entry is the result of the reflection I’ve had at end of last year about why each settlement makes us feel -through the environment- something specific and different to our place of origin. While writing, it was then that I resorted to research and found people and concepts (such as Genius Loci) that many years ago raised ideas similar to mine. I am amazed and I feel somewhat… uninformed.

“Whoso hurries unduly will never catch the genius loci of those regions”.

– Peter Ackroyd. English biographer, novelist and critic.

I have been walking the same route for several months to go to work in the mornings. I consider myself a person who likes to vary the obligatory daily walk to get from point A to point B. But lately this habit is the exception when it comes to the fork that is in the alley outside my house. Imagine my house is up on a hill. There are two ways to get to the main street (which is downhill): (1) Walking down the alley where my house is located or (2) walking down the alley parallel to mine. I think a lot of my decision about walking every morning through option (1) is thanks to the language contained in that route. A language? Put another way: The coherent way in which the Environmental Design transmits a visual and spatial language to be interpreted by humans.

To continue, I would like to outline to you what Environmental Design is in this context:

It is the ordering of the physical environment by means of architecture, engineering, construction, landscape architecture, urban design, and city planning.

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Site analysis of… somewhere in the world.

If I walk downhill any of the alleys does not save me time traveling one or the other. Nor do I get tire of walking one alley or the other. Actually my choice has been the result of a matter of language and visual delight. The environmental design in my alley greets me every morning kindly and good looking, wishing me a good day at work. When I open the door to the exit, the first thing I see is my neighbor, Mr. Treetrunk (my neighbor’s trunk of a dead tree); Then always at the same hour I see a lady feeding in unconventional ways to the birds (that lady has the strange habit of drawing figures on the floor using the bird’s food as a brush; And at the end of the alley a jacaranda and an orange tree that serve as exit portal. When crossing that portal there’s a building that stands vigilantly up on the hill. That building is the handsome part of my daily journey, it is who communicates “the final verse of the alley”.

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State Auditorium. Guanajuato, México. The building up in the hill.

That architectural work has always evoked me vigor and vigilance. In addition I have several memories of that building: There I captured my first Pikachu playing Pokémon Go; I’ve witnessed incredible plays and concerts and it is one of the host buildings of the city’s film festival, where I helped my father to coordinate the installations staff, booths, scenographies and scenarios.

While writing this new post I researched a bit about its history and surprisingly discovered that it was designed by Abraham Zabludovsky… 2 years seeing this building every morning and never had an idea that the architect was one of the most symbolic in my country (I will eventually write about him and his importance). This discovery only reaffirmed my thoughts about language, emotions and the environment. It is as if the architect Abraham has been commissioned to create the verses that embellish the landscape of this place. I thought: This guy is a poet… a poet in the architecture. He’s responsible of many impressions in the people who sees that landscape.

The concept that will help us to better relate environmental design, language and architecture is Genius Loci:

In ancient Rome people spoke about the Genius Loci or Spirit of Place to refer to the spirit that would protect towns or other populated areas, acting as the town’s Genius. This term was adopted by late 20th century architects to describe the identifying qualities or emotional experience of a place (Remember when I said that building evoked to me vigor and vigilance?). Some call designing to the concept of Genius Loci placemaking, that is, creating memorable or unique experiences in a designed spaceGenius Loci can be built through manipulations in lighting, shadows, spatial organization, and the size of spaces… Knowing this can help designers, storytellers, and creators of worlds reinforce their practices when creating cities or environments.

A Norwegian architect said:

“The spaces where life occurs are places… A place is a space which has a distinct character. Since ancient times the genius loci, or spirit of place, has been recognized as the concrete reality man has to face and come to terms with in his daily life. Architecture means to visualize the genius loci and the task of the architect is to create meaningful places, whereby he helps man to dwell.”

-Christian Norberg-Schulz. Architect and architectural theorist.

