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REVIVING CORPOREALITY | Sensory Perception in an Urban Realm

“Architecture must again learn to speak of materiality, gravity and the tectonic logic of its own making. Architecture has to become a plastic art again and to engage our full bodily participation.� ~ Juhani Pallasmaa Architectural experience must be grounded in bodily engagement, one designed to nurture each sense, resulting in a subliminal perception of space. Today we have lost the ability to evoke emotions and induce feelings with our buildings; revered and seductive computer generated visuals dominate and appeal to us now more than ever. Well thought-out and intricate tactile responses molded to the human scale are almost obsolete, as are the sensory interjections of sound and smell. It is the [re]instillation of these ideals that I am interested in. I believe that a phenomenological approach to design, which addresses the human at various levels, is capable of reviving the lost corporeality in architecture.

...veiled by the curtain of falling water, a city breathes; its citizens drained, constantly at arrest... here I walk the vibrant blooming fields much awaited this spring, the fragrances of nature engulf me; I walk the pleasant path leading me straight to the summer house of my childhood days, only to be unpleasantly transported back by the blare of a ship... I look up to catch the sun, peeking up from behind the horizon... the dancing shadow of branches attempts to capture a visual of the ghostly wind... similarly, light paints a portrait of sound; of dripping water, on the warm surfaces so receptive to touch

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“The hand wants to see, the eyes want to caress.� ~J.W. von Goethe Typically considered as separate entities acting individually, the senses work in synergy to inform each other of a cohesive experience. The distinguished contribution of each sense resulting in holistic immersion is a concept known as Phenomenology. This subliminal Perception, which is the processing of one’s sensory information in response to stimuli, is the cause of an affect, an existential experience. Sensory cues have the underestimated capability to induce emotive characteristics in a space. These can either be visual, auditory, olfactory, environmental or haptic cues of any nature. An architecture which reacts to this often neglected sensory palette is capable of restoring an experience ground in existence, an affect. The term has been used in architecture to describe the instinctual response evoked by the play of architectural elements such as form, material, scale and proportion, light and shadow, color, methods of construction, etc. Today architecture is commonly dependent on and designed for visual absorption; making aesthetics the chief priority concludes in soulless buildings where material is justified exclusively on aesthetic criterion and fails to engage the haptic or olfactory realm. Captivating design that caters to all senses is experienced on levels far superior than simply the visual. The interconnectedness of the senses informs one another of the phenomenon, to confirm its presence in all realms applicable. The mere involvement of the visual does not always satisfy the brain due to the lack of haptic input, which relates the sensory information from the eye

to that of the hand, confirming the presence and feel of the phenomenon. In order to create an architecture with meaning, Pallasmaa believed that “Every touching experience…is multisensory; qualities of matter, space, and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton, and muscle.” [Holl, Pallasmaa, and Pérez-Gómez 1994, 30] The contribution of each sense is equal in power, yet unique in character.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas , Caravaggio, c. 1601 - 1602 Framing 03 | 04


...I awake to the whistle of the distant train in the darkness... gazing up at the stars, I am subtly distracted by the flutter of a playful firefly; it nearly grazes my ear, as if trying to whisper a secret... as the whistle gradually fades, the constant chirping of the crickets becomes even more evident, chanting a melody into the slumbering night... surrounded by nocturnal melodies of bliss, the warm crackling fire caresses me in its warm embrace...

The perception of sound in architecture is complex; every building has one. Upon entering a quiet library, the sound of turning pages is amplified; in a chapel, reverberating footsteps and whispered prayers are captured gracefully. Sound in a building can contribute to the molding of space with the help of materials and textures which tend to reflect, modify, absorb, channel, or amplify sound, depending on its characteristics. This omnidirectional bodily phenomenon is not constrained, unlike vision; its horizonless fluid naturte allows it to meander about unrestricted. Pallasmaa notes the significance of sound in historical cities as opposed to the contemporary city, where buildings fail to return sound anymore. The streets no longer resonate with yelling merchants, playful children, or conversing pedestrians; it is all lost today in the absorbent fabric of the city that abridges echoes. [Pallasmaa 2012, 55]

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...the soles of my feet, tickled by misty grass of the early morning hour, graze their way out of bounds of the tree shadow, in pursuit of warmth... they trace every contour of the smoothly polished pebbles thawing under the morning sun... my fingers stroke the golden gleaming sand so warm, so fine, so silky...

