“What is architecture?” is one of the most basic questions to be asked, but at the same time, it is one of the most challenging responses to be answered. It is a rather philosophical question that provokes an intellectual observation through subjective experiences. Architecture has a much broader scope than what it is usually recognized as. A simple google search would tell that “Architecture is the art and technique of designing and building”; even so, it is essentially the cohesive knowledge of art, science, technology, as well as humanity. Designers, musicians, writers, and developers, are all associated with the term ‘architect’. As it happens, chefs nowadays are also referred to as food architects. 

Each of these vocations works to produce a different result. Building construction is very different from sound production, but both require a particular design technique involving a cohesive knowledge of art and technology. A commonality between all the mentioned disciplines is their aim to satisfy the concerns of their stakeholders. Whether it’s a building, a composition, a book, or a network, architecture provides an abstract experience beyond tangibility. The impact of these creative problem-solving and sensory perceptions are the subjects of phenomenology. 

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‘what is architecture_©https://www.iaacblog.com/programs/economics-turning-problems-into-opportunities/

Phenomenology in Architecture

Architecture revolves around complex problem-solving, but it also extends beyond the concept of creative designing to leave an impact on its end user. Let’s consider the built habitable space as the core of architecture. The building constructions that come out of the grounds into the physical world string out a psychological impact on us in various ways with subjective experiences. This theory is studied as phenomenology in architecture that explores how architecture can work with the manipulation of material, space, light, and shadow to create a memorable encounter for its user and leave an impact on their senses. Initially, architectural practices were dominated by sight, focusing on the visual impact it can have. However, with the growing understanding of the multisensory nature of the human mind, architects are encouraged to implement sensory design practices in their conceptualization and extend architecture further than just a design for the eyes of the beholder.

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Sensory perception and memorable encounter in architecture, _©Shivangi Ranjan, at Sharda University, 27th September, 2017.

Phenomenology in architecture acknowledges the responsibility for our sensory experiences. We recognize our spatial environment through our senses and as they interact with the surroundings, they give us an invisible dimension of the space. For example, the way the sound travels across the room hints at its dimensions, and the sound of the footsteps on the floor gives an idea of the materiality. Every sense we perceive influences another and leaves us with a memorable encounter. Thus, phenomenology in architecture promotes integrating sensory perception as a function in the built form to create a unique experience. Certainly, designing an experience that is beyond tangible and rather abstract for the user has become a responsibility of an architect. There are many architectural phenomenologists who have studied the subject and developed their own definitions of phenomenology in architecture. 

Architectural phenomenologist

In the huge arena of architecture, where we can see a variety of architects taking all kinds of approaches in their design practices, there are some who try to attach emotions to their spatial planning. Steven Holl’s phenomenological philosophy in architecture is about the transcendental human experience through the consciousness of architecture to its site, body to the architectural space, and body and architecture to its time. Peter Zumthor’s architecture epitomizes phenomenology as a belief in the dominance of sensory and experiential qualities. While these are architects famous for their phenomenological approach, there are many who did that in disguise. 

Frank Lloyd Wright 

Completing more than 500 architectural works, F.L.Wright has made some remarkable masterpieces. In addition to his ‘Prairie Style’ houses with flat roofs, horizontal lines, and open plans, F.L.Wright always tried to nurture the lives of his occupants. Making his architecture rather organic and in harmony with its surroundings, his designs included humans, nature, and materials in a holistic manner that represented continuity and integrated spatial experiences. The Falling Water house is an apt example of the cohesive integration of the building and its environment.  

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Falling Water- Frank Lloyd Wright, Photo Credits: Jon Fisher, _©https://smarthistory.org/frank-lloyd-wright-fallingwater/

The house is thoroughly thought out. The surrounding forest, the sound of the water falling through the house, the use of material, and the impact of natural light on the interiors as the sun hits the surfaces create an astounding spatial experience for the users. The house feels like a part of nature rather than an artificially made habitation. 

Tadao Ando 

Tadao Ando’s architecture sought to discover the mental dimensions of architecture. A lot of his concepts talked about the union of subject and object, space, body and movement, memory, and multisensory perceptions. He refers to the union of body and mind as the basis of our perception of the world. The mind perceives, and the body orients itself towards things which fills the distances and makes the place meaningful. The importance of distance and movement in Ando’s architecture is evident as the user approaches the building. The water temple in Awaji Island, Japan, is a brilliant example of a theatrical approach towards the building. Walking between the lotus flowers in the easy-going water pool and descending the narrow staircase flanked by cement walls to the oval-shaped sacred enclosure gives an experience of the spiritual dimensions of space at every point.     

Water Temple, Tadao Ando, _©https://architectuul.com/architecture/water-temple

References

Jhon Klien, David Weiss “chapter 1- what is architecture?”, available at  https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/beautiful-architecture/9780596155780/ch01.html (accessed on 02.11.2022)

Andrew Hawkins, “What is architecture?”, October 21st 2021, Available at https://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/what-is-architecture-2/ (accessed on 02.11.2022) 

Spence, C. “Senses of place: architectural design for the multisensory mind. Cogn. Research 5, 46” (2020), Available at https://cognitiveresearchjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41235-020-00243-4#citeas (Accessed on 02.11.2022)

AD Editorial Team, “Spotlight: Peter Zumthor” April 26th 2020, Available at https://www.archdaily.com/364856/happy-70th-birthday-peter-zumthor (Accessed on 03.11.2022)

Fin MacLeod, “Spotlight: Steven Holl”, December 09th 2019, Available at https://www.archdaily.com/575852/spotlight-steven-holl?ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_articles (Accessed on 03.11.2022)

Soltani, Saeid & Kırcı, Nazan. (2019). Phenomenology and Space in Architecture: Experience, Sensation and Meaning. International Journal of Architectural Engineering Technology. 6. 10.15377/2409-9821.2019.06.1. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350146641_Phenomenology_and_Space_in_Architecture_Experience_Sensation_and_Meaning (Accessed on 04.11.2022)

Rory scott, June 8, 2019, accessed at https://www.archdaily.com/513642/happy-birthday-frank-lloyd-wright?ad_source=search&ad_medium=projects_tab&ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_all (04.11.2022)

Mohammadreza Shirazi, “An investigation on Tadao Ando’s phenomenological reflections”, August 4th, 2021, Available at http://www.armanshahrjournal.com/article_32694_4b9dfa61cffa567582d000dc8bbfd09e.pdf (accessed on: 05.11.2022)

Architectuul team, “Water Temple”, Available at https://architectuul.com/architecture/water-temple (accessed on 05.11.2022)

Author

Shivangi is headstrong, dedicated to her work and fearless in her aesthetics. An architect, eager to explore and imbibe in the creative process, Shivangi is always looking for opportunities to learn and grow. Backed up with a sense to enquire, she aims to stir up a conversation through her writing.

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