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Phenomenology : How Sensory Experience in Architecture Diminish Spatial Phobia

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As an architect or designer, we have responsibilities to make a sense of comfort and memorable experience through space. Designing a space is also about recognition of memory that inspires us to create spatial recognition from the past/nostalgia scenes that also enrich our present (Bastea 2004, p.6). Memories play an important part in our learning experience. To enhance the experience within space, the theory of phenomenology is essential to apply in designing a space.

Phenomenology demonstrated in architecture is the manipulation of space, material, light and shadow to create a memorable encounter through an impact on the human senses. Pallasmaa ideals of multi-sensory architecture are widely used and well respected in architecture world which he thinks that experience in architecture should be measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton and muscle (Holl et al. 2008, p.30). This ideal type of thinking creates emotional experience and perception of space that penetrate our consciousness. It ranged from the importance roles of shadow, scent, touch, acoustics, and even memory.

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In matter of shadow, there is utter silence which perceived as immutable tranquillity. By cutting off the light from the empty space, we can enter the world of shadows that formed a quality of mystery and depth superior to any object. Controlling the light and shadow can bring the unconscious line of sight and physical intimacy which is essential to close our eyes for a moment and sharpen other senses. The shadow also gives shape and emotional stimuli that allows imagination and daydreaming. Besides vision, scent also takes part in creating memories that awaken a forgotten image. The fragrance of an old shop reminds us the innocence and precious moments that we had in the past that somehow move us in certain emotion. In certain touch, the skin reads the texture, weight, density and temperature of matter . The physical sense connects us with time and tradition, through marks of touch of the building. Whether it’s an old building, people can feel the atmosphere the same as old times back then by the usage of materials of the wall, ceiling, flooring, and the details of ornament. The power of acoustic recalls the characteristics of the building by their sound of intimacy, hospitality, or monumentality. Echoes from the building make people be immersed in the history. Interiors are like large instruments, collecting sound, amplifying it, transmitting it elsewhere, where it depends on the surfaces of the material they contain . Memory re-evokes the sensibility of space that we saw in the past cause we have an innate capacity for remembering and imagining places. Perception, memory and imagination are in constant interaction, which build our remembrance of space. Therefore, we see memory at the root of our learning experience because we can learn the spaces by seeing, making them as part of us, or even re-creating them with our own interpretatio.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, phenomenologist that inspires a lot of architects such as Peter Zumthor, Juhani Pallasmaa, Steven Holl, produced an argument of the importance of embodiment – whole of our body is central to our experience and understanding the world. We perceive the world as form of our perceptibility and awareness to cope the space with our conscious minds. Space perception enables us to be aware of our position in enclosed space and the objects around the space. Our reactions to pleasant, lonely, cosy, and other adjectives situation indicate positive or negative attitude in the small or large space.

Negative responses of space sometimes can be in form of anxiety or neglection which implicate to human’s society life. It is considered as phobia which induces feelings of panic, fear, anxiety that are persistent, out of proportion to the actual danger, cannot be explained, beyond voluntary control, lead to avoidance of the situation . Specific emotional response completely depends upon the desires, fears, and needs of the individual at the time of perception. There are still not specific reasons why people are having phobias, therefore, it depends on the individuals based on their childhood memory or traumatic experience.

The most common phobia that society usually encountered is claustrophobia. Claustrophobia is the irrational fear of confined spaces. Most of them avoid confined spaces, such as lifts, tunnels, tube trains, public toilets or room without window. But avoiding these places may reinforce the fear. It’s estimated around 10% of the UK population are affected by claustrophobia during their lifetime. From the architectural point of view, this type of spatial phobia raises certain issues that as an architect, we have an important role of creating spaces encountering the spatial phobia. How we treat claustrophobia in architectural thinking can help the society to reduce the amounts of people that have phobia.

More attention to human senses, the phenomenology thinking that associate many factors such as emotion, shadow, scent, touch, acoustics, and memory, are important to note for building a better society and architecture space. Therefore, the following research questions are raised.

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