Spaces in Between

Anna Sophie Bresson | Copenhagen

Photo by Mathias Nordtorp

Photo by Mathias Nordtorp

When consciously designed by architects,
empty spaces can bring into our life peace, joy and transcendence.

As an architect, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of “space in between”. Think about it, when you walk on the street, have you once noticed not only the theaters, cathedrals, statues, but also the aisles, alleys, and corridors? Unlike the overly designed spaces, these simple spaces, sometimes even intentionally left empty, can often arouse in us a serendipitous wonder. For me, these unassuming spaces are largely undervalued -- in them dwell the potential to bring us true meaning and serenity.

Photo by Lise Sakariassen

Photo by Lise Sakariassen

Let me first throw a few architectural jargons here to help you understand the kind of space I’m talking about. In our discipline, a space can be defined as positive or negative. A positive space is one that’s created within a boundary -- think of your bedroom, an auditorium, or the space your sofa occupies. On the contrary, a negative space is one outside of a boundary or between boundaries -- like a courtyard, a passageway between two buildings, or the interspace between your sofa and bookshelf. While worldly attention is mostly given to the positive ones, I want to also give credit to the negative ones.   

Negative space can be an area of visual respite and can be used to create the illusion of space, calmness, and light.” - The Interactive Design Institute

Look around the spaces surrounding you, whether it’s above or below, inside or outside. Having learned the definition, can you now tell if a space is positive or negative? Then, try to also identify the spaces within it -- for example, while a stadium is a positive space itself, the aisles in it are negative, and the seats are positive. So there are many layers of subdivisions that can go on and on. But most importantly, try to be conscious about how you feel about these spaces. Take a moment to consider: do these spaces, either positive or negative, bring you joy?

Nørrebro, Copenhagen - photo credit_ Anna Sophie Bresson.jpg
Light _ shadow - photo credit_ Anna Sophie Bresson.jpg

Keep this consciousness of space with you, so the next time you walk in a building or in your city, you’ll see them in a new light. Maybe you’ll not only notice the positive spaces designed with a specific purpose, but also the negative ones that keep possibilities open. Cities are much more than a medley of concrete buildings; they are also composed of spaces in which we travel, meet and interact. Buildings are much more than beautifully stacked bricks as well; they are constituted by spaces where we work for our goals, create a home, and spend time with our colleagues, family, and friends.

Every time we enter a new space, our brains process the room as a whole first. It’s only after we are able to categorize the room by its function that we’re able to truly focus in on its aesthetic or the individual design elements themselves. We tend to act more positively to rooms that feature plenty of negative space, because they’re easier for our brains to categorize, and we’re able to start appreciating design choices much sooner.” - According to Gestalt Psychology

Utzon Center courtyard, Aalborg - photo credit_ Anna Sophie Bresson.jpg
Utzon Center, Aalborg - photo credit_ Anna Sophie Bresson.jpg

Fresh thoughts and ideas
cannot sprout in a cluttered mind,
just like new furniture cannot be placed in an already filled room.

Why these negative spaces fascinated me so much? I could not put the answer into word until recently when my boyfriend and I watched an episode of a Danish podcast called “Iværksætterhistorier,” which can be translated as “Entrepreneur Stories”. This episode brought to light how boredom can be a positive thing, for it forces us to be more creative.

It further leads to an argument that as our generation fill our time with more and more work and tasks, we sacrifice the chance to conquer boredom by coming up with creative ideas and activities. In another word, we simply forget to leave empty spaces in our lives, both mentally and physically.

Fresh thoughts and ideas cannot sprout in a cluttered mind, just like new furniture cannot be placed in an already filled room. That’s why spaces in between, or negative spaces, resonate so much with me: through their simplicity, they wake in my imagination, creativity, serenity, and gratefulness.

Photo by Rasmus Streboel

Photo by Rasmus Streboel

How can you consciously
design your home or your schedule to bring the art of your life
into focus?

The episode led me to believe that, if in our life, we not only focus on the positive spaces but also the negative ones -- not only our major commitments in life but also the spare time, we will discover much more unexpected beauty. Likewise, if we stop filling our homes with furniture and appliances, but leave empty spaces in between, gradually, they might enrich our lives with joy and peace. When we declutter our homes from superfluous physical things, we might in the same process clean up our minds from mental trash, and open a space for calmness, creativity, and happiness to come in.

Think about how museums leave so much simple and empty space in order for viewers to focus on the artworks. Were they filled with too many irrelevant objects, our eyes wouldn’t be able to tell the real art from the junk. Imagine your home or your mind in the form of a museum, with art being the center. How can you consciously design your home or your schedule to bring the art of your life into focus?

Only by cleaning up the filled space can we give room for consciousness to come in.
That’s the most important lesson that spaces in between have taught me.


Edited by Shell Lin



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