Corpo-real Report #5 The Mediating Role of Architecture

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The Corpo-real master programme provides a lab-based community, located in Zwolle, where we investigate the implications of the idea of corpo-real. Here, ‘corpo’ stands for bodies in a general sense, and ‘real’ for the reality to which they relate. The French phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merlau-Ponty argued that the body-subject (“le corps propre”) is more than merely an object; it is in fact an ongoing necessity for experiencing and understanding the world in which we live. We thus focus on researching this endless changing relationship between people and space. This is the foundation of our work with our students: the body as repository of social reality and spatial truth. Corpo-real is a two-year, full-time master programme in the field of interior architecture, with a particular focus on exploring the connections between theory and practice-based research. During the first year, students develop a theoretical research question, which they will then consolidate during the first half of the second year in the form of a written paper, while also exploring and challenging during this second year their theory through artistic and practice-based research. For their final thesis, presented during the final exam at the end of the second year, students are asked to demonstrate how the theory and the practice-based research are interconnected, and how this has led to new findings and insights. We challenge our students to address recent and future societal changes, based on an understanding that whatever has worked well in the past may not be sufficient in the future, and that many of these changes are too broad and complex to address using

Report from Corpo-real #5

May 2020

Report: Corpo-real

existing methods. We therefore encourage our students to make good use of

Finals 2020, Phuong Duy Dao

knowledge from other disciplines, through collaborations within and outside ArtEZ. Throughout the programme, students are introduced to, and learn to work with, research methods from various disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, theatre, curating, and music. Phuong Dao, as a practice-based researcher, has applied a broad range of research methods, some of which are new to the field of (interior) architecture. In doing so, he has convincingly demonstrated an ability to draw upon this diversity of disciplines – which include performing, film, making, experiencing, thinking, and again making. The aesthetic and harmonious balance he finds between thinking and making is particularly impressive. In the presentation during the final exam, he demonstrated not only this balance between theory and practice, but also an exceptional ability to incorporate himself into his research.


Corpo-real/ ArtEZ Master Interior Architecture

Images from top to bottom: 1. Tiger-cage balcony appartements 2. Atrium in the apartments 3. Long Houses Cover: Finals 2020, Phuong Duy Dao Colophon Tutors Jorge Mejía Hernandez, Paper Supervisor Eric de Leeuw, Finals Tutor Editor Johanna Monk Graphic Design Office for Design, Loek Kemming Printing Drukkerij Loor, Varsseveld

ArtEZ University of the Arts

ArtEZ University of the Arts

Report from Corpo-real #5

May 2020

The Mediating Role of Architecture By Phuong Duy Dao


was born in an agricultural country, where most people are histori-

understanding of this phenomenon and applying the developed

relation with the interior and exterior space”. 4

is to design a full opening in the middle of each long house, which will

cally accustomed to a lifestyle based on farming; this often requi-

knowledge toward a better use of architecture in connecting us to the

The architect Witold Rybczynski, in the chapter titled “Making Space”

provide inhabitants of different spaces more equal opportunities to

res them to live at a fixed place for very long periods of time, even

environments in which we live.

of his book The Most Beautiful House in the World, describes how “the

connect to the outer environment, receiving not only sufficient sun-

view that is glimpsed by a well-placed window is unique and, together

light but also improved ventilation through increased airflow, as well

with the window itself, becomes a distinctive part of the experience of

as cooling through rainfall (image 6).

across multiple generations. This concept of living inspired me to start thinking about how location (or what I would call “placeness”) has long been an essential aspect of human life. The more I travel to

The opening

different parts of the world, the more I am aware of the broad diversity

This idea of the window in relation to the environment brings us to the “The wall did well for man.

general concept of the opening in architecture – here I use the word


colour, hair type, etc.) to cultural phenomena such as language, food,

In its thickness and its strength

both as a noun (opening) and as a verb (to open). In everyday language,

One of my key motivations in conducting this research has been to

housing, and more generally customs and manners. These practical

it protected him against destruction.

when we say that something is open, we are also indicating a possi-

explore and experience a question that has been preoccupying me for

observations in different parts of the world have played an important

But soon, the will to look out

bility of taking things out, or of putting new things in.