The haptic is often overlooked in favor of the aesthetic. Texture, temperature, and even weight of materials tend to have an effect on our emotions and behavior; this being the reason we deem concrete as the brutal material, unlike wood, which evokes feelings of warmth and comfort instead. The implications of the haptic realm have been discovered by researchers to be psychological, primarily driven by the characteristics of materials in contact. This phenomenon has been very meagerly experimented with in the past, and all together neglected in the design of the built environment today, yet its potential to impact the perception of space remains powerful. The tactile realm is simultaneously explored for its ability to preserve impressions of the past. Pallasmaa identifies its potential as a strong connection to time and tradition, believing that “…through impressions of touch, we shake the hands of countless generations.” [Pallasmaa 2012, 62]

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...the first rain of the season brings with it such delight... rain drops quench earth’s thirsty lips; the purifying scent of which cleanses the streets that will once again be masked by a cloud of odor hovering over the city, showering faint smells of the fish market and salty sea...

The sense of smell is universally understood, “…unlike the other senses, smell needs no interpreter. The effect is immediate and undiluted by language, thought, or translation.” [Ackerman 1990, 11] The feeling is mutual for all individuals; however, the emotions it evokes and the memories it restores vary from individual to individual. The nose is known to be the most powerful generator of memories, bridging the past and present in an instant. Certain smells are imbedded in our memories that are not easily accessible for recollection upon discretion; instead they often require a trigger. This recollection typically floods the mind with visual images associated with the specific smell; visuals that would otherwise be inaccessible. The pleasurable fragrances rising from nature were identified by medieval monks to be therapeutic, leading to the emergence of cloistered gardens and other relaxing outdoor programs of its kind.

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…the sun begins to dwindle over the horizon, taking away all light from day... I stand watching the plethora of colors that come to life in the sky; steaks of pink and orange fading into blue and purple... gently dissipating hints of residue vanish into darkness, waiting for day to build again what night robs him of… an empire of shadows that deviate to tell the tale of passing time, to bring to sight again the vibrant colors of earth…

The eye, infamous as a ‘gullible’ sense, is considered the prime vehicle for spatial perception. Architecture of the contemporary world adorns itself for the eye to absorb. Manipulated for visual stimulation, depthlessness lingers around the design world today which is obsessed with the visual realm, often deprived of full bodily experiences ground in existence. [Pallasmaa 2012, 28-34] For centuries our built environment has been shaped to address the visual sense; ornamentation, symmetry, rigid proportions, rhythm, and patterns, are all tools for satisfying aesthetic desire.

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The approach, procession, residue of the experience; the aspect of anticipation, travel, discovery, or of mystery, are all facets of the wayfinding approach in architecture.

…the material has a stern visual presence that is irresistible to touch… as I make my way around gliding my fingers over the slightly tilted surface, an evocative smell captures my attention… I gravitate to its source as I acknowledge the transition I make from the rough noisy gravel path, to the warm comforting wood… the space has a sound despite the absence of noise; the only noise present is resonant footsteps… it’s dark, I have no sight of my direction, I simply walk tracing the stimulating sound of dripping water; it’s getting louder... light, finally! It’s pouring in from an opening above… I walk toward it to further investigate before I am startled by the loud crackling of crisp dry leaves under my feet; I look up to see a tree branch hovering over the opening… here I sit, fully conscious of my presence, surrounded by sublimity, my existence in tranquility...

Designing an experience that gradually leads to selfawareness through wayfinding, fosters an existential connection between the architecture and the user. This approach to design stimulates full bodily interaction leading to total perception of space in all sensory realms.

