Where once design and the arts may have been confined to the ‘straightforward’ creation of objects, places and similar elements, today we have the knowledge to transcend mere physicality. The experience economy challenges us to move from reactionary to initiatory modes, moving us from questions of problem solving and object making to our potential to serve as catalysts, releasing potential energy, activating thought and affecting change from those who engage with the objects and spaces we design and make.
Experiential design, situational design and Xbd (experience by design), are all examples of this expanding reality for the art, design and spatial sectors. Within this context, it is clear that art, design and space influence, reflect, react to and sometimes distort life experience. This is evident across sectors and scales making the relationship between designer-maker, designed object and user or client complex and varied.
Provocations for Designers, Architects & Artists:
This conference brings together designers and artists of all kinds to celebrate and share strategies, compare practices, and advance dialogue about art, designed objects, interiors, environments and their relationship with people. On this basis it welcomes contributions from multiple disciplines: interior design, architecture, art, furniture, graphics, product design, textiles, app design and more.
Examples of questions that may be asked include, but are not limited to:
How do interiors and buildings impact on mood, wellbeing and learning potential? How do artists, product and furniture designers shape experience and meaning? How should artists and designers communicate the intentions of their work? What skills and principles best serve us in the experience economy?
How does public art, buildings and spaces influence human interaction? How do interior designers engage users in design, visualization and feedback? How do graphic designers monitor the effects of their work in different contexts? What effect do furniture designers have on bodily health and spatial experience?
How do architects understand the impact of buildings on diverse users – from patients in hospitals to children in classrooms? How is body and ergonomic simulation effecting the practice of product design? What role do artists see for the public in the act of creation and making? How do exhibition designers engage with studies about the psychology of attention?
Inhabiting the public interior: the critical role of personalisation in imparting quality to public life.
The ability to connect emotionally to our environment is fundamental to human experience. Architects, designers, urbanists and environmental psychologists have explored spaces from the perspective of experience, to understand why certain places make people feel alive and human, and how to design environments that resonate with human sensibilities. A significant body of research focuses on urban public spaces and shows that the quality of the public realm can impact on place experience, social cohesion and the quality of life in cities. Cities need public spaces people can connect to emotionally to build liveable communities. As a shared destination, the public interior is an extension of the public realm and fundamental to our experience of the city because it also contributes social values and impart qualities to urban life. Yet, qualitative research on public interiors is fragmented, with few insights on how they can contribute to the quality of human experience.
In this context, this paper asks how the public interior can colour public life by providing opportunities for people to personalise spatio-sensory experiences, nurturing emotional relations between people and their environment. The concept of personalisation is defined here as the way in which people can shape their experience of the public interior around their needs and desires to enable them to define personal territories. Thus, the research explores the critical role of personalisation in imparting qualities to public life by investigating how the design and management of the public interior can contribute to people’s ability to personalise their experience of the interior. It focuses on the public interior of the Royal Festival Hall, a cultural venue in London UK, because its ownership, design and managerial culture present distinctive characteristics that can nurture opportunities for personalisation and enable individuals to comfortably inhabit the public interior.
Keywords: public interior, experience, personalisation, emotion, connection.
Article publication reference: Mace, Valerie. “Inhabiting the Public Interior. An Exploration into the Critical Role of Personalisation in Imparting Quality to Public Life” In: Y. McLane & J. Pable (eds.), AMPS Proceedings Series 18.2. Experiential Design – Rethinking relations between people, objects and environments. Florida State University, USA. 16 – 17 January (2020). pp.25-35
I recently wrote an article for RocaGallery an online magazine on architecture and design.
“In his book The Emergence of the Interior: Architecture, Modernity, Domesticity, Charles Rice draws on the writings of Walter Benjamin to express the notion of experiential duality. He explains that there are two types of experiences: long experiences and instantaneous experiences.”
Residual Ambiances – An Illustration of Urban Heritage as a Sentient Experience
at: Ambiances, tomorrow, 3rd International Congress on Ambiances Volos, Greece: 21 – 24 September 2016
This paper is based on a project I carried out while a student on the MA Interior Design at the University of Westminster and the site visit this account relates to was initiated by the Course Leader, Dusan Decermic, whose inspiring vision, constructive comments and persistence gave me the confidence and commitment to push the boundaries of my knowledge and abilities.
