What is space? When designers use the term space in a design context, they use it to describe any three-dimensional void or hollowness contained by the sides or edges of surrounding elements. For example, indoor space exists between the floors, walls, and
ceilings in all buildings. Similarly, outdoor space can be perceived as space bound by physical elements of the environment such as the ground, shrubs, walls, fences, awnings, and tree canopies.
For laypeople, the concept of space is often a difficult one to grasp initially because they are accustomed to describing the landscape as a collection of physical objects such as buildings, trees, shrubs, and fences rather than space itself. It takes some adjustment and training to view outdoor space as the void between those objects normally seen.
An indoor use area will function as a usable space if there is (1) sufficient space, (2) adequate privacy, (3) decoration, and (4) furnishings. The success of outdoor space can be looked at in a similar way. We find a space to be comfortable, pleasurable, and successful if it provides sufficient room to function in, enough privacy for the function to occur, decoration, and furnishings.
Figure 2—1 illustrates three sequential steps in the development of a successful space. The basic function of a space is established by the bare necessities, such as a table and chairs. The use of the space is not dependent on anything more than this. But the space is likely to feel empty, and the users are apt to feel uncomfortable, because of the lack of spatial definition. People appreciate the enclosure provided by floors, walls, and ceilings. So, with added outdoor design elements such as pavement, a fence, and an overhead arbor, the space has the ability to provide the user with a feeling of being in a room. But, until these three planes of enclosure have some material, pattern, and color applied to them, the space will feel like an empty model home. It is important to keep in mind that selecting materials, patterns, and colors is critical to the success of a space.
An effective means for understanding outdoor space is to think of it as a series of outdoor rooms similar to the interior rooms of a house (Figure 2—2). Each interior room has a definite sense of enclosure that is clearly defined by floor, walls, and ceiling. Similarly, there are potentially such rooms as the entry space, entertaining space, living space, dining space, and work space in the exterior environment of a residential site. Like their interior counterparts, exterior spaces are defined by three primary planes of enclosure: base plane, vertical plane, and overhead plane. These three exterior planes of enclosure, like the interior floors, walls, and ceilings, collectively define the edges or limits of outdoor rooms (Figure 2—3).