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An architecture that caters to all senses can be relied on by those deprived of one. A range of sensory cues can be picked up depending on which sense is receptive, causing multiple combinatory experiences of the same space. Such embracive architecture that is attentive to the needs and comforts of the physically underprivileged is likewise beneficial to people in general. Subtle sensory cues such as the association of spaces with varying fragrances can help orient the blind man, but it can also strengthen linkages to space for the unimpaired. Similar sensory strategies can be engraved into architectural vocabulary to generate all-inclusive experiences. The Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Mexico City, a project designed by Taller de Arquitectura Mauricio Rocha, is a project that successfully employs a sensorial architectural language to help maneuver the sightless around the facility. The blind navigate entirely dependent on the varying shapes and sizes of the buildings, and the changing materiality and structure, which incorporates a navigational system through a hand-height concrete band that varies in texture [ranging from smooth, rough, to vertical or horizontal striations cast in place]. The changes in fragrances from peripheral gardens provide olfactory cues for orientation. Similarly, the sound of bubbling water indicates the presence of a bridge spanning over the central water stream. Stark contrasts in light and shadow indicate entrances for the visually challenged. These techniques, specifically tailored for the blind, could be applied to architecture for the unimpaired and still improve the quality of space due its acknowledgement of sensory perceptions other than the visual. [2011]

Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Mexico City Taller de Arquitectura Mauricio Rocha, 2001

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The vital and often underestimated role of materials has always interested me. Materials have a great contribution in giving a building its identity; they possess the power to induce feelings and achieve a desired ambiance in a space. I learned to relate material to program and discovered a recurring palette that favored the warmth of wood as much as the brutality of concrete depending on its application. Further reflection had me pondering upon the role of materials as generators of feelings and memories in sensory architecture. The compelling amalgamation of senses results in a heightened understanding and appreciation of space in architecture. Multi-sensory engagement produces intimacy and familiarity; an opulent experience created by the smell of dirt perhaps, the sound of water trickling down against stone, or the texture of uneven stone paving under one’s soles. Every sense, every material, makes its contribution toward a powerful perception. Memorable architecture is a product of meaningful experiences; one that creates a sense of place for the patron. This sensory material palette can further be expanded to encompass landscape elements as well as structural systems. An example of the application of structural composition, patterns, and textures, to achieve affects, is Farshid Moussavi’s ‘Architecture and its Affects’ installation at the Venice Biennale 2012. The installation explored the affects of these architectural elements on life and culture, Moussavi explained that “Though built forms incorporate different material and intellectual contents, these meld together into novel sensory forms which, once created, are what they are. They have no cognitive content in their actuality. They are just formal and their ‘meaning’

depends on their affects and each individual’s perception of them. Affects are therefore the aspect of forms through which architects influence – without determining and limiting – people’s experience,” [Saieh 2012]

Architecture and its Affects, Farshid Moussavi Venice Biennale, 2012 Supporting 19 | 20


Spaces adaptive of changing needs acquire a prolonged life span since they serve more than one purpose. The conglomeration of assorted programs that also facilitates different mobilities, attracts a wide range of users. A combinatory nature of program encouraging sequential progression through space can satisfy the need for variable atmospheres, materials, users, experiences as well as senses. Each type of program can offer a gratifying experience concentrated on addressing sensory perception. The High Line exhibits a variety of landscapes and architectural features usually integrated with entrances. Landscapes such as the woodlands, grasslands, thicket, street lawn, and wildflower field, give distinct character to disparate parts of a singular element. The journey through the High Line creates varied atmospheres through the use of trees, plants, sundecks, and plazas.

The High Line, New York City, New York Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and James Corner Field Operations, 2006


Humans have the need to interact, we also have the need to recuperate and reflect in silence upon our being. Achieving this balance between interactive and solitary spaces creates an interesting dialogue between context and program, which will have to account for peace amongst chaos. The sound of one’s own reverberating footsteps is analogous to the reflection of oneself in a mirror. Silence is inherent in meditation, a state of self-awareness that is recuperative. The opportunity to slow down pace and encourage contemplation in a dense urban environment is almost non-existent, an often sought experience for the rejuvenation of mental health and well-being. Forming social linkages and establishing interpersonal relationships is one of the basic psychological desires in mankind. It is human nature to seek company and social interaction, thus a space for conversations and gatherings is of vital importance.

