Architecture And The Body Philosophy Essay

MArch Architecture, Year 5, (2012-2013)

University of Lincoln

Personal tutor: Mr. Francesco Porto




Architecture through the perception of body, senses and proportions: what is the role of those in architecture; how we create architecture depending on those; the importance of the body throughout the years from Renaissance to 19TH century and then to Le Corbusier until today’s theories and history?


Front cover – Title page

Illustration second cover page 1

Contents page 2

Abstract 3

Main body of dissertation 4

Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Vitruvius .………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The Renaissance .…………………………………………………….……………………………………

The Twentieth Century: Neufert and Le Corbusier ...………..……………………………

The Nineteenth Century: Adolf Zeising …………………………………………………………..


Illustrations references………………………….……………………………………………………………..


The subject of this essay is basically focusing on increasing awareness of the connectedness of the body to architecture. The aim is to search and explore the levels of consideration required by the senses to call upon the physical nature of the spectator, to identify us to a piece of mind, go above our western pace and creating knowledge and awareness that direct our bodies and mind towards a unified perception of space. [1] 

The human figure is an essential part of architecture, from the mathematical layout of Greek temples and the celestial geometries of the Vitruvius human figure, to the enhancement of the vision. Theories compare through traditional human geometry are the most essential example of the human body within architecture. The body’s reaction to the whole built environment in all its aspects is far more varied. Theories supported on visual geometry, mathematical and natural, perception and communication, visual and experimental, religious and scientific, the subject topic is remarkably extensive to show the influence that the human form has, identifies and perceives to deal with the bodies effects on the nature of space instead of a persuade in design verbal communication. 

How the architectural environment have been formed from the human figure and structure as well throughout history, how it may still be affected and continue to do so until today, and how is the body’s perception of a space characterize itself and its whole surround environment. Also, how the body experiences space and how it perceives it, itself, and how space perceives the body, which is directly related to architecture in means of expression, representation, and understanding. Right through Corpus, we approach that the body in an exceptionally extensive manner, which states that almost everything is a body but the point in this essay is to understand the whole relations and interactions of these "bodies". [2] 



The theory of the human body actually states that the human in the path of his space that he travels, is in need of the body messages to make sure of the constancy of their visual world. By not having this body information, the human being loses the association and connectivity it has with the world. Bodies characterize spaces, striking themselves on them, defining them and prove their importance and in turn being distinct by the relationship. So it’s all about how the bodies make use of space and one of the main philosophies and principles of architecture is creating a space, so that bodies interact with it in a specific manner and creating a space that will be defined by presenting itself in a convinced and specific way. [3] 

"In a transnational world typified by the global circulation of images and sounds, goods and peoples, the media impact complexly on national identity and communal belonging… Communities, societies, nations, and even entire continents exist not autonomously but in a densely woven web of connectedness, within a complex and multivalent relationality." Ella Shohat and Robert Stam

Freud’s most captivating and possibly most crucial statement is in the posthumous note: "The Psyche’s extended: knows nothing about it." In other words, the "psyche" is a body as well, and this is exactly what escapes it or its process of escape forms it as "psyche," in an aspect of not -to-know-itself. Our "psyche" is exterior our self, it is beyond our bodies and it is our major figure of communication with the world, it’s our soul. The psyche is in control of how we spiritually cooperate within a space even before we do physically. It is an extension of the body, our body, but a body in its individual right. [4] 

"To see a body is precisely not to grasp it with a vision: sight itself is distended and spaced by this body here, it does not embrace the totality of aspects. An "aspect" is itself a fragment of the areal trace and sight is fragmentary, fractal, shadowy. And anyway, the body is seen by a body…"

Our individualities are no longer permanent to an exact place or time. As we have become increasingly transient, where we live today is more than possible to be a different location from our home years ago or even our born-place home. Also, our access to international information through the books, newspapers, internet, television, mobiles and movies has extended our familiarity further than those that we have experienced directly to include those we have experienced indirectly through images on a screen. As a result, who we are is no longer attached to where we live, who we know, or even what we’ve experienced, but it is as an alternative a combination of all our own experiences united through various media. As our identities are becoming more composite, we experience exchange between cultures, bodies and in somehow memories, what impact does this have on the relationship between architecture and modern experience, or Architecture and the Body? This essay will explore these ideas from several distinct perspectives, through theories of architects, philosophers or designers and also through the history from Renaissance Era, towards Le Corbusier, modernism and finally until today. [5] 

The architects main intend is to manipulate the user’s association and movement and finally create a more sophisticated environment, not simply by scheming the structure itself, but most importantly by designing everyone’s movements, feelings and behavior around or even within the space. While a craving for a more elegant use is quite compassionate, the power that a space reveals changes and objects are in charge of people and their actions, can become politically and culturally charged when it represents an entire culture. On the other hand, individuals or societies do not need for any longer to be restricted and prohibited by their physical surroundings but instead, they can generate new perceptions and new ideas through their actions outside the limits of their society.