a long time: Why are we so diverse?

role in my growing interest toward the relationships between the

made man make a hole in the wall,

In architecture, an opening can be seen as an opportunity for

My experience of having lived in different places has only broadened

locations where we live, and our ways of being.

and the wall was very pained, and said,

information from the outer space to enter the inner space; this again

whatever answer I might find to this question. However, one thing I am

I am addressing this topic from the specific perspective of an interior

‘what are you doing to me?

relates to how architecture, as mentioned earlier, is able to connect

already convinced of, is that different locations play a key role in how

architect; thus my focus is primarily on architecture. Since one of the

I protected you; I made you feel secure –

humans to the “wonderful things” of the site where they live.

human populations develop in such different ways.

fundamental purposes of a house is to shelter its inhabitants from the

and now you put a hole through me!’

A space can also be considered to be open when materials can be

Following up on this perspective, I have been exploring the role of

direct impact of their surroundings, architecture is clearly an essen-

And man said, ‘But I will look out!

transported – for example, taken out, in order to make place for new

architecture in establishing and mediating the connections between

tial element in the dialogue between people and the site where they

I see wonderful things,

inputs. This led me to the realisation of the simple but crucial principle

locations and their inhabitants. Architecture, and in this case more

live. The goal of my research is to better understand the role of archi-

and I want to look out.’

that only through giving, are we truly able to receive. My giving away

specifically the architectural opening, plays an essential role in this

tecture in this relationship, which in turn will allow me find new ways of

And the wall still felt very sad.

part of my space in order to “claim a slice of the sun” 6 is thus both an

simple yet powerful relationship – connecting people to the location

improving the living conditions of people in relation to their

Later, man didn’t just hack a hole through the wall,

invitation and an appreciation of the sun.

where they live.


but made a discerning opening,

Personally, I do not wish to provide any such concrete answer to my

one trimmed with fine stone,

question; rather, I would like to experience the road that leads to the

“Architecture is born out of abstract ideas. However, when

and he put a lintel over the opening.

Case studies in Vietnam

answer. Having lived in very different locations, I am well aware of how

architecture is built within an existing context of place and

And, soon, the wall felt pretty well.” 3

During the final phase of my research, I reflected upon the theory and

easily I adapt to my surroundings, both consciously and un-

diverse values, dialog must occur as well. Architecture cannot exist

– Louis Kahn

principles described above in relation to three case studies routinely

consciously: my tone of voice, my skin, my hair, my household chores,

encountered in low-income dwellings in Vietnam:

my routines, my various patterns of behaviour. I do this quite simply

This short anecdote or poem, presented in the form of a conversation,

1. Tiger-cage balcony apartments

because I live in a specific environment, and I connect to this

reflects Louis Kahn’s own understanding – through the experience of

– Tadao Ando


and thus of human spatial experience.

in various aspects of human life, from physical characteristics (skin

without a relationship with the people who make up society.” 1


the room”, 5

2. Atriums in apartments

environment. In other words, I open myself to where I am living, by

“A good house, Wright instinctively realized, must not be rigid;

making – of the difference between “that which was opening” and

3. Long houses

means of one of the most important mediating factors – my space, my

it must consciously acknowledge the earth beneath it and

“that which was not opening”, as stated further in the same chapter.

By investigating and analysing the architectural opening from a


invite the air around it, and yet display its very human need for

Saying that the wall protects us “against destruction” is a clear

spatial point of view, my goal is to strengthen the mediating role of

The term “architecture” is commonly understood to indicate the

protection from a nature which is not always benign.” 2

acknowledgment of the enclosing function of architecture, which we

architecture in connecting the inhabitants to the conditions of the

design of buildings, which in turn are made of various forms and

– Kenneth Frampton

all experience in response to our demand for physical protection –

site where they live. I see this as an achievable and effective way of

materials. But architecture is also essentially never-ending, since it

alongside our need to also remain connected and thus exposed to

improving the living conditions of people, particularly those in low-

plays a key role in the relationship between a location and its

the outside world. When Kahn says “But […] I want to look out!”, he is

income dwellings.

inhabitants – though of course no one can tell for sure how future

Architecture, the site, and humans

deliberately and powerfully expressing a desire to see, to be

The moment when humans started inhabiting shelters can be seen as

connected to, the world – and this desire in turn provides an archi-

1. A characteristic feature of many apartments in Vietnam is the tiger-

Something truly powerful can be expressed through very simple,

the moment when architecture became a part of the conversation

tectural reason for creating a “discerning opening”.

cage balcony, an outward spatial extension used as a place for drying

approachable, visible and tangible means. Also, just because we see

between humans and nature.

