Over time, societies are altered based on numerous factors. At the most empirical form, societies are altered because of a change in values. Whether they are of divine order or reason and individualism, ideals in society are reformed, causing development in culture, as is seen throughout all of history. But how do these advancements go beyond simply shifting the way a civilization thinks, and translate physically? Throughout history, change in value has directly manifested itself through circulation in architecture. With differences in value, society throughout history has reevaluated and reconfigured circulation not only as the organization of movement, but also as a cultural device to create effects that express the values of the time period. The values of self-presentation during the medieval times, privacy and comfort during modern times, and of sustainability in contemporary times have all manifested themselves in architecture through the ever-developing design of circulation, at various scales.
During the 17th century, the French court society had a very specific cultural value, which manifested itself architecturally through the design of circulation. The expression of the king’s power and prestige was a significant social principle at the time. This led to constant judgment of self-presentation on a scale of beauty. Self-presentation was usually displayed through one’s housing, fashion, parties, and transportation. One figure representative of this practice in the 17th century was King Louis XIV. King Louis XIV is best known for the construction of the Palace of Versailles. Once the palace became the permanent residence of the royal family in 1682, King Louis invited the most elite members of the court to live with him to reinforce his royal status.
The Palace of Versailles thrived the most during King Louis’s reign from 1643 to 1715. 1681, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the architect, created the Hall of Mirror as a part of an enlargement plan. The Hall of Mirrors was a long space with a series of mirrors set to create a sequence of beautiful ceremonial spaces. One would walk through this set of intimate spaces, experiencing the beauty of the king’s palace and becoming aware of the king’s wealth. The Hall of Mirrors was used for state receptions, court meetings, and as a networking center for the Royal Court. Another example of the king’s power display was the circulation from the public square to the king’s bedroom. The entrance sequence into the king’s bedroom was a series of three public squares, each decreasing in area. Decently dressed civilians were allowed to move through these squares and even enter the palace to watch the royals eat dinner and perform simple daily routines, such as sleeping and bathing. These two areas, the Hall of Mirrors and the public square, varied in exclusivity and function. Despite their differences, both used circulation not only as a means to move people through space, but also to display and celebrate the king’s power and prestige.
During the late 17th century, the Age of Enlightenment began questioning the ideals of society, including those of the French court society. With the questioning of divine order and the emphasis on reason, the middle class began to rise. The middle class became wealthy not because of their heredity, but because of their education. They began to create their own set of values, differing from that of the higher ‘divine’ class. Two primes examples of these values are privacy and comfort. Value in privacy and comfort manifested itself through the creation of the hallway.
With the rise of the middle class came the creation of the fashion industry, as the middle class sought to differentiate their wealth from that of the royal class. This value of presentation was similar to the king’s value of self-presentation, but the manifestation was different. The Opera House became a place that was only accessible to the wealthy and it became their regular gathering space. It became a place where they could show themselves off, gossip, and network. However, despite being out showing themselves off, the middle class valued privacy and comfort in their homes as an escape from the public. This increased the level of exclusivity in the homes of the middle class. In the king’s palace, what we could consider today as private program, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, were displayed to the public to glorify the king. In contrast, the value of privacy that rose in modern times as a result of the Enlightenment led to the creation of the hallway. In the Palais Bourbon, built in 1728, architect Lorenzo Giardini very distinctly separates public and private space throughout the entire building. He further divides the private program with the hallway. The hallway was used not only as a means of connecting spaces, but also as a device to create privacy between not only owners of the house and visitors, but even between certain members of the household. Circulation was redesigned not only to dictate movement within the house, but also to create a barrier between public and private space. The new value of privacy directly led to the reconfiguration of circulation through the reevaluation of inclusion and exclusion, resulting in the hallway.
During the contemporary time period, pollution, population growth, and energy consumption have dangerously increased. These issues have led to an intensifying interest in sustainability. Traditional methods and habits of energy consumption have been replaced with new technology and various alternative energy sources. Sustainability has become a value for all people in our time. It has manifested itself in architecture not only through alternative material use and design methods, but also through ideas of urban density. Vishaan Chakrabarti, a partner at SHoP Architects, proposes that dense cities are the most sustainable ways of living in terms of economy, environment, and lifestyle. He proposes that one crucial means to urban density is the use of public transportation over private transportation. Forest City, a real estate development company, is working in collaboration with SHoP Architects to encourage urban density in downtown Brooklyn, New York, by encouraging the use of the subway system. Forest City is heading the Atlantic Yards project, a development in downtown Brooklyn. It will construct 16 high-rise buildings including 6,400 affordable housing units and office buildings that will offer jobs to low/middle-class income residents, connected to 8 acres of landscaped open space, a public plaza, and the Barclays Center.
The Atlantic Yards site is above the Atlantic terminal, which serves the Atlantic branch of the Long Island Railroad. Also, the construction of Barclays Center included a new subway station. The Barclays Center subway station is the largest subway station in Brooklyn and the third largest transit hub in all of New York City. The Atlantic Yards project is placed in its context deliberately to encourage the use of the subway. Moreover, the Barclays Center is the first sports arena ever to not provide parking. Not only does the development urge public transportation, it also discourages the use of private transportation. Forest City has predicted that this development will not increase car traffic, despite 15,000 new residents. These factors serve as evidence to this claim. The Atlantic Yard Development is at such a large scale that when looking at it as a whole, the circulation of the project is not only the movement in and out, through, and between buildings and space, but includes the entire subway system, serving as the circulation of the city as a whole. The scale of the project allows it to encourage public transportation by utilizing the city circulation. This attraction to public transportation that is created leads to a more dense urban area, which according to Chakrabarti will make more sustainable living conditions, both environmentally and economically. Just as self-presentation and privacy were values in early times, sustainability has become an ideal during our time. Forest City Enterprises and SHoP Architects, via the Atlantic Yards Development and the Barclays Center have been able to use the city’s circulation as more than just a means of movement throughout the city, but also as a way to strive toward sustainability in downtown Brooklyn.
Throughout history, society has constantly changed and remains changing based on differing societal values. These societal values have manifested themselves architecturally directly through the reevaluation and redesign of circulation. However, another thing that each of these projects has in common is the aspect of inclusivity and exclusivity of different social classes. During the time of the French court society, the high class was favored and allowed to view the most beautiful spaces of the king’s palace. During modern times, the focus was on the middle class and the control of its interaction with others. During our time, the Atlantic Yards project is providing affordable housing for the low class, but the value of sustainability benefits everyone. The French monarch sought to differentiate itself from everyone else through the display of power and prestige. The middle class’s response was to do to the same of itself. However, during our time, the next class, the low class, doesn’t have the ability to create its own response. Instead, other members of society have decided to speak on their behalf by creating a more sustainable environment for everyone.
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