Experiencing the Home: The Limited Vision of Sight


richard-koenigSource: Pearl Street #2 by R. Koenig 1999.

Our society’s growing compulsion towards individualism and self-promotion has produced a culture dependent on instant persuasion, with our lives being lived through a lens- be that photographs, videos or smartphone cameras- hoping to capture the essence of each moment. But it seems that the very desire to capture precise moments, often for future recollection, is itself limiting our life experiences. Rather than capturing the essence in full, the lens can only capture it in part, stimulating the ocular sense alone. And even that is limited, without depth. Too quick are we to capture the moment that we fail to simply appreciate the moment for what it is. We don’t value the very privilege of being there; to take in the atmosphere, the peripheral surroundings, the depth of view, the movement of people, the touch of the elements. Instead we settle for a narrowed view through a lens or a flattened image on a screen. Applied to our understanding of architecture our buildings have, according to Pallasmaa, turned into image products without depth and sincerity (1). And so, to fully understand and recognise the value of architecture, one must first become part of it, immerse oneself in it, experience it.

Yet this over-reliance on the ocular sense removes the ability to fully appreciate architecture, particularly within the home. Take the fireplace for example. ‘The hearth’ was said by German architect Gottfried Semper to be the heart of the home around which order takes shape and all other rooms seek to protect (at least in ancient barbarian times) (2). Therefore to fully experience such an important feature of the home, a picture is not enough. One cannot merely look at it. All senses must be awakened; the earthy smell of scorched wood, the crackle of embers, the feeling of heat on skin, the perceived ambience. The fireplace is a multi-sensory experience.

As a culture so addicted to immediate imagery most often viewed on screen, we isolate vision from the other senses. Our ocular sense is limited to sight alone. We deny our vision enhancement by the other senses. With this in mind it is the responsibility of the architect to ensure that design decisions are made with all our senses in mind, ensuring that the experience of each space is fully enhanced through the collective stimulation of each sense.

The next post discusses the touch sense and the importance materials play in home design.

1. Juhani Pallasmaa (1996). The Eyes of the Skin. Academy. p30
2. Gottfried Semper (1989). The Four Elements of Architecture. Cambridge. p25