Signaling Purpose Through Visibility

This week has inspired me to take a closer look at the ways in which visibility of a space is important in indicating its purpose. During the PPL hard hat tour, the first room that we stopped has a partly demolished wall leading to the ground and first floor stacks. The plan is to make that open space between rooms a glass wall. Our guide told us that the library visitors once had trouble finding the public collection of books housed on these stacks. Nobody knew that these stacks were there. The fact that these stacks and books exist is merely one element in constructing the purpose of the space.The interior architecture needs to compliment the purpose of these rooms so that they can be used.


Open wall leading to stacks                     First floor stacks

This concept makes me think about Wednesday’s presentation by Max Peers on space syntax and visibility graph analyses. He noted that measuring the visibility of a space represented in a floor plan can give you an idea about its function. Places that are more visible tend to be for more public use. He gave the example of shrines in elite Roman dwellings being visible from even the servant’s quarters. Conversely, a room that cannot be seen from many areas of the house suggests a certain level of privacy and potentially a security concern that may imply that whoever and whatever was housed there was important. At the library, the more exclusive book collections are housed on the higher floors in designated rooms, purposefully not visible through a glass wall like the public collections.

Private collection room

I plan to further explore these concepts while designing my own Meroitic Palace at Jebel Barkal. The Meroitic palaces that we have studied all feature a sort of central court or light well that is surrounded by rooms that have been interpreted as storage and casemates (Maillot 80). I have been thinking about why it would have been important for these rooms to possibly receive much light and be visible to other or if they would not. Could these rooms have open doorways and windows? These are places that should be kept secure, so the level of visibility seems like it should be quite low. I have not worked through exactly what the proximity of these rooms to a central light source means, but I hope it will become more clear as I continue to research who might have been allowed access to the palace and this central ‘court’ space.

-Julienne Waller


Works Cited:

  1. Maillot, M. (2015) “The Meroitic Palace and Royal City.” Sudan & Nubia 19.