Sloterdijk, Peter: Esferas I

Feeling Space. When Architecture Talks to Our Body

Image from ‘Jugar el Espacio’ (Playing the space) project

Have you ever stopped to think what your home smells of? Or your city? The more we’re exposed to a stimulus, the more we end up normalising it. It’s not that we don’t notice it. It’s just that, for the sake of efficiency, our brain stops perceiving the stimulus in order to be able to devote energy to other processes. That’s why a change of environment is advisable to keep those tiny neuron channels alive or activate new ones. The boom in flexible architecture is based exclusively on adapting to the sensorial needs of each moment. But what exactly does it mean to feel space?

Purists cite as many as 33 senses with which we perceive the world, including taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing, balance, palpitations, proprioception, pain and temperature. Researcher Rob La Salle published a book explaining how the senses appeared as part of human evolution. Our sensorial capacity, which we can’t control but we can train, is the tool we use to interact with the world.

The smell of popcorn reminds us of cinemas; we can identify a loved one’s piece of clothing by its smell; and if we smell freshly baked bread we feel hungry. With regard to touch, rough textures generally cause repulsion and smooth ones suggest attraction, so we feel more comfortable with curved forms, associating them with rest and wellbeing. We link up haptic stimuli with visual stimuli, olfactory stimuli with auditory stimuli and visual stimuli with balance. Even without synaesthesia, feeling the world through our body is a real experience.

Architecture is the channel of sensorial communication with the world in all its variables. As architects, we have the possibility of designing atmospheres, sensorial experiences for life, and although vision-based design predominates, tools are now beginning to emerge with which to analyse how people’s behaviour is influenced by their surroundings. Eye tracking, galvanic skin response (GSR) analysis and facial expression analysis are just some of the systems under development that can help architects create an invisible dialogue between built space and users.

In altered states of consciousness (when running a high temperature or under the effects of toxic substances, for example), perceptive constraints change, blurring the dividing line between the external and internal worlds, but under normal circumstances we’re in what German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk refers to as “an exterior with many interiors”.1

In his Spheres trilogy, Sloterdijk describes the human being as “a sound box which is tuned, retuned and untuned depending on the spaces in which a person lives”. Sloterdijk provides answers about what happens to us in certain atmospheres and leads us through a series of elaborate reflections to an understanding of how essentially human elements like emotions emerged in our past.

Unfortunately, phenomenology is rarely incorporated into projects–someday I’ll tell you the story of the blind man and Lina Bo Bardi’s house–but we had Zaha Adid and now we have Isabella Pasqualini or Philippe Rahm, all of whom managed to break free from the Euclidean world in which architecture seems to be anchored. Who will be the next one?

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Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
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Sloterdijk, Peter: Esferas I

Arquitectura y Neurociencia. Arquitecta dedicada a la docencia, entusiasta de la innovación a través del espacio.

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