To design means usually to solve a problem. A problem could be to improve the aesthetics of a kitchen that meets a person’s wants or wish list. Designing might also involve addressing space by maximizing a small studio unit or how to make the most of a large townhouse so that each square meter is productive for rental, commercial use, etc. As a result, building up problem-solving skills is part of the design process.
However, one aspect of design overlooked when learning how to create built environments is how a human dwells in a space. Space can be both physical and imaginary. So, when the human mind and body experience space, the human makes meaning of space.
Keywords such as interiority of space and phenomenology come up when discussing the theoretical perspectives of space. Let’s unpack below what these concepts mean and why they are important to interior designers’ and architects’ expression of space.
Interior and Interiority
Petra Perolini says that when an interior space, for example, is architecturally expressed, humans create a realization of the thought of space. Thoughts of space such as dreams, inner musings, and memory can define interior environments. On the other hand, interiors are formed by external influences of images that surround us like for example, pictures of dream offices or kitchens shared on Pinterest or Instagram. Hence, when designers propose a design proposal for interiors, it is a combination of their backgrounds, reflections, and desires. Designers express these inner lives, or interiority, in a physical space. This perspective from Perolini proposes that interior design is not just a service-oriented profession. There is potential to develop the design process and output by exploring interiority and how it relates to how humans live in interior spaces.
Interiority might sound difficult to visualize because it is abstract and it is not something that we can see with our own eyes. But it can be more described as the thing that makes our experience of spaces meaningful and recognizable. As mentioned above, it is both the pictures in our minds of a place and the experience of a physical place that makes up a sense of place of an interior.
Identity of Space
A more concrete example in interior design is how a designer or a person can give a space its identity or its personality, says Petra Perolini. For example, this can be done when the design of the interior and exterior are connected. All the furniture, the colors, the material finishes, lights, and more correlate to create the dream house of a woman who loves pink. By incorporating pink in every aspect of the house while also incorporating the lifestyle of the client, the house can become a space that serves her needs while creating an inviting space to experience and live in.
However, this is not always the case because, in the context of the Philippines, the interior design and architecture professions are separate. They have their scope of work. There is also the issue of cost, it costs a lot more to customize a space than to standardize it to provide a baseline that meets basic needs. So, interior designers work on the fit-out of the interior environment after the architects make the shell. This is the practical approach today so that both professions are respected. But when weighing in the concept of interiority, the ideal process would be to involve architects and interior designers at the beginning of a project so that they can collaborate in making places that provide meaningful experiences.
Another point of view on the interiority of space is considering phenomenology. Phenomenology has a philosophical context. And it is also used as a research design, a qualitative research approach that seeks understanding and describes the everyday experiences of humans. From an architecture and design perspective, phenomenology is applied as a tool to make spaces that are based on experiences and the senses that will engage people to connect to a built environment. To consider phenomenology is to create experiences between humans and spaces that lead to developing meaning and familiarity with both the space and the experience of the space.
Designers can act on this by learning from the experiences of people through phenomenology. By researching, workshopping, and collaborating with the future and past users of a space, a designer will be more informed when approaching the design process.
In short, designers and architects need to consider the context of everyday life experiences. Spaces like houses or rooms are not simply empty containers or boundaries that include and exclude something from the interior or exterior environment where people and habits will be factored in later and introduced. The concept behind the interiority of space invites us to rethink space as an enclosure. Space is also how the mind and body interact with it. And space will influence how we act. It is similar to how our environment – the background we grew up in – will shape us. Thus, interior environments can capture life experiences, influences, and how a human dwells in a space. It is the way humans create spaces by giving meaning to them through their layout, in the arrangement of objects displayed, or the way the light enters the living room through louvered doors that designers need to capture when thinking how to create built environments.
Delve. Ho, L. and Limpaecher, A. (2017). What is Phenomenological Research Design? Essential Guide to Coding Qualitative Data. [online] Delve. Available at: https://delvetool.com/blog/phenomenology [Accessed 16 Oct. 2023].
Kirci, N. and Soltani, S. (2019). Phenomenology and Space in Architecture: Experience, Sensation and Meaning. International Journal of Architectural Engineering Technology, [online] 6(1), pp.1–6. doi:https://doi.org/10.15377/2409-9821.2019.06.1.
Neubauer, B., Witkop, C. and Varpio, L. (2019). How Phenomenology Can Help Us Learn from the Experiences of Others. Perspectives on Medical Education, [online] 8(2), pp.90–97. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s40037-019-0509-2.
Perolini, P. (2014). Interior Environments:The Space of Interiority. Zoontechnica – The journal of redirective design, [online] (3). Available at: http://zoontechnica.com/default.html#.occu_/occ_web/issue_03/issue_03_essay.Interior_Environments.html.occs_ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2023].
Images from fala atelier’s Project 129 (https://falaatelier.com/129)