Abstract. Our urban heritage incorporates many instances of abandoned buildings awaiting rescue, where residual fragments of past occupancies provide a stage for an immersive journey into the ambiance of the interior across past and present thresholds. Accordingly, this project illustrates a unique perceptual encounter between the abandoned interior of Poplar Baths in London and the author, while subsequently, the emotive affect of the sentient experience is synthesised into a performed scenographic narrative. The interest of the project lies in its ability to articulate how sentient experiences activate a deep empathetic connection between body and space in the context of urban heritage.
A paper I wrote as an account of a phenomenological experience. It is published in the 2015 Urban + Interior edition of the IDEA journal. Available for download from the IDEA website.
The paper also includes location photographs I took to illustrate the phenomenological journey.
This paper reconsiders a refurbished London street, Bermondsey Street, as an interior where objects of memories are curated into a reconstructed atmosphere of domesticity. The study argues that as our experience of the city becomes increasingly transient, the notion of inhabiting shifts to a wider and more fragmented context, and our ability to integrate with the urban environment becomes eroded. Bermondsey Street, however, presents a distinctive experience where the phenomena of intimacy and familiarity converge across space and time to provide a more stable form of inhabitation. In order to understand how these phenomena occur and how the experience of the urban interior manifests itself in our consciousness, the study follows the Husserlian phenomenological method of intentionality whereby the urban interior of Bermondsey Street becomes the intentional object. It also places the reflective gaze of the phenomenologist in ‘epoché’, a phenomenological method of reduction that suspends normality. In doing so, the phenomenologist is able to access the points of reference that reveal the affective qualities of the intentional object in our consciousness. While the discursive and theoretical content of the study is expressed in the body of text, the phenomenological narrative is bracketed and illustrated as a meditative journey; a recollection of memories of the homely, initiated by the encounter between consciousness and the way the interior animates imagination. Thus, in ‘epoché’, the reflective gaze of the phenomenologist transcends normality to reveal the underlying structure of the phenomena and the intentionality of the subjective experience.
This case study advocates a phenomenological approach to site-specific documentation and evaluation, placing human psychological needs and lived experiences at the centre of Spatial Design education. The project, with 2nd year students from the BA (Hons) Spatial Design course at London College of Communication, delineates how primary research methods are introduced as a prelude to sensory driven design iterations. It showcases how a public space became a pedagogic environment for students to bridge the gap between studio practice and lived experiences through active learning. It also underlines how introducing practices informed by academic research enhances the students’ learning experience.
I presented her paper ‘Sensing the Urban Environment’ at the [in]arch 2014 International Conference that took place at Universitas Indonesia, Department of Interior Architecture, Depok (Jakarta) on 10th and 11th September 2014, where I showcased techniques I developed to document sensory experiences in interior environments, to uncover a connection between the way we feel and our sense of belonging by investigating the correlation between the interior’s embodied atmosphere and its perceptual affect on the body. I participated in what was the first conference of its kind in Indonesia and attracted international researchers from South East Asia, the Middle East, the USA, the UK and Europe.
I was able to engage in the many opportunities for discussions amongst conference participants for collaborations at a networking event at the end of the conference to discuss how to take new insights into design research forward including future conferences, disseminations through publications as well as the formation of an international network to include existing and emerging researchers in this new and exciting area of design research on interiority. This marks the start of a new research chapter for me across interior design, spatial design and interior architecture, one that links theory and practice and creates opportunities for the advancement of knowledge in interiority and wellbeing and, in the words of Professor Yandi Andri Yatmo “enrich our practice and pedagogy, experiment with concepts and ideas beyond the existing knowledge, and… establish further network and collaboration beyond the event of this conference.”
Juhani Pallasmaa – Retinal Architecture and the Loss of Plasticity
‘The architecture of our time is turning into the retinal art of the eye. Architecture at large has become an art of the printed image fixed by the hurried eye of the camera. The gaze itself tends to flatten into a picture and lose its plasticity; instead of experiencing our being in the world, we behold it from outside as spectators of images projected on the surface of the retina.’
Unprecedented access to technologies of the visual enables us to capture and reference our environment with exceptional ease. We have become accustomed, even conditioned, to quickly record our surroundings and transform them into ephemeral moments of appropriation. It seems that we require tangible proof of our lives so as not to forget a single moment, a single encounter.
The cult of the image is also actively promoted by the carefully constructed ideals of glossy magazines and coffee table books celebrating architecture and architects. This gives us instant access to archives and desires but what are we losing or gaining in the process? Does the prominent role of the image in Western culture today affect our cultural identity?
