By Lance McCarthy
There are powerful unspoken rules that influence how spaces feel and function. Break these rules and things will happen. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but things will happen. We are exploring some of these Hidden Design Rules and figure out how they can impact the home.
This Week’s rule is a two-fer: Axis and Terminus.
I sat down with Joel, my favorite Architect, to find out more about this mysterious rule.
Me: So, this is our third week of rules, and you are using words like Axis and Terminus. I’m sure you aren’t referring to Terminus from the Walking Dead series? (a shout out to my fellow Netflix’ers)
Joel: No, Axis and Terminus are two concepts from architecture that help us describe how a space works. Axis is a real or imaginary line that orients the objects in a space. It is usually associated with the “direction” of a room. Think of it like the white lines on a road. Terminus is a fancy way to say the focal point, or ending point of the space. Think of it like the destination at the end of the road.
Me: So we are going Jack Kerouac on this?
Joel: I guess. These two concepts work together powerfully, but often are completely overlooked in spaces as they are being designed.
Me: Give me an example of how this works.
Joel: A really easy one is a rectangular living room. There are two axes in the room (imagine dashed lines cutting the room into clean halves. The first axis runs across the room the short direction, and the stronger axis runs the length of the room. Usually people will instinctively organize furniture in a room according to one of these axes. For example, they would center the fireplace or tv in the middle of one of the walls, and arrange the furniture around it, all centering on this axis.
Me: Reminds me of how I used to put a line of tape down the middle of my bedroom to keep my sister off my side.
Joel: That was probably on axis. One of the amazing things about the human mind is that it will instinctively want to create order in its space. It will search for axis in a room, then look for what lies at the terminus of this axis. Do this little test next time you walk into an unfamiliar room. Your eyes don’t slowly scan every inch of the room–they figure out where axis is, and then look for what is at the end–the focal point.
Me: I think I understand, but why does it matter?
Joel: Whether we realize it or not, the axis is moving our focus, it is telling us how to “read the space” and what to pay attention to. It is pretty obvious in a symmetrical great room with a vaulted ceiling, but is also happening in every hallway and every bedroom.
There are two big mistakes that happen. The first is to create a room that has no clear axis, which means the mind won’t know what the focal point is. The second mistake is to waste a great axis by not having a focal point at the end. A great example of this is a long hallway with a door at the end. A door is a pretty disappointing terminus (or focal point). This space works much better with a book shelf, or piece of art, or something else that the eye can enjoy.
Me: So in other words, you want to get their attention, and then say something meaningful once you have it?
Joel: Yes, that’s right. The biggest thing I want people to know is that there is an axis that is leading us somewhere, and that somewhere is the terminus. It helps you connect with the space, or relate. A natural axis draws your attention. Without it, there is everything to look at, which means there is nothing to look at.
Me: Thanks Joel. I think that will be the “terminus” of our conversation for now. Thanks for being such a great sport. I know being in youtube videos and online articles is not your favorite way to pass the time, but it was very helpful.