Page 1

the future of phenomenological architecture in the context of virtual reality technology and its effects on the global world, defined by the two-dimensional image

Ruzha Sirmanova

{ intro }


This essay seeks to answer how phenomenological architecture and its multiple perceptual layers can be re-introduced in the post-modern age, defined by the rise of the network society and the electronic image. It will look into the theoretical work of Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa and Alberto Gomes regarding phenomenology; it will explore the theory’s connection to experiencing architecture through the full paradigm of human senses, and focus on the questions raised by architects Helena Casanova and Jesus Hernandez regarding the issues high-speed communication technology poses on phenomenological architecture. In order to provide an answer, this work discusses the theory of phenomenology and puts it in the context of virtual reality technology (VR); it looks into the possibilities VR offers in terms of sensory design conception and perception, as well as the technology’s shortcomings at this point of is development. This essay is majorly informed by the written work of Holl and Pallasmaa, and more specifically by: Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture and The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, as well as various articles and talks on VR, such as: VR is Totally Changing how Architects Dream up Buildings published by WIRED and Helena Casanova and Jesus Hernandez’ manifesto: Scale & Perception. Lastly, this work will not look into VR as a presentation and client-communication tool or into augmented reality technology (AR).

“Each day, its appearance varied with the dramatically changing shaft of light that passed through the open occulus. On rainy mornings, the cylinder of down pouring light contained flashes of raindrops reflected as they slowly fell on the floor and drained into the ingenious marble pavement grooves, which led into the ancient drainage system...A hazy day rendered the light from the great round orifice more visible, like a solid cylinder of morning sunlight.� - Steven Holl

“The building has been framed in direct relation with the dynamic process of daily life. Lights and shadows, changing during the day and during the year, underline the always-different elements of the silent, but potent building. It almost protrudes out of the scene, imposing its strict lines, its regular rhythm and the functionalism of its geometries. The surroundings play the most important role of the entire photo project: they create the atmosphere, establishing an intimate connection between the architecture and its context.� - Francesca Lantieri

CHAPTER 1 THE THEORY OF PHENOMENOLOGY Phenomenology is a philosophical theory about people’s sensory perceptions and the silent information they provide. Steven Holl and Juhani Pallasmaa put this in the context of architecture, claiming it is the only branch of art and design which can fully awaken all senses simultaneously. They note that phenomenology cannot be constrained to a philosophical school or a definition because it is both transient and subjective. Perception relies on the five senses defined by Aristotle: vision, touch, smell, sound and taste. However, a fully articulated perception is gained by senses of the subconscioius, such as balance, scale and kinaesthetic (Casanova & Hernandez, 2014). These are the ones that gain architecture the further depth of complexity against other forms of arts and design. A photograph or a painting is a static, flat image of a scene the author has chosen to show, imposing on the viewer their own experience at a specific moment, while being in a building allows the eye to roam - to connect the frames of perspectives while approaching, and tie them in a cinematic sequence; follow the light changes, the smell and noise of the users or the lack of such, the silent conversation between the building and the body within, in terms of its size, proportion, position and movement. This is why architecture is the only one that offers “tactile sensations” allowing one to be a participant rather than an observer, defining the multi-dimensional character of the experience (Holl, Pallasmaa & Perez-Gomez, 2008). According to Pallasmaa, architecture involves both the physical and spiritual presence of the body by generating a complex of impressions which can be perceived through the senses but are invisible to a drawing or a camera and therefore cannot be captured. He states that “movement, balance and scale are felt unconsciously through the body as tensions in the muscular system” and therefore design work interacts with the body of the viewer, making them mirror the sensations of the designer, creating a silent dialogue, communicated through the built environment, between the body of the architect and the body of the observer (Pallasmaa, 2014). This is why re-living phenomenological architecture benefits one in terms of both the perception and conception of buildings. The participant gains a sensory experience, and if they are an architect – a starting point to design for generating sensory experience, which is essential in the global world (Casanova & Hernandez, 2014).

{ a question }

CHAPTER 2 PHENOMENOLOGY & THE SOCIAL NETWORK SOCIETY Casanova and Hernandez end their manifesto Scale & Perception by raising the question of the future of multi-sensory perception of architecture as its complexity is being reduced to a photograph; its importance declining under the modern concept of convenience and productivity in the digital era, characterised by the fugitive character of the two-dimensional image (Asanowicz, 2014). “But how can perception again play an important role in architecture of the Network Society? … How can a phenomenological architecture that promotes the link between architecture and place coexist with the reality of globalization?” (Casanova & Hernandez, 2014) If revisiting phenomenological architecture is essential in order to “maximise the multisensory perception of our environment” (Casanova & Hernandez, 2014), then what is the best way to fulfil this need without compromising the pragmatic high-speed lifestyle of the 21st century viewer and designer. In his essay – The Phenomenology and Philosophy of Simulacra on the VR (2014), Asanowicz defines the use of virtual reality as a new kind of architectural activity, and the designer as a “cyber-sculptor” who works within a full three dimensional artificial environment in a 1:1 scale. This allows one to create and manipulate space interactively - based on their first-hand experience of being inside their creation and the senses it provokes in full scale and through time. When virtual reality is immersive, the experience is generated “directly through movement and interaction parallel to the real world familiarity” (Portman, Natapov & Fisher-Gewirtzman, 2015). The freedom to build simulations in controlled environment enables architects to go beyond the existing reality and test hypothetical designs by expressing their imagination with ease (Portman, Natapov & Fisher-Gewirtzman, 2015). In an article for WIRED magazine (2016), Lubell quotes VP of technology at Iris VR, George Valdes: When inside a virtual reality, you can look in all directions, walk, climb stairs, and even beam (via hand control) to any part of the structure, inside or out. You can also change the sun’s position, photograph details, add layers, and sketch… - proving that by entering a virtual simulation of an environment, the user can accomplish the articulated perception on the multi-sensory level, Casanova and Hernandez seek to achieve.

