Saturday, March 30, 2013

Framing Space

One reward of travel is seeing how other places in the world divide up space. Used to walking through Princeton's spread out residential neighborhoods, I found this old narrow street in the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico City appealing.

The contrast of this quiet street with the newer, helter-skelter urban growth we traveled through to get there surely played a role. But there's something to be said for the efficient use of space and the multiple degrees of sanctuary. The street itself is framed and sheltered, and no wider than necessary. There is no need for a front lawn and the obligatory conformity and maintenance it typically requires, so all that extra space and time is saved.

The unified look of the walls allows the street to  serve a much greater variety of purposes. One door may open to a residence, another to a shop, office, or even a small parking lot, none of which anyone is forced to look at.

Fortunately, my daughter was there to let me in to the one that held our bed and breakfast.

Open the door and you leave the sanctuary of the street to enter the deeper sanctuary of the inner courtyard. Energy is reflected back rather than lost to the ill-defined spaces of scattered suburbia. One feels sheltered without even having entered the house.

Though we didn't feel any claustrophobia, there are these clever openings in the walls, which look like doorways to the neighbor's but turn out to be mirrors.

And if one wants a view, one can always climb up to the rooftop to look out across the neighborhood. If one wants open spaces, one heads to the public plazas and parks.

It's interesting to wonder whether an extended stay in such a neighborhood would lead eventually to a craving for the more open landscape of suburbia, but our brief stay introduced us to the satisfaction of navigating spaces that are well framed and no larger than they need to be, and where people are freed from the burden of lawn care.

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