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The Thinking Body: a Study of the Architectural Ramifications of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Rendering of the Human Body's Capacities

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posted on 2021-11-09, 00:09 authored by August, Karan

Phenomenology offers a conceptual framework that connects and strengthens the architect' s intuitive understanding of the human experience of space with the theorist's more critical approach. Phenomenology is an ideal vehicle for architectural theorists to avoid the friction between first-hand or subjective experience and generalised or abstracted accounts of experience. In this thesis I extract an account of the human experience of space that is implicit in the Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Pontys work. I consider how this understanding has been employed in architectural scholarship and practice. In particular, I argue that the human body renders the richness of space through deliberate engagement with the indeterminate and independent possibilities of the world. In other words, as the body intentionally engages with the world, it synthesises objects that create determinate spatial situations. I account for Merleau-Ponty's depiction of the body' s non-rule governed, non-reflective, normative directiveness towards spaces and elements, and label it the thinking body. Furthermore I examine how the philosophical theory of Merleau-Ponty is represented in the explicitly theoretical works of Juhani Pallasmaa. In turn I then consider how the thinking body is physically and conceptually realised in the buildings of Carlo Scarpa. Finally I find that Juhani Pallasmaa's description of the phenomenological experience of space is incompatible with Merleau-Ponty's. The strategic importance of these different accounts emerges when projecting their implications for designed space. Pallasmaa' s account points towards an architecture that prioritises sensory experiences synthesised by the mind. The design focus of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy leads to spatial practices in line with Carlo Scarpa, that are sympathetic to the causal qualities of an intentional bodily engagement with spatial situations. In accord with Merleau-Ponty I argue that human body is our medium for the world and as such creates the spatial situation we engage with from a formless manifold of possibilities.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Architecture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Wood, Peter; Smitheram, Jan