PHD Research Statement
My research questions identity and its development within the spaces we inhabit. I have been looking at immersive environments and their ability to dissolve the body image, or incorporate it in such a way that a new or altered body image has to form in order to understand the new environment. This relates to concepts of subjectivity and the subjective experience as well as a cumulative understanding of perceptual experience.
In order to understand a space we need a body from which to perceive it. This is a thesis that was first introduced by Heinrich Wölfflin but he was unable to develop it further. So starting with his sentiment, I construct an understanding of the body image and human subjectivity within space. In my PhD dissertation, by analyzing precedents throughout history of virtual realities and immersive environments I researched why these spaces were constructed, how they were used and what affects they had on their users. Notable, for example, the panorama rotundas of the late 1700s, which generally depicted patriotic or battle related imagery, were critiqued for being too immersive with newspaper articles commenting on how people left these spaces believing they had been at the scene of battle. This is not an isolated example, with many cases throughout architectural history of designed spaces that aimed to create very specific sensorial experiences with their users in order to affect psychological change.
In recent years a ‘psychology of space’ has become fashionable but the texts that have come out of this make no mention of the importance of the body image in this process and maintain a very superficial understanding of the subject matter. Additionally, the focus has been on capitalist agendas, such as how to make people buy more, and defensive architecture strategies that ostracize populations. What I am interested in instead is how we as designers can use this knowledge of the body image and perceptual experience to create more inclusive cities and architecture. Urban and architectural plans arise from a historical tradition that is based on social construct so through my research, I attempt to question what has become ‘standard’ while examining alternatives. This considers ways of using materiality and design to create more accessibility and legibility. We can think of the urban planning strategies put forward in the 90s by the Viennese urban planner Eva Kail. In research conducted in Vienna they found that the city was less accessible to women so by implementing simple strategies such as widening sidewalks, providing more lighting, and placing ramps where there were only stairs, they were able to create a more inclusive urban plan. This considers, in a collective way, how different social groups experience specific spaces.
Additionally, I am interested in the sensorial affects of space. What does it mean if one sense in particular is amplified over another? In a society that relies on the visual and equates vision with knowledge, how can architecture produce knowledge through touch, smell, hearing and taste. I began to explore this in my Master’s thesis at the GSD, proposing a bath-house that diminished people’s ability to rely on vision. Instead they had to navigate the space that was articulated by material, temperature, humidity, and in specific places, light. This theoretical project was sited just north of the Old City wall in Jerusalem, at a tense intersection of two different neighborhoods, one Orthodox Jewish and the other Muslim. The intention of the project to play upon the important ritualistic process of bathing in both religions by producing a procession of sensory experience that created an environment where people would experience the space together without necessarily knowing or being able to clearly see who they were experiencing it with. I am interested in producing more studies in this vein in the form of theoretical design that makes critical inquiries, architectural practice and installation work.
This research has developed my ability to look critically at material spaces to examine why and to what affect architectural spaces were created. More importantly it has developed my understanding of theories in philosophy and psychology that are cross disciplinary, applying to architecture and technology. While my PhD research has had a large focus on the theoretical, it has far reaching applications that I intend to further through an innovative research and design practice that interrogates equity, social construct and the perceptual through architecture.