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Moving towards Well-being:

A phenomenological approach in Computation to explore the Body as an Architectural tool


M. Piedade Ferreira Architect, PhD Candidate

Faculdade de Arquitectura, Universidade Tcnica de Lisboa, Portugal

Email: m.piedade.ferreira@gmail.com Key-words Corporal Architecture Phenomenology Computation User-centered Design Kinesiology Well-being Abstract Social interaction in cyberspace is a very important aspect of communication today, as a growing number of individuals and groups are using the same tools to leisure or work, such as email or social networks. These are subjecting the body to very specific and limited kind of tasks and interactions that are mostly mechanical and passive which make us reflect on the kind of consequences it can have in the human body, in a short or medium period of time. As digital space blurs with physical space, its urgent to understand its impact on contemporary living, in what concerns the body as a holistic system, and its health as an organism, depending on sensory stimulation, both physically and mentally. Medical studies are already relating the growth of pathologies such as lack of visual acuity, muscular skeletal disorders, obesity, insomnia and depression with human-computer interaction. This triggers even more alarm as younger generations seem to grown in hyper stimulation and even children are starting to show signals of this kind of stress such as trouble concentrating while studying. Juhani Pallasmaa stresses the issue further by saying that beyond architecture, contemporary culture is heading to a terrifying de-sensualisation and de-erothisation of human relationships towards reality. In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard (1957) presents us an idea of archetypical house, a body tailored shelter where one can explore Infinity in intimacy and find in this state of well-being a place for the Self. This house is shaped by the movements of the body, like the bird that shapes its nest. In De Architectura, Vitruvius had stated that the origins of architecture were most likely related to these instinctive human gestures of protection of the body, facing nature. Recent developments in the realm of brain studies are bringing back the interest in this phenomenological approach in architecture as also proposed by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Some architects such as Peter Zumthor, Steven Holl and Juhani Pallasmaa are defending this approach and they try to explore the sensorial experience of architecture through their work, what Merleau-Ponty defines as a unique way of being that speaks to all my senses at the same time. Recent scientific and technological developments are leading towards user-centred design in which biomimicry is used as a fundamental design concept, resulting in designs that allow flexibility, responsiveness (Kronenburg, 2007) and intuitive use. Some biomechanical processes such as movement can be translated into digital means to apply in generative/parametric design (Kolarevic, 2003) and in architecture this technology is gradually replacing analogical systems (Novak, 1995). Anyhow, there still isnt a single

methodology that links the psychophysiological characteristics of dwellers and architectural space together as parameters in the generation/simulation of such designs. This research, part of an on-going PhD thesis, has been trying to develop such a methodology, with the referred concepts in mind. Following these historical and scientific traces, we present the embryo of a design computational tool that embodies a poetic view on the human body as a spatial generator whose movements weave a virtual and invisible pattern of emotions and relationships, made concrete and material through architectural space. We have started to write a rule based (Stiny, 2006) algebraic synthesis of the human body, hoping to transfer the biomechanical process of movement into digital information in a way similar to the method used in kinesiology. We aim to explore the idea that the space generated by the movement of the human body can be used as a design tool and that such space can have a certain psychophysiological effect in the dweller and establish empathic links (Norman, 2004). So, it could be possible to design by manipulating space in order to conduct intentionally the actions of the dweller and so influence his emotions in a subliminal level, for example, making him exercise without being rationally aware of it. This way, we wish to reach for design solutions that are focused on user well-being and health improvement, operating in a prophylactic or therapeutic way, as kinaesthesia and kinetics are acknowledged to function as very powerful sensory stimulators (Damsio, 1995) and main factors in the holistic maintenance of the human body (Decety, 1998). While exploring in this manner the poetics of movement applied to architecture, we wish to reach for design solutions that are focused on user well-being, providing a more subjective and corporeal experience of space, bridging the gap between digitality and physicality and hopefully, as Bachelard proposed, heading towards the construction of a place for the Self. References -Bachelard, Gaston. (2005). A Potica do espao (1957). Antnio de Pdua Danesi, trans. So Paulo. Martins Fontes. pp: 103-116. -Decety, Jean (1998). Perception and action: recent advances in cognitive neuropsychology. Hove, UK: Psychology Press. -Damsio, Antonio R. (1995). Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. -Kolarevic, Branko.(2003). Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing. New York: Spon Press. -Kronenburg, Robert. (2007). Flexible: Architecture that responds to change. London, UK: Lawrence King Publishing. -Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1945). Phenomenology of Perception. New York, London. Routledge. 2002. -Norman, Donald A. (2004). Emotional Design: why we love (or hate) everyday things. New York: Basic Books. -Novak, Marcos. (1995). Transmitting Architecture. Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of the UIA (Union Internationale des Architectes). -Pallasmaa, Juhani. (2005). The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Academy Press. -Stiny, George. (2006). Shape: talking about seeing and doing. Cambridge Massachusetts, London England: MIT Press.