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November 7, 2010 5:13 PM   Subscribe

For an essay I'm thinking about the ways that human bodies physically interact and respond to architectural spaces. Which writers, theorists, artists, psychologists, architects and historians have considered this subject?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Human Relations (28 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language springs to mind.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:16 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al. is a book of ideas ("patterns") for making towns, neighborhoods, and buildings more relatable. It's more of an architectural how-to than anything else, but it's a really fascinating book, both for its ideas and the way it reveals why a lot of modern (in the stylistic, not temporal sense) architecture is alienating.
posted by wayland at 5:18 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should have previewed.
posted by wayland at 5:18 PM on November 7, 2010

I'm looking forward to hearing the answers to this myself. But I should put my two cents in for "disability studies". Go read up on the "social model of disability" which, in my take on it, looks at how society structures our bodies (in terms of architectural spaces and cultural values).

If you're looking for how our bodies interact with more than just architectural spaces, I'd recommend Donna Harraway. ("Cyborg Manifesto" is online; /When Species Meet/ talks about our bodies merging with others, including those of animals).

BLDGBLOG sounds like it's up your street, so to speak.
posted by squishles at 5:20 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of the work of Michel Foucault addresses this category of question, and I would recommend Discipline and Punish as the one most directly on your topic.

That said, Foucault is an incredibly complex and nuanced writer who is very easy to take out of context, and I would not recommend using him without using a few secondary sources.
posted by Lifeson at 5:26 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space.
posted by vers at 5:30 PM on November 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

ps... the wigley essay in "sexuality and space" might be the most directly related. good luck! :)
posted by crawfo at 5:40 PM on November 7, 2010

Was going to say Bachelard as well.

On a less theoretical note, look into "post-occupancy evaluation." Some architects and urban planners, many at UC Berkeley, watched and measured how people used space. An example is People Places by Clare Cooper Marcus. (Science!)
posted by salvia at 5:41 PM on November 7, 2010

DeCerteau's The Practice of Everyday Life, particularly the "Walking in the City" chapter.
posted by BlooPen at 5:46 PM on November 7, 2010

Thirding Alexander, although I haven't actually read his book.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:20 PM on November 7, 2010

This is a huge topic; one search word you're looking for is phenomenology (that's where, for example, the Merleau-Ponty cites above are hitting. M-P was rethinking earlier philosophical thought, so if you Google phenomenology you'll get all that and more). Cinema studies has done a lot of this, among other disciplines. In the realm of geography, Yi-fu Tuan is a good name; his "Space and Place" is a good starting-point but he has done far more complex work, too. A colleague just introduced me to this source:

Christopher Y. Tilley and Wayne Bennett, The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology I (Oxford: Berg, 2004), 29.

and based on her quotes, it's hugely insightful. Here's a bunch of her other sources, since she works on this stuff (I'd send you straight to her work, but she hasn't published it yet):

Judith Butler, "Sexual Ideology and Phenomenological Description: A Feminist Critique of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception," in The Thinking Muse: Feminism and Modern French Philosophy, ed. Jeffner Allen and Iris Marion Young (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989)

Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994)

Iris Marion Young, "Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality," in Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990 (orig. 1980)

Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 1992), 216.
posted by obliquicity at 6:41 PM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Artist: Orlaf Eriksson His indoor sunshine at the Tate was a big hit in the UK. Writer: Nikolai Oursslaf (I bet I didn't get that spelling correct). He won a Pulitzer for his essays on architecture for the Los Angeles Times, then was stolen, I say stolen by the New York Times. He's a great writer on contemporary spaces.

Reyner Banham, Architecture of the Four Ecologies---a mighty little book on the ecology of cities.
posted by effluvia at 6:44 PM on November 7, 2010

Frederic Jameson's work on postmodern architecture in "THe Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" and "The Seeds of Time."
posted by pickypicky at 6:55 PM on November 7, 2010

Experiencing Architecture was the first book I thought of. Also Juhanni Pallasmaa's Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, which I haven't read myself.

You mentioned historians, so you might be interested in those who study vernacular architecture or material culture. It doesn't line up exactly with the physical experience of space, but issues like how a culture's sense of personal space relates to their buildings are discussed a lot. I think I remember Henry Glassie's Vernacular Architecture being a good introduction. Dell Upton is another author who comes to mind. His Architecture in the United States is very readable (it's not the dull survey book it looks like). Another City is possibly more like what you are looking for but a much denser read. Or I could be totally off.
posted by sepviva at 7:48 PM on November 7, 2010

Walter Benjamin
posted by bardic at 8:11 PM on November 7, 2010

James Howard Kunstler
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:42 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Many works by J. G. Ballard, particularly 'Concrete Island' and 'High Rise.'
posted by eccnineten at 8:42 PM on November 7, 2010

I have no idea the quality of any of these works, but the bibliography here should give you another perspective (tongue somewhat in cheek).
posted by meinvt at 9:20 PM on November 7, 2010

Also, Jane Jacob's Life and Death of Great American Cities is largely about social interaction, but it builds upon the way that people physically move and interact in urban spaces.
posted by meinvt at 9:22 PM on November 7, 2010

One last thought: academically, this subject was dealt with most in depth during a course called psychology of habitation. Variations on that may lead to other good google finds.
posted by meinvt at 9:25 PM on November 7, 2010

The architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser had a lot of ideas on this. He considered a building a person's "third skin" (the second being clothing).
posted by hazyjane at 11:07 PM on November 7, 2010

Better start from the Romans: Vitruvius, De architectura.
posted by Free word order! at 11:33 PM on November 7, 2010

The architects and theorists associated with The New Objectivity Movemement might be useful.
posted by null14 at 12:38 AM on November 8, 2010

Definitely start with Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (fifthing?) He's accessible and wonderful.
posted by amileighs at 5:05 AM on November 8, 2010

I googled effluvia's spelling. It's: Nicolai Ouroussoff.

Off I go to read him myself.
posted by squishles at 5:24 AM on November 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I started reading Bachelard today and the first chapter on homes is pretty good but the rest of the book seems to be literary criticism using space/place metaphors. It's not really about architecture so much (except the first chapter).
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 7:07 PM on November 8, 2010

I'd also add LeFebvre's Rythmanalysis. It's short, but worthwhile. Manuel DeLanda also has a great chapter on cities in 'A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History.' Cary Wolfe's latest book, 'What is Posthumanism,' has a chapter on architecture that might be worthwhile.

Hope this helps! Definitely read DeCertau. Oh, and if you hit up Foucault I think his later lectures, particularly 'Security, Territory & Population,' could be useful.
posted by nerdfish at 9:27 AM on November 9, 2010

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