Humane Habitation

Marcus Beale RIBA is interviewed by Chantal Cooke at Passion for the Planet Radio on Humane Habitation. Broadcast from 2 April 2007

What do you mean by humane habitation?

Spaces that are designed with the human and human activity at the centre, rather than as a commodity where humans are like counters being moved around a floor plan.

How would a humane building differ from another building?

In a humane building you are connected to the city and to nature. As opposed to a climate excluding building which puts a glass wall between the inside and outside and pumps energy into the building to create a comfortable interior environment, humane buildings are climate adaptive, connected to outside spaces, through windows doors, perhaps shutters, louvres, curtains, railings – layers between the inside and outside space – you’re always aware of time of day and the seasons. For example, an office building we remodelled in Covent Garden, where instead of demolishing – it is an 1820s coach works with strip windows: brick and timber – instead we stripped out all the internal staircases and interior rooms, created open floor plates with plain oak floors, and added at the back a new staircase, showers, kitchens and loos, with a south facing glass wall, up which we grew vines. The people who work in this building are always aware of the seasons, a mat of leaves which in spring is light green, in summer changes to deep green, and then in the autumn goes orange and falls off, leaving the glass clear in winter to accept the sunlight. But as well as looking outwards and upwards, humane buildings are good to be in, they have a good ambience, which is largely acoustic, and they are good to touch, things are shaped to fit the human body and are made of wholesome non-toxic materials.

Does the issue of humane architecture relate only to the building, or are there other aspects to it?

It relates to the whole process of construction. For example the way you procure your sites, the way you engage contractors, the whole business ethic. Cooks talk about the main ingredient in a meal being love: the care, the attitude that goes into preparation. On a well run building site, where people are treated as human beings, you get much better craftsmanship. It’s about the whole attitude to making things, and the value of what you are making.

Francesco Di Giorgio c1439 -1502 – man inscribed in a building plan.