Positive space

One of the 15 fundamental properties.

Positive space is the way that a given center must draw its strength, in part, from the strength of other centers immediately adjacent to it in space.

Every single part of space has positive shape as a center. There are no amorphous meaningless leftovers. Every shape is a strong center, and every space is made up in such a way that it only has strong centers in its space, nothing else besides.

What I call positive space occurs when every bit of space swells outward, is substantial in itself, is never the leftover from an adjacent shape. We may see it like ripening corn, each kernel swelling until it meets the others, each one having its own positive shape cause by its growth as a cell from the inside.

My observations have led me to believe that in almost everything, large or small, the extent to which every single part is positive is fundamental to its life and wholeness. A work of art has life more or less to the extent that every single one of its component parts and spaces is whole, well-shaped and positive. Of all the properties which create life in space, this is probably the most simple and the most essential, since it is this one which guarantees to every part of space the status of being a relatively strong center.

Like in a good movie, where every detail is important and has a part in the story, and nothing grabs attention (is a center), if it is not important.

In the present Western view of space, we have forgotten the powerful force of space visible in the Nolli plan, even though it was commonplace in almost every ancient culture. We tend to see buildings floating in empty space, as if the space between them were an empty sea. This means that most often the buildings are placed and have their own definite physical shape — but the space which they are floating in is shapeless, making the buildings almost meaningless in their isolation.

It is almost as if in good examples of positive space, it is not quite apparent, what is the object and what is the background, as both have appealing shapes (the vase/face example). It might be that it is still obvious which is the background, but that background has a meaningful shape too.

In poor design, in order to give an entity good shape, the background space where it lies sometimes has leftover shape, or no shape at all. In the case of living design there is never any leftover space. Every distinct piece of space is a whole.

It is especially hard to see positive space in the interior three-dimensional space of buildings. In a building which works well, the various parts are always spatially positive. This means that even closets, small leftover rooms, hallways, and places between rooms all have the quality of being positive, useful, and beautifully shaped. And of course, the same thing continues to the outdoors, so that the various exterior places around the building all have a positive character, each one of them. There is not a single place which is “leftover”.

The main two practical results that happen from positive space in its various forms are (a) that every bit of space is very intensely useful, and (b) that there is no leftover waste space which is not useful. The combination of the two creates well-used, effective space, and therefore a very solid living character throughout the space. In the built world, large os small, the extent to which every single part of the thing — solid or void — is positive is key to its practical life.

In nature

In the majority of naturally developed wholes, the wholes and spaces between wholes form an unbroken continuum. This arises because the wholes form “from the inside” according to their specific functional organization, thus making each whole positive in its own terms. The positive nature of the space is necessary to preserve the wholeness of the system.

The positiveness of the space — what we might also call the convexity and compactness of the centers which form — is the outward manifestation of internal coherence in the physical system. Thus we have an intuitive idea of why it keeps happening.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/5 Fifteen fundamental properties#

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/6 The fifteen properties in nature#

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