The development of cultural identity happens over time as a historical set of recollected moments that shape our knowledge, thoughts and behaviour. So memories and the ability to remember are an essential part of not only our past, but also our present and future. As our understanding of architecture becomes increasingly conditioned by the way it is photographed, flat images become abstractions of buildings and we are presented with a series of fragmented views of externalised and idealised versions of our environment. Memory however is dynamic, not a simple storage device. It consists of mental images gathered through experiences. Environments are all encompassing multi-sensorial entities and immersion triggers what Marcel Proust calls ‘involuntary memories’(1), experienced through being, knowledge, matter, identity, time and space.
So the gaze loses its ability to form itself into the environment when, superseded by the eye of the camera, it cannot construct the relationships characterised by the multiplicity of meanings we encounter as we move through our surroundings. When the gaze is confined to flat restricted viewpoints, it cannot be interactive or participatory, nor can it facilitate, in the words of Jean Piaget ‘a gradual construction of meanings essential to our perceptions of our environment’(2). Positioning ourselves behind a camera creates a warped relationship between the body and its surroundings, a loss of direct connection and engagement. We look but we don’t see, we see but we don’t feel. Time accelerates and we are compelled to move quickly to the next subject, emulating what Fredric Jameson calls ‘the frantic economic urgency’(3). So, when experience is reduced to the unfulfilled encounter of the image and impoverished two-dimensional environments, the supremacy of the visual over other sensorial modalities means we are in danger of losing the knowledge that we need to inform awareness. Maurice Merleau-Ponty even suggests we become ‘programmed machines, removed from the open and active form of the sensing body’(4) and therefore it seems that in our postmodernist culture, awareness follows depiction.
The resulting fragmentation of our perceptions leads to both the dispersal and reconfiguration of collective memories resulting in subjective experiences defined by the media, where desires, manufactured with the help of semiotic advertising psychology, replace reality. Bernard Stiegler takes this point even further and expresses his concern about the communality produced by the similarity of images available in the media. He remarks that we ‘come to share an increasingly uniform memory. For example, those who watch the same television news channel every day at the same time become, in effect, the same person.’(5) Transposed into architectural images, this implies that those who repetitively view the same photographs of any given environment, are likely to develop the same perceptions of that environment.
Take Peter Zumthor’s celebrated Thermal Bath Vals in Garubunden, Switzerland. It is entirely designed through careful manipulation of sensory modes. Local materials are used for their relationship with the site and tactile qualities, room plans are labelled by temperature notation and slivers of light and dripping water are introduced to enhance atmospheric conditions. The character of its interior emanates from the considerations of its components as active participants to promote the feeling of wellness and serenity essential to the context of the environment. However most of us only know this building because we have seen carefully executed and selected images, not because we have been there and experienced it for ourselves. Yet many will profess the characteristics of the Thermal Baths with genuine enthusiasm. Although to a certain extent, memories, knowledge and imagination allow us to decode what we see and transpose it to stimulate other senses, we are nonetheless reduced to spectators in the construction of cultural ideals. Our architectural and spatial consciousness and by default our related memories, are defined by images more than by direct experiences. In the words of Susan Sontag ‘photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is’(6)
So the commodification of culture, imposed on us by the architecture of the visual and the drive to create striking and desirable images, favours the representation of form over real human enjoyment, and authentic pleasure is removed when architecture is staged to fulfil lifestyle consumer desires. Architecture becomes flat and lifeless, debased by its assimilation into consumer images, removed from human experience. The loss of plasticity, the lack of direct engagement with our environment and the proliferation of superficial encounters bring about an idealised, distorted and subjective view of reality whereby meaning becomes referential to the image rather than deferential to the multiplicity and complexity of the human condition. In other words ‘reality has come to seem more and more what we are shown by the camera.’(7) However, as Yi-Fu Tuan points out ‘what begins as an undifferentiated space becomes a place as we get to know it better and endow it with value’(8) and ‘the more our sense of touch is restricted or neglected, whether social relationships or urban design, the more we diminish our possibilities for aesthetic enjoyment and our sense of connection with the material world.’(9) As a result our cultural identity seems diffused and even confused. Faced with a much more disappointing reality when our expectations are not met, we can become prone to anxiety due to an inability to form meaningful relationships with our environment.
Science fiction cinema and writers have also expressed their unease at the potential the image for manipulation. For example, Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner is based on the impossible task of its main character figuring out whether his memories are real or implanted and his only link with his real or imagined past are photographs. Phillip K. Dick’s protagonist in ‘We can remember it for you wholesale’ merges reality and fantasies by selecting both factual and false memories, which are then further woven into his identity with the addition of images in the form of films and postcards as proof of his voyage to Mars. The alteration of photographs is today common practice, but unless someone remembers, are we not in danger of altering our collective memories by re-visualising history?
