Part 3 : Buildings and Spaces – 1. Approaching buildings and spaces

People and Place

Part 3 : Buildings and Spaces

1. Approaching buildings and paces

I’ve been thinking that I did this all the wrong way round, mainly from that feeling of anxiety that seems to have been with me all the way through this particular module.  Knowing that this is because I’m being challenged to step outside my comfort zone doesn’t seem to have helped me! For quite a long time my energy was directed more towards the inner anxiety than getting out and about, with the result that I felt quite ‘stuck’ and lost any pleasure in taking photographs .  Thankfully I did struggle on, even if lamely, and slowly got more interested in buildings and how they function.

My process has been to go around taking photographs using my smaller camera to just get a grip on photographing the buildings both before and after taking the shots for the assignment itself. It was only when I became more interested that I knew I had to read more about lighting and also look at some photographers. I actually think that if I’d done the latter before taking the photographs it could have made me more anxious so, although it seems topsy-turvey, it has been a more effective way for me to learn.  I think the outcome might eventually been that I re-do the assignment, but I’m staying with what I’ve already produced for the time being.

The Projects and exercises are around Space and Function, including the user’s viewpoint, and Space and Light.   It was light that was particularly challenging because, at this time of year the sun is low on the horizon; days are darker and interiors are lit by artificial light. I haven’t precisely followed the Project briefs but have kept them in mind. I used automatic white balance throughout to allow for the mix of daylight and different types of artificial light.

Here are some buildings and their interior spaces:-

Town Centres

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A recently revamped Woking.  The newest shopping area is on four galleried floors so, if you suffer from vertigo, it’s best not to look down from the top!  The top floor contains the Cinema and Theatre and the bottom one (below ground level)  is mainly a café/food outlet area. There are some food outlets on the other floors but not many and I don’t know what the psychology is concerning having most eating areas on one floor.



I was there recently with my youngest grand-daughter and she introduced me to shops I’d never visited before. In one of them she warned me beforehand, “It’s very dark when you go in and there’s a strong smell from their perfumes”.  She was right! It’s accessed from a lower entry level of the Friary Centre (actually built on the site of a former Dominican Friary.   I was quite intrigued by the way the space was used. It is dark so you can hardly see the clothes but there are spotlights around which highlight say, one shirt amongst many.  The whole effect to me was of going into an Aladdin’s cave, and the only problem was that I found it really hard to read the price labels.  There is a comfortable seating area by the cash tills so that friends can wait for you to pay and, should the queue be rather long, there are the perfumes and potions stacked on shelves to tempt you. A major problem for me was that the cash till area is also gloomy so it was quite hard to see to pay. This really is a shop for young people with their keen eyesight.

Thinking about function and a user’s viewpoint I took a straw poll amongst some of my grandchildren.

“It caters to teenagers’ needs. The style of the shop is dark and gloomy and they like the vampire feel. With the spotlights on the clothes it’s as if the spotlight is on you when you wear them. The clothes are slightly more expensive so it makes you look richer when you wear it” (12 yr old girl)

“It’s dimly lit so you can’t see the clothes. It’s cramped in size and the clothes get jumbled together. Because everything is in piles you could pick up the wrong size. The clothes are expensive for what you get”  (16 yr old girl, who is a fan of Topshop and H&M)

“It’s different from other shops and has a completely different layout. Because of the darkened interior any lighting on the clothes makes them stand out” (19 yr old boy).

I should add that after the shopping, we went to the food court which, in this case was on the top.

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My usual complaint when I stay in a hotel is that it must have been designed by a man.  Mirrors never seem to be located near enough to an electric socket where I can plug in my hairdryer. If a hairdryer is provided it’s usually very slow on speed and the cord often isn’t really long enough.  I’ve also noticed that quite a few boutique hotel rooms are decorated in masculine shades of brown, with low lighting. This might be good for creating an intimate, cosy atmosphere when you’re going to bed but not in the daytime.  However, my prejudices were more or less confounded when I recently stayed in the Hotel Metropole in Brighton when I was down there for a weekend study Visit with OCA.

The Hotel is currently part of the Hilton group.  It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1888 and built in 1890, see here . It faces the sea and has a wonderfully gracious air of Victorian splendour, combined with a modernized interior, including the bar .

On the ground floor the areas are spacious and lofty. Artificial light on shiny floors adds to the glitter of the chandeliers. The first impression is of ritzy opulence and is in keeping with Victorian grandeur and a 4* hotel.

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The bedrooms are according to price – mine was an upgrade from a single to double. The room was mainly bed but with space for an easy chair and I was pleased that mirrors and electric sockets were in the right place together. I would have needed a very wide-angle lens to make the room look spacious in a brochure but it was sufficiently large for its purpose, which was somewhere comfortable to sleep. I took the shots in the bar from a seated position. The bar area was large and chairs were arranged in clusters.



I still frequent the library where I used to live. It’s fairly small and the shape is a unusual


It was built in the 1950s I think and is round inside.  The panels on the exterior make it look a hexagonal shape. It sits in one of the car parks close by the shops, with the larger supermarket across the road. I looked at it from a seated point of view and then I crouched right down to get a child’s view of the children’s area.


Coffee Houses

Costa Coffee is well-known.  It’s now owned by Whitbread plc.  The ones I’ve been in have all had comfortable, leather-like chairs’ a fairly dark interior, artificially lit even in daylight, which adds to a more intimate atmosphere. Papers are available for people to read. This is one is in the same  village as the library above. It opened some months ago in a part of the space which had previously been occupied by Woolworths.  It’s very popular and busy for a small shopping area but there’s no apparent pressure to finish your coffee quickly and leave.


On the other hand, an independent coffee house has recently opened in Ripley, a village nearby. There are more than 20 listed buildings and cottages in the village and Pinnocks is in one of them 

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You get a warm welcome and coffee produced from the drip feed method here.  It’s a wonderful combination of the old with the modern and good use is made of the interior. Downstairs there is the serving counter, a small shop area to one side and a few tables – arranged between the old wooden beams. Upstairs is ‘the library’. Low, squashy, more traditional type armchairs nestle in clusters beneath the exposed rafters.



At first it seemed like a chore to have to photograph buildings and interiors as they’re not usually the type of subject I’m interested in.  I made it easier for myself by using my smaller camera, so as not to draw too much attention to myself. This worked because I’ve now become much more aware of and interested in how interiors are designed to produce particular atmospheres and suit users.  My next post will be based on books and other photographers.