Every day you wake up, perhaps look at your phone, get out of bed, walk to the bathroom, and start your morning routine. Then you leave your house and walk to the train station, stopping at that coffee place on your way. You perform so many movements throughout the day, without even realising it. And within this process, you are asked to imagine, craft, and design spaces which nourish the body, and upgrade the experience of every day. Is this a big ask? And either way, how can we enrich this process by learning skills from movement practices?
"Embodying Land Values" site-specific performance at Bank, London October 2019
In my research and practice as a part 2 architect and choreographer, I am interested in the dynamic and qualitative essence of space and our felt experience of it before we intellectually understand it; how the body inhabits the performative space and how its spatiality affects the nature and construct of it. What I strive for is an immediate connection of the architectural design process with the architect’s body; through my workshops, talks, and writings, I wish to share my methodology and research findings with architects who want to craft humane spaces.
My main point is that to answer the aforementioned questions, and really transform our architectural design process, we need to shift our focus on our own body first. Here is why: The first space we experience is the space of our own body; an ephemeral space
formed by connecting our movement traces as we navigate the world. Our body is a
living space which occupies the commonly referred to as Cartesian or Euclidean space;
it articulates, shapes, encounters, echoes the physical space.
In performative experiences, the body is an integral element of space as, rather than adhering to designated space plans which direct the body’s movement decisions, it is through which that space is constructed, unfolded, revealed to its wholeness; I enter and occupy a space, the space enters and occupies me (Pallasmaa, 2011, p. 42).
For Juhanni Pallasmaa, space can be felt and experienced through the body with the
totality of our senses, as its structure implies bodily action and reaction upon it.
According to him, “the elements of architecture are not visual units or gestalt; they are
encounters, confrontations that interact with memory” (1996, p. 63). A material, texture,
beam of light are added to the architectural vocabulary as experiences, drifting away
from the functionality of the space and leaning towards a poetic appreciation of space;
the experience of inhabiting space, rather than occupying it.
Physical space can be a place that embraces, encourages and facilitates human
activity. We often speak of places of dwelling, encounter, sharing, happening; those spaces become places for the body the moment a human body enters, passes through, stands and
looks around. The act of inhabiting space is a poetic, bodycentric lived experience
enriched by the imaginative exchange between the body and the world. Merleau-Ponty
Our body is not in space like things; it inhabits or haunts space. It applies itself
to space like a hand to an instrument. And when we wish to move about, we
do not move the body as we move an object. (1974, p. 5)
. . .
We grasp external space through our bodily situation. A "corporeal or postural
schema" gives us at every moment a global, practical, and implicit notion of
the relation between our body and things, of our hold on them. (ibid)
Every time you craft a space, you also create infinite possibilities for action and interaction. Before you let this thought become overwhelming, I encourage you to start embodying your experiences of every day; experiences of walking, standing, looking, touching, sitting, and so on. Only then can you begin to realise what a rich palette of possibilities you have available, as we speak!
I would love to hear from you:
What is your body's role in your design process?
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1974). Phenomenology of Perception , translated by Colin Smith. London : New York :Routledge & K. Paul; Humanities Press
Pallasmaa, J. (1996). The eyes of the skin: Architecture and the senses . Chichester: Wiley
Pallasmaa, J. (2011). The embodied image: Imagination and imagery in architecture. Chichester: Wiley.