Movement creates space.
Movement makes one realize space.
Movement challenges the essence of space. 

Very often, as architects, we associate ourselves with the creation of ‘spaces’. We flamboyantly describe designs through their spatial qualities and assign or at least imagine a specific character for every space we create or design. But has it ever occurred how the end-user perceives a space?

What is it about a space that makes a user infer and react to it? Is it always a physical response that we expect out of a very physical space or is it a contrasting psychological impact that we aim at creating or is it a combination of both? Every individual perceives space through a unique lens. The understanding of space and the kind of relationship developed with space differs from person to person. 

But if there is one aspect that is common to the usage of space, it is the aspect of the movement. What physical movement through space conveys can be a very different experience from using and interpreting space from a static viewpoint.

Out of all the branches of performing arts, Dance has a direct association with space and its usage. Both architecture and dance use space as a medium and tool for the creative expression and exposition of ideas and concepts. In one the essence and presence of space are conveyed directly through the built form while in the other it is expressed through physical movements of the body that create imaginary spaces and open doors for rich and unique interpretations.

Architecture‌ ‌and‌ ‌Dance‌:‌ ‌A‌ ‌dialogue‌ ‌between‌ ‌spatiality‌ ‌and‌ ‌movement‌ - Sheet1
Creating narratives through space_ⒸEsplanade

It is one such art form that uses space as a prop in its process of storytelling. Space becomes an object—a transparent object—that can be flexibly molded into multiple shapes, characters, contexts, and situations, transporting audiences into experiential narratives. And to experience space through dance is to experience space through multiple narratives simultaneously. One would be the narrative of the dancer and the other would be the narrative the audience would try to weave out of the dancers’ implication of art. 

Architecture‌ ‌and‌ ‌Dance‌:‌ ‌A‌ ‌dialogue‌ ‌between‌ ‌spatiality‌ ‌and‌ ‌movement‌ - Sheet2
Robert James Waddell of Ballet Vlaanderen at the monumental Antwerp Port House designed by Zaha Hadid Architects_ⒸJann Maätita 

But how is this helpful to architecture and the creation of spaces? Dance and architecture are two disciplines that are correlated. They can learn from and inspire each other’s creative processes. Many scholars and practitioners of classical dance in India claim that most of the postures, movements, and gestures of dance evolved also out of the need for the dancer to dance and move around in a restricted area of a temple or a street. 

A wide range of circular and linear movements evolved from the need to dance within the imaginary circle that the audience would form around the dancer in street processions or court halls. The spontaneous creation of space that would compel the dancer to modify his/her bodily movements to adapt to the space around them can be reflected in the design of flexible and adaptive spaces in architecture. 

Architecture‌ ‌and‌ ‌Dance‌:‌ ‌A‌ ‌dialogue‌ ‌between‌ ‌spatiality‌ ‌and‌ ‌movement‌ - Sheet3
Endurance art that explores ‘mastery’ in architecture and ballet. Brendan Fernandes’ “The Master and Form” performance still (Brendan Meara)”_Ⓒarch paper

There have been instances where dance and architecture reversed roles in conveying the meaning and ideation of the creation of spaces. Spider web- an experimental project conducted as a collaboration between the students of dance and architecture at the Auckland University in 2011—is an example of how dancers became the architects of an experiential space and architects the dancers. 

Two dancers tied a piece of thread each to themselves and danced through a staircase, creating a web all through the run of the staircase. This was then traversed through by the architecture students who were to find innovative ways of moving through the tangled web, quite literally on different levels, which compelled them to notice more minute details of the staircase that would otherwise go unnoticed. 

Architecture‌ ‌and‌ ‌Dance‌:‌ ‌A‌ ‌dialogue‌ ‌between‌ ‌spatiality‌ ‌and‌ ‌movement‌ - Sheet4
The Convergence light and space with movement and built form_Ⓒdivisare

Several architects use dance as a way to make users ‘feel’ space and to themselves get into the roots of what makes up physical space. Italian architect Silvia Cassetta writes “born from a reflection on the architectural boundaries that can influence movements and from the desire to dance freely in space. It is also a reflection on the conditioning between movement and materials, surfaces.” [1]

Dance and movements have made architects and thinkers alike observe details that they would not have normally observed. It reinstates the purpose of space. It reiterates the limitless capabilities of space. It inspires sensible and sensitive usage of space. 

An emerging concept as it is, dance in architecture is finding wide usage as a method of teaching because it seems to be an efficient tool in explaining ideas about space and movement in built form that literature and plain text cannot explain [2]. This may well even be an indicator for us all to consciously observe how the physicality of space and our assumptions of the physicality of space vary and can have an impact on the architectural decisions we make. 

References

[1]Silviacassetta.com. n.d. Clever Rebel – SilviaCassetta.com. [online] Available at: <https://www.silviacassetta.com/clever-rebel/> [Accessed 12 April 2021].

[2]Daskalakos, Christos. (2019). Exploring the role of dance in architectural education. South African Journal of Higher Education. 33. 10.20853/33-1-2690. 

Jain, S., 2017. DANCE & ARCHITECTURE: Choreographing Engagement between Body & Space dissertation. [online] Issuu. Available at: <https://issuu.com/sukrutijain/docs/dance___architecture_-_choreographi> [Accessed 12 April 2021].

Elgart, S., 2018. Dancing Through Architecture –. [online] Culturalweekly.com. Available at: <https://www.culturalweekly.com/dance-meets-architecture/> [Accessed 12 April 2021].

Divisare. 2015. STEVEN HOLL ARCHITECTS · Tesseracts of Time: A Dance for Architecture. [online] Available at: <https://divisare.com/projects/303047-steven-holl-architects-tesseracts-of-time-a-dance-for-architecture> [Accessed 12 April 2021].

Author

Priyamvada Gannavarapu is an architecture student who believes in the ability of architecture to influence and inspire human behaviour in fostering positive, efficient and sustainable built environments. As an avid reader ,a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and Carnatic vocalist she likes to explore the various aspects of experiential design in creating meaningful habitable spaces for users alike.

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