Aside from the obvious material differences revealed in the June 22nd article, Architecture is Too Expensive, I thought it noteworthy how the spatial proportions and contextual relationships contrasted one another in the Walgreens and Mission Santa Barbara “arcade” examples. A diagrammatic cross section through both conditions reveals differing priorities toward daylight access, views, and threshold.
Let’s look at the Walgreens store first. The bench is located over 15 ft. past the roof overhang – a point at which daylight noticeably decreases. Though the setback enables shoppers to conveniently pass by without tripping over the legs of those seated, sitters are left in the dark without much to admire. When resting at the bench one is confronted by cars – aligned at the same height as a driver seated in their vehicle. There is no spatial sense of separation aside from the curb and occasional appearance of the column / bollard grid, thus the “arcade” is as much a dull attempt at pedestrian-izing a parking lot as it is store front circulation. It straightforwardly states, “get me in and get me out” by funneling patrons from the expansive parking lot along its hard edges toward the barely distinguishable front door. The passage through this sort of threshold (parking – sidewalk – store wall) is as easily forgotten as the search for an open parking stall.
The horizontal proportions of Walgreen’s funnel (~16’ wide by ~10’ tall) are practically flipped at the Mission Santa Barbara. The less deep and more vertical space allows daylight to stream through the arcade to the exterior wall where a variety of benches are shaded, but not left in the dark. The height of the space offers a sense of lightness with expansive skyward views; however, it does so while maintaining a sense of safety and separation from the parking area. Level changes and a variety of architectural and vegetative layers create a stage-like setting that oscillates between foreground and background – containment and permeability. Notions of threshold extend beyond that of a curb and front door to include exterior sidewalk, planter, stairs, balustrade, and archway.
Such a layering offers sensorial choices – varied, but clear – to the action of entering/exiting and does so within defensible space – simultaneously offering both prospect of possibilities (ranging from “stopping to smell the flowers” to racing for the front door) and refuge from undesirable interaction (e.g. facing windshields head-on). The proportion of the arcade works together with the entire system of aforementioned elements to achieve this experiential richness. Had the height been halved, the crescendo effect of climbing the stairs would have been lost, not to mention the expansive view. Conversely, had Walgreens raised the height of the ceiling, the spatial experience might be less claustrophobic, but not necessarily more desirable given its immediate adjacencies. Climatic conditions aside, the Mission succeeds because of the attention put toward threshold and reminds us that enjoyable space doesn’t occur from materiality, proportion, or context alone. Rather, it requires a deep understanding of these interrelationships.