Phenomenology in Architecture:


Shaun McIntosh, 16.11.16

Phenomenology fundamentally analyses the structure of our belief in an objective world and in addition analyses the structure of raw experience and deduces this experience to its essential components.


Phenomenology in architecture is today considered as a fad of the 1980’s. Although only briefly prominent, it is worth noting that it has influenced architects and theorists such as Steven Holl, Juhani Pallasmaa, Alberto Pérez-Gómez and Peter Zumthor.


Edmund Husserl founded phenomenology, but it was the ideas of Martin Heidegger that crucially merited the attention of the architectural world. For Husserl and Heidegger, science wrongly attempts to objectify everything, therefore science is unable to gain a complete understanding of reality. If we restrict ourselves to an objective world, we restrict ourselves to a framework of matter and motion. Knowledge is always the marriage of subjectivity and objectivity, and thus no fundamental ‘truth’ can be achieved by solely one outlook. Husserl explained that the subjective world is ‘real’ and must have a structure in which to be understood as science does for the objective world; thus phenomenology.


Briefly, how Husserlian phenomenologists approach data; to understand our raw experiences:


Husserlian phenomenologists use the phenomenological reduction (bracketing). Similar to the Cartesian method of doubt, bracketing suspends any external beliefs. The aim is to disregard empirical data - alongside intuition and judgement - and describe raw experience in tremendous detail. A Husserlian phenomenologist would assess an ice cream by its flavour, texture, colour, temperature etc. The connotations of the brand and ingredients etc. would be bracketed. A phenomenologist would then perform an eidetic reduction taking any elements away that do not sustain the object as an ice-cream. The purpose of this exercise is to arrive at the features that are essential to the object in question.


Unlike the scientific method, conclusions must be drawn from generalisations, however phenomenology doesn’t pretend to uncover the truth but rather to makes things clearer.


Can we better comprehend what governs why we are moved emotionally by space?


Is it too abstract to consider that we may be able to better analyse the phenomena’s we experience in architecture?


Studying phenomenology offers a different way to think about what creates conditions. It doesn’t offer a formula or an objective truth but it offers another way of thinking about design. Marry this with an empathy for psychology and a stronger, clearer idea of how space moves us will surely emerge.


Testing Phenomenology:


The link below, entails an exploratory film that was produced using several physical models. The film is an example of another way of reinterpreting the understanding of being immersed within space. To understand what factors led to this condition of immersion; a phenomenological structure was applied to consider immersion in the work of Robert Irwin, Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick and Peter Zumthor. These understandings were then tested using a ‘kinetic collage’.

Shaun McIntosh is a recent Part II Architecture Graduate from the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, Aberdeen.


Shaun is interested in the role psychology plays in how we emotionally respond to architecture, as well as being fascinated by how we can abstract understandings and qualities from philosophy and the arts into design.

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