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The play of shadows is invigorating due to its mystic qualities. Increasing popularity of transparent buildings and the slick elegance of them dominates and appeals to architects today. Extensive use of this pristine material has resulted in the loss of darkness, stark contrasts and play of shadow. The presence of shadow enhances the existence of light, increasing appreciation for every filtering ray. Restricted and strategically used light for the purpose of shaping and defining space creates a gradient of public and private realms; spaces of darkness rejecting vision and spaces of light showcasing activity. Light also has the ability to enhance a material and Kahn believed that it acted as the maker of material; materials cast shadows which belonged to light. [Lobell 1979, 5]

Louis Kahn Looking at His Tetrahedral Ceiling in the Yale University Art Gallery 1953. Gelatin silver print

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The typology of the pavilion has existed for several centuries, yet the definition remains vague and at times varies upon discretion. The elaborately roofed Chinese and Japanese garden structures we refer to as pavilions date all the way back to the Ming Dynasty [1368 - 1644], when they were considered private realms of spiritual reflection in the amidst of nature. These structures were more than just freestanding ornaments in the landscape; they were sewn into its surroundings, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the built and natural environment, the open and the enclosed realm. This reciprocal relationship was furthered in the 18th century with the design of follies. The folly however, had an ornamental relationship with the landscape, to compose a picturesque landscape, where its sole purpose was of aesthetic appeal. The Rococo pavilions of the late 18th century reached a new level of ornamentation, in which “…the interior architecture became an exuberant display of a new challenge of representation and illusion, as gilt imitations of natural form combined with the use of mirrors to create spaces which only the imagination could map.” [Schmal 2009, 14] These structures began to serve a secondary purpose of shelters soon.

“A pavilion is neither a building nor exclusively an experiment. It hovers in between the speculative and pragmatic. For us it is a provocative vehicle for testing the limits and capacities of speculative work. It gives direction to work that might remain latent but incomplete. A pavilion, here, acts as a gauge or filter to both legitimize and understand the value of our research.� ~ Barkow and Leibinger [Schmal 2009, 171]

Mussenden Temple, Castlerock, United Kingdom 1785 Supporting 23 | 24

Taking on a new role as an icon, the pavilion was now an image for representing historic, political, and commercial affairs. The ambiguity faded as the iconographic role of pavilions was pronounced in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the emergence of world’s fairs and international expositions, where trade and commerce were in full swing, the pavilion acted as a billboard to advertise national merit. The first World’s Fair Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park, London, comprised of designed stands for the display of objects to represent each nation. Soon, by Exposition Universalle 1867 in Paris, these grew out to be hundreds of pavilions populating the periphery of the exhibition structure. [Schmal 2009, 17]

World’s Fair Paris, France, 1900 Photographic print

This tradition slowly dissolved with the interjection of experiments, which had to do with explorations in structure, material, as well as user experience. The small scale of a pavilion permits for the adaption of an empirical nature, one that aspires to invent. Architects soon proposed designs that were full scale mock-ups of projects experimenting with new theories, forms, and technology, namely Pavilion de l’Espirit Nouveau by Le Corbusier, and

Soviet Pavilion by Konstantin Melnikov at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. [Schmal 2009, 23] These experiments are known to have contributed vastly to the emergence of new building systems and construction methods. The constant redefinition of the pavilion “…echoes, in amplified form, transformations in architecture itself, from a quest for new forms of representational specificity to a search…for autonomy of expression and space-making.” [Schmal 2009, 14] The pavilion today has different roles and characteristics, sometimes as part of an art museum, an exhibition space, a communication tool, an art work of its own, or simply a freestanding structure devoted to social interaction. The degrees of enclosure and scale still remain undefined, making the design of a pavilion such a unique opportunity which allows for room to experiment due to its lack of governance by concretized rules. “From its long time dalliance with the task of trying to recuperate a lost part, the pavilion has returned over the course of the twentieth century to its original task of unleashing the imagination to take on yet to be presents and futures.” [Schmal 2009, 33]