Norberg-Schulz’ substantive interest is in architecture and its intentions. He argues that it is not enough for architects to make practical towns and buildings. Architecture has to concretize Genius Loci, and he suggest that this is done by creating buildings which gather the properties of the place and help people to dwell poetically and to know how they belong to a place…

If you pay enough attention as you walk the routes from point A to point B, you will always discover hidden stories that are narrated by the environment. You will notice that there will always be an embellished, rhythmic and directional communication. If you hurry unduly you will never catch the Genius Loci of those regions, thus you’d be missing out on landscapes and stories. It does not matter if the environment was built by architects or by ordinary people, it is possible that certain districts, regions, buildings or neighborhoods can actively modify the behavior of people who live or habit in them. This will last even though the civilization or society that lives there disappears. It is probably a matter of influence of nature and the environment in our psychology. In fact… I feel very attracted to people who enjoys a walk in the park, a hiking or a time to meditate when walking.

To be continued…

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In the second part of this post I will tell you about what I discovered while walking down a street in the city of Vancouver, B.C. The discovery of a book recommended by Joel Burgess (World Director in Ubisoft), and the applications that may have to know about patterns of this type of language in the creation of a virtual or fictitious world in disciplines like the Environmental Design or the Level Design in video games. Just remember, I’m not a designer, I just like to share about topics I love. I’m sure you can apply widely anything you can learn from this writings.

Sincerely,

Fonz.

Are you a designer?

I’m not. I consider myself one of those people who believe that design is everywhere, something like nature, in fact, believers think that God is a great designer. For me the design has been a great companion in my life, although it has not been part of my professional studies. I met design when I was 12 years old, in that time my father took me to help him in the montages of scenographies, the installation of giant tailor-made booths, the design and creation of beautiful parade floats or to help him in the logistics of the city’s film festival. However I think that one of the biggest responsible for my taste for design was falling in love. I was a very shy guy with the girls in the school. When I wanted to approach to a girl with the intention of pleasing her, I designed a collage with clippings drawn from my father’s design magazines. I did it secretly, I did not imagine myself asking my father for his valuable magazines to cut them and create collages that were given to girls who did not appreciate my compositions and written messages. I do not regret. Meanwhile I created the collages, I read and learned about marketing, typography, illustration, advertising, films and even music. And yes! Luckily I never clipped the sheets when there were interesting articles or illustrations on the back. That forced me to compose my collages with limited trimming resources and to add texts or illustrations made by myself. The last time I did a collage for a girl was when I was 20; The more love stories and disappointments the less clipping options and the magazine only published 20 issues throughout its history! (See the awesome magazine’s covers here).

When it came the time to choose a degree I chose business hoping to learn about marketing, organizational development and all the numbers and strategies that help the organizations to be better and turn into successful companies. I still remember the teacher of the first marketing course asking me:

-What do you want to do after finishing your degree?

-I want to be creative and work in a creative team. I said.

(…) I know, a naive and uninformed answer. But now I think that answer was deeply based on my desire to belong to an organization where cross functional teams created products related to the creative industry. And that’s where video games are part of me, literally. For me video games have always been a form of an effective catharsis that, in addition to the action of entertaining, developed to a large extent my social and leadership skills (I made many friends playing Mario Party, World of Warcraft, Counter Strike, Dota), taught me a different language and served me as the escape valve when I faced difficult situations in the life of a teenager (for example being rejected by a girl in the school). Personally I think that my taste for design was consolidated back in 2012 With that proposal that contemplated me for becoming part of a talented team of programmers dedicated to creating 3D video games for PC, supporting them in the subject that I had the need to learn but they didn’t: Business and organizations. Nowadays I coexist with several themes that I never imagined would be part of my professional life: User experience, game experience, game design, level design and so on. I have learned so much in the last 4 years about development and production of video games and I think it’s time to share my experiences (and of course, to continue learning). Currently I work as an associate producer in an important video game and virtual reality development studio in Mexico. 50% of this blog will try to share my personal and professional experience in the video game industry and the other 50% will approach narratively and associatively the way in which the design and its theory has helped me to perceive differently all the creations of the human being in art, in the construction of cities and towns, in the production of entertainment as a form of communication and human development and in the use of new (and “old”) technologies that break paradigms as they are adopted and commercialized.

Roughly; Let’s share design and associate design with contemporary everyday life of the human being. Because even life needs to be designed and everyone has the freedom to be designers in their daily lives. In other words: Be a designer.

I leave you with the next definition of design, hoping that you will understand the theme and the direction of these writings.

Design is a Method of Problem Solving

Sincerely,

Alfonso.