So is there nothing to be gained from images of our environment? Pierre Nora speaks of ‘lieux de mémoire’ (spaces or realm of memory), connecting the driving force behind the image with ‘the rise of the visual narrative in contemporary culture’(10) . Despite its experiential limitations and the danger of distortion in our cultural identity and history, photography enables us to preserve an archived version of past architecture displaced by urban development that regularly obliterates many areas of our cities. It provides us with a unique means to construct our own personal architectural mementos and in effect, curate our memories of places we have been to. It also offers us an opportunity to re-discover our environment by framing its components in ways that remove the surrounding visual clutter. The act of reinterpretation helps us stop and reflect. Although the image does produce a two-dimensional encounter, it also makes the invisible visible by helping move our gaze beyond the foreground and adjusting our environment to reveal previously unnoticed vistas, elements and details.
We often take our environment for granted yet our daily interactions are complex and dynamic. We are confronted with social constructs, historical products, personal emotions, memories and imagination. So, while spaces are constantly evolving and re-made, it is our memory, the way we retain information, that really creates the mental space each of us possess of individual or shared experiences. I agree that we need to immerse ourselves in our environments to fully experience them, but I also believe there is a place in our culture for images that are not about revealing all, but surprise and offer constituents of moments fixed in time, yet always evolving because they are alive with personal sensorial connotations; they are windows onto past experiences, unlocking hidden meanings to create alternative memories beyond the original moment in space and time. At a personal level, photographs trigger not only visual but also sensorial and emotional recalls beyond the limitations of time, whereby captured moments become permanent ones that we can revisit at will and public spaces become private memories.
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Every Summer the ground near the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park London is host to a temporary pavilion designed by a different architect each year. This is an opportunity for architects to design unique experiences and I have been a regular visitor for the last few years since I accidentally came across Jean Nouvel’s 2010 pavilion while crossing Hyde Park one evening, as it happened, the day before it was due to close to the public. The pavilion was aptly called ‘The red sun pavilion’. The building metaphorically and literally reflected on its surroundings in a chromatic explosion of reds amongst the green landscape. The intensity was at its most striking on approach when the pavilion suddenly appeared in full view and translucent panels positioned to capture the evening sunlight created an artificially induced sunset, painting the surroundings with splashes of red, transforming the site into a three-dimensional canvas. The result was dynamic and evocative, yet unlike anything usually experienced in the vast expanse of Hyde Park. It’s the memory of the drama of this sudden and unexpected explosion of reds in the glowing light of the sunset set within the intense green surroundings that brings me back each year in anticipation for another unique experience. The element of surprise is actually very important or the emotional impact of the design would be ruined so I try to avoid photographs or articles about the pavilion before going there, which can be quite difficult with so much information reaching us all the time. Even then, the impact is perhaps never quite as intense. Just knowing that there will be a pavilion takes away some of the surprise.
Peter Zumthor’s 2011 pavilion was completely different, one that celebrated our senses in a more contemplative way. On approach, a simple black volumes giving nothing away but with contrasting curved paths inviting a gentle meandering towards its interior. The sudden change in atmospheric conditions once going through the threshold was however remarkable. The contrast between the brightness of the light in the park, the cool tones of its environment and that of the soft light and warm tones of the interior created an instant shift in perceptions. The mind felt immediately more calm, rested. The sounds from the park became distant and I became wrapped in the silence of the corridor like space. The rough concrete of the path was replaced by dark wood and a subtle sweet and pleasant smell emanated from the surfaces around me. I expect that the corridor like space that surrounded the main interior acted as a transition, a threshold, that prepared people for the main interior. Inside was a rectangular space with a sitting area around central a garden so people were invited to enjoy the spectacle of nature within architecture, mentally far removed from external concerns. The area above the garden was opened to the sky and although when I went it was a bright sunny day, I decided to go back next time it rained to experience the effect of the summer rain within the interior. I wasn’t disappointed. Like the contrast created on entry with the enigmatic low light and subtle scent, the effect of the rain falling through the centre of the space was extraordinary in the strength of its simplicity. These two moments are what I took away with me from this experience and although this is the only building by Peter Zumthor I have had the opportunity to visit, I was totally won over by his amazing ability to create atmospheres, his thoughtful choreography of perceptual and sensorial relationships. I since discovered that in 2003 he gave a lecture on atmospheres, published in a book of the same name. In it he says that ‘quality architecture to me is when a building manages to move me’ and this is exactly what happened to me when I experienced his pavilion.
