Form, Space, and Order

Written by Tom "Magi" Smallwood

"You employ stone, wood, and concrete, and with these materials you build house and palaces. That is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly, you touch my heart, you do me good. I am happy and I say 'This is beautiful.' That is architecture. Art enters in."

Well, Darkness Falls has had movie reviews and music reviews, how about a book review? Not just any book, mind you, but a book that might actually be useful for level editors?

I was browsing through the architecture section at Barns & Noble the other day and came across Architecture : Form, Space, & Order, by Francis D.K. Ching and after a quick glance through it, knew it was a must buy.

When my friends ask me what I'm doing when I level design, I tell them I'm an architect. After reading this book, I know how far off I am. I'm a wanna-be. A pretender. I don't know the first thing about true architecture. I'm not talking about the mathematics and physics that go into building something. I'm referring to the feel of the architecture. What makes a building into a church? When do a bunch of walls and a roof suddenly become a home?

While this book was actually written for architects, as I read it, I felt it had the level editor in mind. If you want your levels to speak to the players, this book is for you. I recommend you have good understanding of how to edit a level and some experience doing it before you try and implement the ideas presented in the book. It can be very thought provoking for anybody, you need to understand your tools before you start building a house. Each page of the book is filled with examples including architecture from numerous cultures. Due to the number of diagrams, illustrations and pictures, there is not a lot of text in the book, but what is in there is definitely worth slowing down and reading carefully. Of course, all the pictures can be inspirational on their own.

Do you understand the effect of where you place a door on a wall has a effect on the overall feel of the room? When should you use a deep window versus one that is only a few inches to the outside? How do you make a room a central focal point versus one that you want to tell a person to simply pass through here? These are the kind of things that Dr. Ching delves into in the book. The subtle differences caused by making a window bigger or smaller. What size should something be, why it should be that size, and how it changes the feel of something as you change its size.

Chapter one starts out talking about points in space. Hmmm, sounds like a vertex to me. From there, the author moves right on to lines, then planes and finally into 3D space. In chapter 2: Form, he goes into subtractive and additive space, using basic geometric shapes and even discusses adding substance to corners. Chapter 3 is entitled Forms and Space. It is about general layout of the architecture. How openings in deferent parts of a room affect the feel of a room as well as the effects different shaped plans have on people. He even talks about lighting, something that is often overlooked by level editors.

Chapter 4 starts with the organization of space, from the spacial relationship of rooms to their organization to how they all work together to build a cohesive unit. Chapter 5 is all about movement and flow through a building. Starting with the approach to a building, Ching talks about the gate houses, entrances (with nice examples on how to make them stand out), and how to build a 'flow' through a building. 'Proportion and Scale' is the name of chapter 6. How tall should your walls be to get the effect you want? Look no further. The final chapter is entitled Principles, including this such as symmetry, hierarchy, rhythm and repetition.

With as much as I'm going into the meat of the text, you might think that this book doesn't have a lot of pictures and illustrations. Not the case at all. Out of it's 400 pages, maybe 20 of them don't have diagrams or illustrations (11 of those are the index) and most have more than 1. You want to see what the Pantheon looks like? Check out page 93 for a split view (half exterior, half interior) or turn to page 196 for some floor plans, or page 146 for a picture from a different angle. The great temple of Rameses II? Page 226 (external and floor plans). Pages 270-275: five pages on staircases and their structure. The illustrations dwarf the text in the book. Each page is 8.5 x 11 inches and typically has about three or four small paragraphs per page. Almost every paragraph is fully illustrated or diagramed, often having multiple examples. You want inspiration? Here it is. There are lots of floor plans and pictures of buildings from may time periods and places (including a number by famed architect Frank Lloyde Wright).

The author leaves us with the following quote, which I think sums things up quite nicely.

"You employ stone, wood, and concrete, and with these materials you build house and palaces. That is construction. Ingenuity is at work.

But suddenly, you touch my heart, you do me good. I am happy and I say 'This is beautiful.' That is architecture. Art enters in.

My house is practical. I thank you, as I might thank Railway engineers, or the Telephone service. You have not touched my heart.

But suppose that walls rise toward heaven in such a way that I am moved. I perceive your intentions. Your mood has been gentle, brutal, charming, or noble. The stones you have erected tell me so. You fix me to the place and my eyes regard it. They behold something which expresses a thought. A thought which reveals itself without wood or sound, but solely by means of shapes which stand in a certain relationship to one another. These shapes are such that they are clearly revealed in light. The relationships between them have not necessarily and reference to what is practical or descriptive. They are a mathematical creation of our mind. They are the language of Architecture. By the use of raw materials and starting from conditions more or less utilitarian, you have established certain relationships which have aroused my emotions. This is Architecture."

Le Corbusier -- Towards a new Architecture -- 1927

This book was designed for architects and any level designer is an architect of sorts. I recommend you learn something about it. This book makes a great starting point. If you want to learn more about it, you can check out They have it listed for $26.36, (with a list price of $32.95.

Magi has finally graduated from Dr.
Seuss books. Next up: The Berenstein Bears.

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