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C18th Boycott Pavilions, Stowe

18th century follies dedicated to sheer aesthetic pleasure as picturesque landscape elements, were morphed into more than just ornaments. They were valuable experiments in structure, material and experience

ICONOGRAPHY The pavilion soon transformed into a symbol for national identity; a means of representing political, cultural and commercial affairs with pride, primarily as a part of World’s Fairs

EXPERIENCE The pavilion originated as a place of retreat, and privacy, to distance oneself from courtly affairs and strengthen ones connection to nature, of which the pavilion was an integral part

Gathering at the Lanting (Orchid Pavilion), Ming Dynasty, 1368 - 1644 c. 1368

1878 Rue des Nations, Paris Exposition Universalle 1878

Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau, Le Corbusier, Exposition internationale des arts dÊcoratifs et industriels modernes 1900

Loie Fuller Pavilion, Paris Exposition Universalle 1900

Swiss Pavilion, Peter Zumthor, Expo 2000, Hanover



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“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass The very nature of existence is temporal. This time responsive trait is inherent in beings through the existence of dynamic transformation characterized by ephemeral environmental cues such as the transiency of day and night, summer and winter, dawn and dusk. The landscape endures stages of bleakness as well as relishes those of abundance. The organisms integral to the landscape similarly cope with this transition in various ways; the bird migrates in search of food, the deciduous tree slips its leaves in abscission, the human takes refuge seeking warmth and comfort. The instinct to survive drives beings in nature to maintain their existence through adaption. Such should be the nature of program, where adaptability of space allows for a range of possibilities each of which suit their time of activity. The conversion of a lake in the summer to an ice skating rink in the winter for example takes advantage of the temporal nature of place. Such a transformative nature of program can be employed seasonally or daily. In due season a place boasts a certain charm; for example in the spring, during which the accumulating foliage and blossoming plants fill the environment, creating a vibrant and fragrant atmosphere. Lost in the winter is this appeal of color; replaced by barren trees and a plethora of snow, the

a season before spring can again return and revive it back to life. This is such a wasted opportunity which fails to extract the charm of winter during which activities in a space can be appropriated to suit the season, eliminating need to await the restoration of space. This temporal quality successfully captures the spirit of the place as it morphs itself to respond to the rhythmic nature of the environment. Thus, this calls for a site which is accessible in all seasons and adaptable in nature to changing conditions.

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“The contemporary city is the city of the eye, one of distance and exteriority.� ~Juhani Pallasmaa Among the soaring skyscrapers in our cities and the fast-paced traffic, man has lost the desire to reflect, to perceive meaningfully and unconstraint. The city’s hustle and bustle has robbed him of this valuable experience and moment of pause. He is lost in the day to day crowds of nine to five workers swarming the streets, oblivious to his surroundings, averting eye contact. Streets with abundance of people, but often devoid of interaction, miss the opportunity to moderate pace and provide temporary relief from amplified visual and auditory stimulation throughout the day. This brief moment of respite is a scarcity in populous cities where in order to instill this momentum, a site engaging with nature would be ideal. Nature being an element of appeal to most, especially where it is scant, is the vehicle for the restoration of leisurely pace where the disoriented citizens of the city can allay worries and subside. Often times stepping aside and looking back from a distance; at the rushing crowds, the roaring cars, and the stillness of the steel and concrete jungle, is arousing / inspiring. The site must successfully achieve a balance between the two, and sit somewhere in-between. It must separate without secluding; relieve from congestion and move to convivial.

