The 'Middle Way'

Above. Siddhartha Gautama, most commonly referred to as the Buddha ['the awakened']: a wandering ascetic who lived in South Asia during the 6th or 5th century BCE and founded Buddhism.

'Western societies have two dimensional cultures [such as black and white, interior and exterior], while Japanese society has a three- or multi-dimensional culture of greys [interior, intermediate, and exterior].'

Kisho Kurokawa



We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism.2 In architecture and urban planning, the modernist aesthetic which dominates our age, takes the form of geometric fundamentalism:3 mediocre and banal, high-rise rectangular slabs or square columns, overwhelming deployed in industrial products like plate glass, steel, and crude 'brutalist' concrete. Included in this 'visual hell'4 is the utopian fantasy of the tabula rasa [blank slate]: vast stretches of what was once forest and woods, alive with many wondrous forms of plants and animal life; destroyed, erased, and flattened to create great swathes of crude, insensitive, and inhumane outdoor space. 

In my opinion, the problem of tabula rasa urbanism deserted city streets and residential 'gardens' which are truly marvels of dullness and regimentation5 lies in the systemic refusal to apply the concept of prospect and refuge ['to see without being seen'6], to either the creation or the estimation of outdoor space. In short, people prefer easily accessible environments with unimpeded views for visually surveying and contemplating the surrounding environment for both opportunity and hazard [prospect]7; and a sense of retreat and withdrawal, from environmental conditions, the main flow of activity or for work, protection, rest or healing [refuge]8. Consequently, environments that achieve a balance between prospect and refuge are considered more aesthetically pleasing and have a higher probability of being used for a wide range of social and recreational activities, than environments without.9

Thus we find in our bland and impoverished spaces between buildings, such things as streets, footpaths, 'gardens', lawns, courtyards; only the bare minimum of activity takes place.10 More than that, and here we get down to the heart of the matter: people [we] prefer to remain indoors, living inside what are most certainly sensory-reduction environments, in front of the television. Our experiences of the world therefore, can no longer be called direct, or primary. They are secondary, mediated experiences. Therefore, whoever controls the processes of re-creation, effectively redefines reality for everyone else, and creates the entire world of human experience, our field of knowledge. The role of the media in all this is to confirm the validity of the arbitrary world in which we live. The role of television is to project that world, via images, into our heads, all of us at the same time.

Most people give little importance to this change in human experience, if they even notice it at all.11 We are so surrounded by artificial, reconstructed, and abritrary environments that are strictly the products of a despiritualised, pro-techno-scientific paradigm; so dominated by the goddess Reason, who is our greatest and most tragic illusion12 — we fail to see the collective soul-sickness13 - boredom, demoralisation, low self-esteem, inferiority feelings, defeatism, depression, anxiety, guilt, frustration, hostility, spouse or child abuse, insatiable hedonism, abnormal sexual behaviour, sleep disorders, eating disorders. etc.14 - that we are all having to face either directly or indirectly, whether we like to think so or not.15 

And so rather than passively look around and wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself:16 slowly and quietly, I took the opportunity to strive for, conceive and create the new home of the future; based on the concept of blurring the distinction between inside and outside - the essence of Japanese, indeed, all of Asian architecture - and the sensitive marriage of old and new, of past and future17 in residential outdoor space. What followed was an installation-based approach to remodelling the existing, that combines the clean lines and simplicity of 'warm minimalism' with Japanese [Asian] traditions in building, spirituality and, the association between architecture and nature - broadly referred to as in-between space.  

In the next decade, it is my aim to deliver a diverse body of small-scale in-between spaces that not only stand in stark contrast to the considerable influence of artistic modernism and its 'brutalist' visions for architecture and urban space; but also offer - one hopes - a much-needed source of creative inspiration in a society which has succumbed to apathy, due to a hundred years of modernist tyranny; and unconsciously internalised its narrow and spiritually sterile perception of aesthetics and reality. Driving it all, is Nabeel Hamdi's simple, yet still challenging, premise, small change: 'small' because that's usually how big things start; 'change' because that's what development is essentially about; and 'small change', because this can be done without the millions typically spent on programmes and projects.'18

Bibliography and footnotes
1. Walter Benjamin [1931]. Het Destructieve Karakter [The Destructive Character]. Published originally in the Frankfurter Zeitung.
2. Mark Anthony Signorelli; Nikos A. Salingaros [2012]. The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism. New English Review, pp. 1.
3. Michael W. Mehaffy; Nikos A. Salingaros [2006]. A Theory of Architecture, Chapter Nine: Geometrical Fundamentalism. UMBAU-VERLAG Harald Püschel, pp. 172.
4. Theodore Dalrymple [2019]. Crimes in Concrete.
5. Jane Jacobs [1992]. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Vintage Books, pp. 4.
6. 'Before we break through the last bushes and out of cover to the free expanse of the meadow, we do what all wild animals ... would do under similar circumstances: we reconnoiter, seeking, before we leave our cover, to gain from it the advantage which it can offer alike to hunter and hunted - namely to see without being seen.'; Konrad Lorenz [1952]. King Solomon's Ring. pp. 181.
7. Terrapin Bright Green [2014]. The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health and Well-Being in the Built Environment, Prospect.
8. Terrapin Bright Green [2014], Refuge.
9. William Lidwell; Kritina-Holden; and Jill Butler [2003]. Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design. pp. 192.
10. Jan Gehl [2011]. Life Between Buildings: Using Public Spaces. Island Press, pp. 10.
11. ‘The modern office building is the archetypal example of [a sensory-deprivation environment]: The spaces are square, flat and small, eliminating a sense of height, depth, and irregularity. The decor is rigidly controlled to a bland uniformity from room to room and floor to floor … Most modern office buildings have hermetically sealed windows. The air is processed, the temperature regulated. It is always the same. The body’s largest sense organ, the skin, feels no wind, no changes in temperature, and is dulled ... The light remains constant from morning through night, from room to room until our awareness of light is as dulled as our awareness of temperature, and we are not aware of the passage of time … When we reduce an aspect of environment from varied and multidimensional to fixed, we also change the human being who lives within it. Humans give up the capacity to adjust, just as the person who only walks cannot so easily handle the experience of running. The lungs, the heart and other muscles have not been exercised. The human being then becomes a creature with a narrower range of abilities and fewer feelings about the loss. We become grosser, simpler, less varied, like the environment’ Jerry Mander [1978]. Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television
12. Carl G. Jung [1968]. Man and his Symbols. Dell Publishing, pp. 91.
13. '…the lack of meaning in life is a soul-sickness whose full extent and import our age has not yet begun to comprehend'; Carl G. Jung [1960]. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche [Collected Works of C. G. Jung].
14, Theodore J. Kaczynski [1995]. Industrial Society and Its Future, pp. 6.
15. Sapience Institute; Yusuf Ponders [2021]. Nihilism as a Poison – Part 1: The Death of Meaning
16. Carl G. Jung [1968], pp. 91.
17. Graeme Brooker; Sally Stone [2004]. Re-readings: Interior Architecture and the Design Principles of Remodelling Existing Buildings, RIBA Enterprises, pp. 21.
18. Nabeel Hamdi [2004]. Small Change: About the Art of Practice and the Limits of Planning in Cities. Earthscan, introduction xxiii. 
In-between Space 2024