{ virtual reality }

CHAPTER 3 THE FUTURE OF PHENOMENOLOGY Phenomenological architecture allows to be developed and augmented intentionally rather than by accident. According to Holl and Pallasmaa, often phenomenological architecture is the result from the relationship of different layers of individual intentions forming only partially controlled complexities, which are mostly unintended and unpredictable. They note that phenomena vary in accordance to light availability, time of the day, season, position in space, juxtapositions and so on. A VR, however, can enable the designer to experience and adjust all of these factors, in a controlled environment prior to construction, unlocking a glimpse of the complex relationship between all building elements, as well as that with their context and impact on the body in any given circumstances. The current advance of VR allows an experience very similar to reality by mostly relying on imaging to respond to the visual sense, which is historically regarded most superior (Pallasmaa, 2014). Further interferences with the real environment or the model such as the addition of sounds and smells, as well as other multimedia tools of coordination, complement the virtual reality and create a “multi-dimensional space of input-output data” (Asanowicz, 2014). The Omni treadmill allows the user to freely navigate within the model and observe the space in a sequence of frames which are natural to the act of approaching a building in reality (Goetgeluk, 2014); allowing the senses of scale, kinetics and balance to add to the realism of the virtual experience – “We feel pleasure, and protection when the body discovers its resonance in space” (Pallasmaa, 2014). Technology is still at a state when the multi-sensory experience cannot be fully simulated. According to Pallasmaa, all senses (vision, smell, hear and taste) are extensions to the sense of touch and this cannot be recreated through VR. Nevertheless, Pallasmaa argues that vision can reveal what is already familiar to the sense of touch. He calls this phenomenon ‘ideated sensations’ and cites Bernard Berenson who claims authentic art stimulates the brain in a way that one can feel the touch of “the warmth of the water in the bathtub in Pierre Bonnard’s paintings of bathing nudes” only through stimulating the sense of vision. Therefore, the lack of touch in a VR environment is subconsciously replaced using the knowledge acquired through the other senses and supplementing the VR technology until it reaches full capacity to simulate a complete multi-sensory experience.

{ conclusion }


The full sensory experience of phenomenological buildings is essential to re-live and learn from in the global world of quick information. Electronic images do not carry the amount of information one’s experience of an environment can gather through the sense of vision, touch, sound, smell, balance, scale and kinaesthetic (Casanova & Hernandez, 2014). The technology of virtual reality allows us to accomplish almost a complete sensory experience and thus turns VR into a new form of architectural activity, where the architect is a “cyber-sculptor” who can manipulate and experiment within the model in the natural scale of a controlled environment (Asanowicz, 2014). This new form of design can allow the architect to generate phenomenological design completely intentionally through empirical information gathered and altered within a model and before construction. It can preserve the act of fully re-living sensory architecture in the space of a virtual reality which simulates existing environments and this way prevent architecture to be reduced to the 140 characters of a tweet.

{bibliography }

Asanowicz, A. (2014). The Phenomenology and Philosophy of Simulacra Influence on the VR (pp. 5-8). Bialystok. Retrieved from Casanova, H. & Hernandez, J. (2014). Scale & perception (1st ed., pp. 1-15). Berlin: Architektur Galerie Berlin. Holl, S., Pallasmaa, J., & Pérez-Gómez, A. (2008). Questions of perception (1st ed., pp. 41-42; 58; 122). San Francisco, Calif.: William Stout Publishers. Lubell, S. (2017). VR Is Totally Changing How Architects Dream Up Buildings. Wired. Retrieved from Malnar, J. & Vodvarka, F. (2004). Sensory design (1st ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Pallasmaa, J. (2009). The Thinking Hand: Existental and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture (1st ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Pallasmaa, J. (2014). The eyes of the skin (1st ed., pp. 42-46; 67). Chichester: Wiley. Portman, M., Natapov, A., & Fisher-Gewirtzman, D. (2015). To go where no man has gone before: Virtual reality in architecture, landscape architecture and environmental planning. Computers, Environment And Urban Systems, 54, 376-384. Retrieved from Sokolowski, R. (2007). Introduction to Phenomenology (8th ed.). Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University press. TEDxOrcaIsland,. (2015). Virtual Reality: The Future Is Coming. Retrieved from https://www. TEDxRiga,. (2016). The dawn of the virtual reality in architecture. Retrieved from https://www. TEDxWhitefish,. (2015). VR - The Next Big Thing. Retrieved from watch?v=87o4iedlLD8 YouTube,. (2017). Virtuix Omni Interview with Jan Goetgeluk. Retrieved from LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1 Own Image Figures 2-9 ArchDaily,. (2015). A Bauhaus Façade Study by Laurian Ghinitoiu. Retrieved from http://www.

The Phenomenology of Virtual Reality and the Future of Architecture  

A short essay I wrote as a base research for my MArch thesis I am to complete in 2018. (Written February 2017)

The Phenomenology of Virtual Reality and the Future of Architecture  

A short essay I wrote as a base research for my MArch thesis I am to complete in 2018. (Written February 2017)