Design inherently encompasses both functional and stylistic roles. The tension between the chair as support element and the chair as stylistic element has never been resolved. Furniture, like all of the components of our second skin, always exhibits elements of functional support independent of, but in combination with, exterior stylistic appearance. The term second skin may prove to be too simplistic to describe design’s intermediary role between the body and the physical space we inhabit. Still, it helps to combine those dual conditions, both of which design must address if it is to become a practice that caters fully to human needs.
The experience of space is, arguably, not solely visual; instead, vision acts in concert with other senses.26 Smell, Design a room sound, temperature, and touch alter and change our perception of space. They are all contributors to our comfort and well-being and reach elements of our psyche and memory that cannot be reached by purely visual sensations. In contrast, many current design trends use a single, stylized image as a metonym for an entire project. We are expected to judge the merit and value of the built environment from a lifeless transposition onto the pages of magazines or in what flutters across television screens. This development is deeply troubling: the human being is often entirely missing from consideration, and the end result is an empty stylistic shell. Such an approach turns the designed environment into a depopulated space that more often succeeds only as an image. A human being cannot feasibly live in such an environment, at least not in comfort.
We need to design spaces in a way that takes human variance into account. Gaston Bachelard addresses the correlation between space and our internal selves in a magical passage in Poetics of Space, where he describes how our psychological
SIMPLE perceptions relationship to the same space constantly changes: “My house is diaphanous but it is not of glass. It is more of the nature of vapor. Its walls contract and expand as I desire. At times, I draw them close about me like protective armor. … But at others, I let the walls of my house blossom out in their own space, which is infinitely extensible. The passage highlights the fact that our second skin is protective yet malleable, and is capable of rejecting or absorbing the outside world.27
Bachelard’s passage also points to space’s fungibility within our own perspective. Space is both a reality and a perception; it changes depending on our state of mind and our perception of ourselves is always in flux. To best serve the human being, design must take this variance – not just from person to person, but also in our ever changing sense of ourselves – into account.
This renewed way of thinking about design depends upon an equally reinvigorated concept of who the human being is. For too long we have simplified our world and thought of man in abstract terms, as if there were a single, universal human being who can serve as the common denominator for all of us. And for too long we have avoided delving seriously into the emotive, sensory, and phenomenological impacts of design.
Ernesto Neto, Anthropodino, installation, 2009. Neto’s large-scale, interactive, and experiential sculpture presented the public an opportunity to become aware of the power of human pleasure evidenced through the senses. The gigantic translucent canopy (120 feet/36.5 meters wide and 180 feet/54.8 meters long) contained suspended aromatic “fabric stalactites” within a vast labyrinth of passageways and rooms. With bags of spices hanging at the ends of these stalactites, the installation invited the viewer’s sensory engagement in an environment designed for discovery and delight. The womblike ambience was referred to by Neto as “… not about sex. It’s about comfortness.” [sic ].
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