The 2012 pavilion was designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron in collaboration with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Conceptually it was brilliant. The architects excavated about 5 feet into the soil of the park until they reached groundwater. There they dug a hole to act as a well to collect the rain that falls into the area, thus incorporating the water underneath the soil into the pavilion. They also uncovered the remains of former foundations from previous pavilions and instead of obliterating them, they carefully identified and recorded these physical remains to incorporate them into the footprint of the design, reconstructing their forms to various heights, forming convoluted horizontal lines and creating what they called ‘the serendipitous gift of a distinctive landscape’. This landscape could only be appreciated from inside the pavilion although its programmatic drawings were on display in the Serpentine gallery nearby. The entire space was covered with a metal flat roof with a thin layer of water reflecting the sky and trees of the surrounding park. The water could apparently be drained from the roof to become a platform or stage for events. Inside the 3D landscape was entirely covered in cork (including mushroom/champagne cork shaped seats), which to me, from a distance, looked like concrete. Unlike concrete however, this material was warm to the touch and I expect it was chosen for its haptic qualities. As I said, conceptually brilliant and from the photographs I saw, unfortunately I wasn’t able to see it when it was dark, it looked striking at night (although carefully framed and edited photographs cannot replace real experiences). So why didn’t I enjoy being there? The day time atmosphere of the interior didn’t work for me. I perceived a coldness and dampness that didn’t exist because being inside the space gave me a similar feeling as that of being in a basement, like the cellars I remember from the old French houses of my childhood. Although it clearly wasn’t and I was warm, I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable. The roof was fairly low and the light didn’t penetrate the core of the interior space, which was quite dark and made the cork look slightly grey. The feeling was intensified by the lonely utilitarian lights fixed to the ceiling. The contrast between the bright exterior and dark centre was theoretically interesting but like most people who were there that day I chose to stay on the edges of the space. I expect that in a very hot country it would be a completely different experience, whereby this cool environment covered in refreshing water would then be a welcome haven from the heat. I don’t have any photographs but bustler has excellent ones.
The Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto designed the 2013 pavilion. A clever work of strength and lightness, simplicity in complexity. The structure appears to follow the basic architectural principles of point, line, plane and volume. Simple metal bars are connected together to create cartesian cubic forms however, their irregular growth and lack of symmetry lend the space its organic character. So the architects invited us to explore and meander through the pavilion, creating different levels where people could climb to. The core of the interior remained free of obstructions to accommodate a cafe with a much more traditional table and chairs sitting area, which I thought was a shame and took away some of the immersive proposition of the design but then also brought with it an atmosphere of conviviality. The design of the steps was very clever. It was obvious that the architect wanted them to blend as much as possible with the rest of the structure so their construction used the exact same metal bars. However, instead of the cubes being hollow, these were covered with glass and a very subtle pattern in the same white as the bars. To make it even more interesting, most of the stepped areas were actually platforms of varying sizes so nothing in this space was predictable, each part offered a coherent yet different experience so it was not really possible to define its layout with a clear mental map as we often expect in contemporary buildings and I think that was perhaps the point Sou Fujimoto was trying to get to. Despite is chaotic appearance the atmosphere is tranquil as people are forced to let go of their preconceptions and expectations. It’s a completely new experience and one that people seemed to embrace with the curiosity and enthusiasm often seen in children but less so in adults.
I visited the site during the day but I came across a video, which shows a completely different kind of experience. The space is transformed by the sharp contrast between light and dark, creating a powerful atmosphere that electrifies the senses.
This paper presents a study of selected visualisation and investigative methods that facilitate the exploration and expression of human emotions and perceptions within real world environments during the design development stages of a project, repositioning exploration and visualisation in spatial design education. It puts forward an outline for an iterative inquiry around human experiences in order to assess the value of alternative cognitive tools for spatial design students in higher education.
Established tools such as orthographic drawings, axonometric projections or scale models equip spatial designers with the consistency they need to investigate and represent physical attributes of space but don’t always constitute the best methods to explore the perceived environment, even though it is a key contributing factor to the way we experience our surroundings. It is therefore in the interest of design educators to investigate complementary interpretations that enable students to consciously explore less tangible aspects of design such as emotions and multi-sensorial modalities.
Projects developed using tools and techniques ranging from digital 2D and 3D image making, photography, film, animation and performance provide an insight into the possibilities offered by existing visual technologies as dynamic study devices of human experiences and contribute to the generation of alternative processes in spatial design education.