Our demand for both enclosure and exposure may on first sight seem

clothes, planting vegetation, installing air-conditioning equipment,

something standing there in front of us, we should not assume it will

Sometime in the 13th century, the historical Native American culture

contradictory. However, from an architectural perspective – through

etc. When a number of apartment blocks share a common alley, this

go on standing there in the same form forever. In order to be standing

of the Ancestral Puebloans built a large cliff dwelling known as Long

the making of a “discerning opening” – they are in fact perfectly

narrow space is often filled with balcony cages. Regardless of the

there in the first place, it must be suitably adapted to the constraints

House (image 1), located in what is now Mesa Verde National Park, in

consistent, contributing together to an increased harmony in the

negative impact of such constructions on the appearance of the

of its location; it must also connect to this location by opening itself to

the U.S. state of Colorado. A notable characteristic of this dwelling is

relationship between humans and the world they inhabit. These

building or the overall urban landscape, balcony cages also have a

whatever changes may occur – and this state of being open, this act of

the fact that the living spaces are shielded from extreme variations of

seemingly opposing demands thus together address the fact that, on

strong impact on the lives of the inhabitants, since they close off an

opening, by definition creates opportunities for taking things out and

environmental temperature through the use of a particular form of

a fundamental level, we have never been completely isolated from the

otherwise open space and isolate living spaces from their natural

putting other things back in; an important process in the evolution not

opening, oriented and angled to allow the winter sunlight to enter and

world, but in fact are always rooted in the environment in which we


only of humankind, but also of all the other life forms with whom we

warm up the living spaces, while selectively excluding the summer


I am not suggesting to demolish or forbid these extensions, since they

share this world.


The function of architecture is not only to enclose and protect

are an essential part of many homes, and fulfil a number of valuable

Fulfilling a similar purpose, a key feature of the Roman domus (image

humans from the conditions of the site, but also – and this is a crucial

functions for their inhabitants. Rather, I believe that the solution lies in


2) was a shallow pool (impluvium) surrounded by an atrium

point – to expose and allow them to experience the “wonderful things”

improving the design and development of balcony cages – in terms of

1. Tadao Ando, Conversations with Students, p. 36.

(compluvium). This architectural design allowed rainwater to pene-

of these same surroundings. This is such an accepted fact of every-

both their form and composition, and their use of materials – while

2. Kenneth Frampton, Studies in Tectonic Culture, Chapter 4: “Frank

trate the inner space; as the water evaporated, it absorbed the heat

day life that we often forget how magical it really is: truly, one of the

also introducing a new opening through a more appropriate spatial

Lloyd Wright and the Text-Tile Tectonic”, p. 93.

and cooled down the overall temperature of the living spaces. In both

most essential and wonderful characteristics of architecture.

positioning. Then the alley, despite the presence of balcony cages,

3. Louis I. Kahn, Conversations with Students, pp. 16-17.

these cases, the form and the composition of the opening provided an

In discussing the architectural opening, I believe the word “window” is

can remain an essentially open space that allows light and fresh air

4. María Pía Fontana, Miguel Y. Mayorga Cárdenas, Edisson Alzate,

architectural response to the environmental conditions of the

a helpful concept in stimulating our imagination with regard to the

into the interiors, while potentially also becoming a communal area

“Candilis-Josic-Woods y Le Corbusier: ‘Las ventanas no son un hueco


possibility of openness. However, if there is no further explanation, no

where inhabitants can interact with each other (image 4).

en la pared’”.

