Coming back to our senses: What is Phenomenology in Architecture?

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of consciousness from a first-person perspective. In terms of architecture and design, phenomenology is the study and exploration of the physical experience of buildings, building material and their sensory properties.

There has been a considerable impact of phenomenology in architecture for many years. Initially this was observed as a critical response to the functionality of modernism and its tendency towards visual sense over the other senses – that is focusing on what is seen rather than what is felt. Phenomenology concerns with experience, memory and, in particular, the articulation of spaces and aesthetic characters with specificity to site and place. The way individuals use their senses and respond to phenomena is highly determined by the cultural context and conditions.

For a person having all his senses active, the experience of architecture is above all visual and kinaesthetic perception. Like visual and kinetic senses, hearing, smell and tactile sensations are not just physiological functions but are also skills that can be learned.

Certain spaces are designed to enhance our senses immediately once we enter the space. The type of construction and materials used are linked to the sound, lighting and temperature of the space. This results in the feeling of connectivity between people, spaces and objects, and is achieved through quality of craftmanship in the work.

The aesthetic experience of an environment is an embracing affair where the ’hearing’, ‘smelling’ and ‘touching’ experience is more valuable than just ‘seeing’.

Fig. 1 Factors considered in phenomenology

Sensory perception in spaces

  • Smell given off by surrounding
  • Tactile experience produced by them
  • Activities likely to take place in them
  • Acoustics of each space and its response to activities

If architecture focuses only on the geometric form of space, it tends to overlook the experience of a space and the people who are likely to use it. Similarly, if psychology of space is ignored in the physical context, it forgets to create the experience in the environment. Architects should strive in creating a link between architecture and psychology to balance the fit between people and their context.

Fig. 2 Watching the sunrise over the Salk Institute – Most

Architectural  components  can  be  classified  in  categories  like  structure,  visibility,  light,  sound, atmosphere and the psychological components can be classified as acceptance and nurturance. These combined, has the potential in better understanding and improve well-being.

 

Harshita Nageswaran, an architect from Mumbai University seeks to explore more Vernacular style of architecture. As an adventure enthusiast and trek lover, she finds her sanity in travelling and writing and aspires to create a mark in Architecture Journalism.

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