NUMBER 586• 7 SEPTEMBER • SPATIAL ARRANGEMENTS
Spatial arrangements control one’s actions (Stea, 1970). It is common knowledge that the arrangement of furniture in one’s livingroom controls the flow and quality of interactions. A small dining table that seats four to six enhances listening and discussion, while round or square tables minimize authority issues, rectangular
ones accentuate authority positions. Tables seating more than six intensify engagements between neighbors but limit contacts beyond a person’s immediate vicinity. In short, interactions are often impacted more by spatial arrangements than by personal characteristics of the people involved (Wax, 1977, p. 51). Thus, the space we create controls our actions. We can apply such knowledge from research and other writings (Freedman, 1975; Mehrabian, 1976; Proshansky, Ittelson & Rivlin,
1970; Seaburg, 1971; Sommer, 1969; Stea, 1970; Wax, 1977) to our own experiences with controlling interactions through spatial arrangements. For example, how does the furniture arrangement in residential waiting or visiting rooms effect interaction? Is the furniture lined-up along the walls, spaced apart from each other in such a way that people are forced to sit separately—staring into the room or hiding behind a magazine or a coke for privacy? Is the spacing representative of the classic but anti-social schemes of waiting rooms and yesterday’s parlors? Or, is the furniture arranged in close clusters that encourages small groupings and intimacy? In multioccupant bedrooms, particularly in dormitories, we need to look at sleeping arrangements. Are the beds lined up in orderly barrack fashion, as if to warehouse troubled children (Whittaker, 1979, p. 5)? The latter constitutes spatial arrangement for strict control and the enforcement of egalitarian standards. Or, are the beds
arranged in clusters that accentuate closeness within each subgroup. Such spatial arrangement leads to greater individualization and forces caregivers to individualize—to place human concerns over managerial ones.
As mentioned earlier, individuals require added privacy and an assurance of ample space of their own at moments of tension and social change (Horowitz, Duff & Stratton. 1970). Repeatedly we experience that children who are tense require more space between themselves and others, even for such absorbing group activities as eating or watching television. The necessity for more space in moments of stress is not necessarily a manifestation of a person’s irritability but rather a response to a “crowding experience.” Namely, recent studies have revealed that crowded conditions cause people to become tense and antisocial as if people within their immediate proximity were their adversaries (Friedman, 1975). We are reminded of instances of crises when children or adolescents dash off to faraway corners, actually run away, or in intense moments of “crowding panic,” engage in fighting or other flight behaviors—and even in suicide (Wax, 1977, pp. 51.52).
We are familiar with these tense times. Some occur almost daily at such unavoidable moments as waiting for mealtimes, the school bus, or one’s turn in an involving event. Others, such as sharing unwelcomed news, occur less often. A restructuring of space for these anticipated crisis events that assures ample buffer zones and action space for the individual (Horowitz. Duff & Stratton, 1970),
will render such crises more manageable for child and staff. The added space created permits the child or youth wider range of behavioral expression.
Maier, H. W. (1987) Developmental group care of Children and Youth concepts and practice. London: The Haworth Press. pp 159-160
Freedman, J. L. (1975). Crowding and Behavior. New York: Viking Press.
Horowitz, M. J., Duff, D. E & Stratton, L. 0. (1970). "Personal Space and the Body Buffer Zone." In Proshansky, H. M. et al. (Eds.), Environmental Psychology: Man and his Physical Setting. New York:. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, pp. 214-220.
Mehrabian, A. (1976). Public Places and Private Spaces. New York: Basic Books.
Proshansky, H. M., Ittelson, W H. & Rivlin, L. G. (Eds.). (1970). Environmental Psychology: Man and his Physical Setting. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Seaburg, B. A. (1971) “Arrangements of Physical Space in Social work Settings.” Social Work, 16(4), 43-49
Sommer, R. (1969). Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
Stea, D. (1970). "Space, Territory and Human Movements." In Proshansky, H. M., Ittelson, W H. & Rivlin L. G. (Eds.), Environmental Psychology: Man and his Physical Setting. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, pp. 37-42.
Wax, D. E. (1977). "Human Ecological Perspectives within a Residential Treatment Setting for Children." Child Care Quarterly, 6(1), 51-60.
Whittaker, J. K. (1979). Caring for Troubled Children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.