Proposed skyline for Buenos Aires , Le Corbusier, 1929

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Architecture possesses the ability to embrace one in its realm of mutable experiences which are captivating to varying extents. By creating allusive environments responsive to temporal, cultural, historical, and physical [bodily] properties, the site plays a privileged role in reciprocating the relationship with temporal nature. In a city like New York, inhabitants are constantly engaged by visual and auditory stimuli; fatigued by this chaos man seeks a place of respite, a place within the walls of the city where he can achieve self-awareness. This provides a challenging yet interesting opportunity to create architecture that places equal emphasis on spaces of interaction, achieving a gradient of experiences which satisfy all modalities [the explorer, the artist, the biker, the businessman, the student, the runner, the family, or the group of friends]. They all come with a different purpose and seek the appropriate spatial experience. Norberg-Schultz once said that humans are attracted to nature and its elements [rocks, water, trees, etc.] which provide rudimentary enclosure and comfort. These elements are capable of transforming and engaging the sensory realm, leading us beyond the everyday modes of cognition, to the imaginative, inspirative, and intuitive modes of cognition. [Seth 2008]

Central Park

Nelson A. Rockefeller Park

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Lower Manhattan city plan and skyline

Located on the lower tip of Manhattan, Nelson A. Rockefeller Park falls under the Battery Conservancy, as the north end of Battery Park City. The park was designed by Boston based firm Carr, Lynch, Hack and Sandell. Rockefeller Park is comprised of vast lawns, gardens, a playground, and several public art installations. The northwest corner of the site currently sits unoccupied, flanked by the Hudson River on two sides. The site provides sweeping views of the New Jersey skyline as the background, and captures the constant movement on the harbor.

The park’s proximity to the river provides an opportunity to incorporate the element of water into the design, along with the advantage of capturing unobstructed views. Currently lined by commercial and residential towers, Battery Park City attracts users at all times of the day; the presence of recreational activities that surround the park, also attract people of all ages.

Battery Park City

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The Primitive Hut, Marc-Antoine Laugier

Norberg-Schultz identified the basic elements of enclosure as being present in the natural or built environment at all times. Rocks, trees, water, the sky, are all components of enclosure. I intend to explore the universal qualities of space characterized by archetypal patterns, hence speaking to all mankind. This embracive, self-evident architecture creates a sense of place for all, encompassing the spirit of the place [genius loci].

Connection to nature is primarily absent in our concrete jungles today; lost is the unpolluted sound of the gusting wind and rustling leaves, lost is the moment of relief dedicated to nature spent under the dense tree canopy, lost is the tactile realm of engagement with the elements of nature. To restore this prime connection through the fusion of architecture, nature, and climatic conditions is the goal I am working toward.

“The simplest forms are found in nature,� Bruno Taut. Gedanken nach dem Besuch in Katsura, 1934 Ink on Washi Forming 37 | 38


2011. “Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired / Taller de Arquitectura-Mauricio Rocha” August 11. ArchDaily. Accessed December 9, 2013. http://www. Ackerman, Diane. 1990. A Natural History of the Senses. New York: Random House Holl, Steven, Juhani Pallasmaa, and Alberto Perez Gomez. 1994. Questions of Perception: phenomenology of architecture. Tokyo: E ando U. Lobell, John. 1979. Between Silence and Light: Spirit in Architecture of Louis I. Kahn. Shambhala: Boulder. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception. London; New York: Routledge. Miller, Seth. 2008. “The Elements as an Archetype of Transformation: An Exploration of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.” Thesis, John F. Kennedy University. Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2012. The Eyes of the Skin: architecture and the senses. Chichester: Wiley. Saieh, Nico. 2012. “Venice Biennale 2012: Architecture and its Affects / Farshid Moussavi.” ArchDaily, September 4. Accessed December 8, 2013. http:// Schmal, Peter Cachola. 2009. The Pavilion: Pleasure and Polemics in Architecture. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

Zumthor, Peter. 2006. Atmospheres: architectural environments, surrounding objects. Basel: Birkh채user.

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Thesis Document_Fall 2013  
Thesis Document_Fall 2013  

Research and progress made during the first of two semesters of Self-Directed Design Project