Looking further to the East, in many tropical countries with heavy sun-

deliberate focus, then “window” can also easily be misunderstood, or

light and rainfall, the loggia or terrace (image 3) is an important feature

understood only on a superficial level – as a hole in the wall, a physical

2. Typical low-income apartments are often designed with one side

“Making Space”, pp. 48-49.

that is integrated within the overall architectural design of many

feature of a building.

facing the outer space, and the other side facing an enclosed and

6. Inspired by a famous quote by Louis Kahn (no known source): “Just

buildings. Besides sheltering the interior space from direct sunlight

Instead, I believe that windows always exist in a relationship between

shared corridor; as a result, inhabitants find themselves in a passive

think, that man can claim a slice of the sun.”

and rain, the loggia also provides a spatial transition between outdoor

the inner space and the outer space of an architectural object. This

situation with regard to their only source of daylight. Furthermore, the

and indoor, as well as some degree of insulation against heat from the

means that any discussion of windows, or more generally of any

living spaces are only ventilated from one side, which must be closed

About Phuong Duy Dao

Creative commons license

sun – similar to the natural shade of trees. The loggia is a common

architectural opening, must take into account their relationship with

during harsh weather or unexpected conditions. This situation can be

Phuong Dao has been active for more than ten years in the fields of both


sight in Vietnam, which was once colonised by the French, and where

the environment.

improved by introducing an atrium at the core of the building, an inner

architecture and interior architecture. After completing his Bachelor

Image 1b: Drawing by the author, made during the research process.

colonial buildings were designed according to principles of Western

space that provides the apartments with an additional opening. This

studies in Interior Architecture at Ho Chi Minh City University of Archi-

Image 2: Roman domus with compluvium and impluvium: Atrium of

architecture – with the addition of a number of architectural

A number of architects and theorists have expressed similar

should improve both cross-ventilation and access to daylight, while

tecture (Vietnam) in 2014, he worked for a few years at KAZE Interior

manipulations in response to the tropical climate, of which the loggia


also providing a shared environment for collective living (image 5).

Design in Ho Chi Minh City. In September 2017, he began his Master


3 Image 1a: Long House dwelling by Ancestral Puebloans (13th century). Source: Kyong H. Lee,

Menander, Pompeii, Italy. Source: Cansuturk Architecture,

generations will experience the architectural choices of today.

5. Witold Rybczynski, The Most Beautiful House in the World, Chapter 3:

is arguably the most important.

studies in Interior Architecture at ArtEZ University of Arts, where he


In my research, I have studied dwellings designed by architects as

The title of the paper “Candilis-Josic-Woods and Le Corbusier: ‘Wind-

3. Long houses are a characteristic feature of residential planning in

graduated Cum Laude in 2019; his graduation project was awarded the

Image 3: Loggia in colonial houses in Vietnam.

well as by indigenous builders from around the world. As we have

ows are not a hole in the wall’” by María Pía Fontana, Miguel Y. Mayorga

large cities in Vietnam. Houses are built and then expanded horizon-

ArtEZ Art Academy Zwolle Prize. Recently he was nominated for the

Source: Scene from the movie The Lover (1992), directed by Jean-Jacques

seen, the outer environment is invariably one of the main factors

Cárdenas and Edisson Alzate, directly addresses the essential defini-

tally (up to 30 metres), usually with a width of only 4 metres and in

national competition Archiprix Nederland, which will be awarded in late


which determine the design of these built environments. I also came

tion of the window. Here, the authors analyse representative projects

close proximity to each other. Though understandable under the

June 2020.

to realise that, as a result, the opening is almost always a key archi-

by the partnership of George Candilis, Alexis Josic and Shadrach

circumstances, this way of building and living often leads to

tectural element – involving a connective and constructive relations-

Woods, as well as Le Corbusier’s Villas and Unité works, particularly in

inequality in the way spaces are connected to their outer surroun-

hip between human beings and the site. This realisation led me to

terms of “their general and specific contribution to the understanding

dings: some living spaces will feel quite oppressive due to their

focus my research on the architectural opening, thus deepening my

of the façade as a space”, and “of the thickness of the façade and of its

physical isolation. I believe the most suitable solution to this problem

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