• On the Problems of Embodiment in Architecture

    On the Problems of Embodiment in Architecture

    Posted by Sean Griffiths on 2024-05-16

Embodiment plays a prominent role in current architectural discourse. Linking different strands of architectural thinking, informed by New Materialism, Post-humanism and phenomenology, proponents of embodiment are motivated by a desire to overcome various Enlightenment dualisms which are deemed to be implicated in oppressive structures like colonialism, patriarchy, and human domination of the earth. My paper takes issue with some of this, focusing on the phenomenological adoption of embodiment as it is articulated in the influential work of the Finish theorist, Juhani Pallasmaa.

Against Pallasmaa’s emphasis on pure sensory experience, in which the intellectual is displaced as the means by which we enjoy authentic encounters with architecture, the paper discusses a conception of experience in which the intellect informs bodily perception and language structures, and makes meaningful sensory experience. I consider phenomenological approaches based on bodily experience to be, in the main, fundamentally, if unwittingly, reactionary. I think Pallasmaa is tainted with this conservatism in which ‘intellectualism’ is made to stand for a version of Enlightenment philosophy that is characterised as oppressive, and not as the emancipatory line of thought, I consider it to be. I think the rejection of the Enlightenment in several strands of contemporary architectural thought, scholarship and practice is a diminishment and threatens the curtailment of the emancipation that its opponents claim to support. The purpose of the paper is therefore to contribute a counter argument to these ways of thinking.

The AMPS conference, Representing Pasts, Visioning Futures, had a theme specifically focusing on the influence of Pallasmaa which provided a great opportunity for me to present a critique of his theory. It dovetailed nicely with a general critique of architectural phenomenology on which I have been working and which forms the basis of my current research.

The poverty of embodiment in the work of Juhani Pallasmaa by Sean Griffiths (University of Westminster, UK) is published in Architecture_MPS, volume 27.

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