What is in our daily basis lives, the role of architecture? What is supposed to it be? What if our spaces become accustomed to us instead of than the opposite? Throughout a mixture of the two approaches, one inspired by times and place sensitivity of the materialist’s sensitivity combined with the additional critical approach that confronts the meanings of our existing spaces and what they represent. We can start to think about more considerately and express in material terms of building how we recognize ourselves and others today and what we desire others to appreciate or even understand about us tomorrow. [6] 

Vitruvius intention in writing and researching was what he calls "to shape the whole body of architecture". Vitruvius aim in particular, was to show his discipline in terms of making the expected body of the world that he imagined and that he would rule. Mostly stoicism and stoic theories of speech and language, those who concentrate on the double Vitruvius means the architect to be, they talk about the relation of proportions and geometry to architectural beauty and the role of this beauty in form and create the new world order,


but even more further they talk of how to search and explore the nature and exceptional extent of building curriculum. Vitruvius thought of proportion in terms of unit fractions such as those used in the Greek orders of architecture.

Geometry was an important part of early states of architecture. The Vitruvius Man was the foundation for the body in architecture. Classical architecture was characterized by all about the significance of geometry and the perception of what is beauty. Within the classical geometrical demonstrations of the human form there is an importance drawn on perfection, on great rations, when, to be realistic, perfection is not natural and in fact occasionally it is the differences that characterize beauty. libervb2.jpg

Body adjustment and approaching the human body to its limits is popular among some contentious artists, which are to modern society the closest element to the carnevalesque. C.Classen’s text "McLuhan in the Forrest" is all about how people from dissimilar cultures may make use of their senses in such a way that might appear unusual to us, allowing other senses such as sound or smell to have ascendancy effecting how they might identify a space or how they perceive it. As Architecture is for the most part a western construct it is determined by the visual. [7] 

"The proliferation of visual imagery in modernity promotes the notion that the world is above all, something to see"

When it comes to architecture and designs this is significant as spaces are experienced on a multiple sensory level, and shifting the space from one type of sensory perception to another, which creates fascinating sensory experiences. There is apparently a main concern given to sight. This is because it is our mainly leading sense so it is our most important resource for perceiving a space. Our perceptions of things describe and at the same time identify how we refer to them. Things are considered to be beautiful because of out affecting reactions to them. Beauty is that consistent synchronization of all merged together so that nothing else can be added, taken away or changed with no negative result.

The essay itself talks about how we perceive bodies and spaces and how it is reliant upon the person experiencing it. Merleau Ponty’s "phenomenology of perception" is a book that talks about senses and perception. Mainly concentrated on making the reader realize and understand about the thinking being as this body sheltered within a physical form, and the only way it perceives about how the external world is, is through this transfer of data, how we perceive the world, which in the end it acquires through to the real us. This put a huge weight on sensory experience but also a significant importance on the perception of information. We don’t just process data as humans, but we are absorbed within each experience that is the physical world. We scheme into the physical world what we want to see and what we want to experience, we do not just understand and receive empty information, our perception is reliant upon us. We see what we choose to see. Human beings generate their personal perspectives on things, places and spaces. In real meaning there is nothing wrong with attribute to a particular resource of perception. We don’t always have to go through a procedure for the data we receive, because we have a natural perceptive of surroundings and things like space and our connection within it. As Merleau Ponty believes, sensory experience could add a very motivating and fascinating element to design. [8] 


Personal perceptions will no hesitation influence design. If a designer is about to suggest a particular emotion, they will influence the environment in such ways that would bring on that emotion in themselves. There are different ways of looking at the world and how you see and understand things that will determine how you design. Architecture is what it is to the personality, what one believes is architecture in terms of experiences and perception. Is it all about creating a sense, either a sense of fear, of securing, of calmness, anything. Because that’s just what ancient Romans believed in. They believed in monumental architecture and an example of this is the Villa dei Quintilli, a surviving example of this.


The primary and most important subject of architectural theory is proportion. What we are familiar with about the writings of ancient Greek architects is nominal, but there is proof that they gave an account of the proportions of their temples. [9]   Vitruvius presents not only practical guidance regarding forms, techniques, designing, and building styles but also theoretical judgments about the aesthetics of architecture.

For Vitruvius it is essential that the knowledgeable architect has to be familiar with arithmetic and geometry. Therefore his own rules of design unite both methods: geometrical partitions have been applied to all plans of temples and they are totally developed by arithmetic modular procedures and associations with the round temple even within the elevation. In the comprehensive psychoanalysis of the proportions of the human body, we can find out the relationship of modularity and geometry. Vitruvius presents his principle, the well-known figure of a man in circle and square, in maintain of his declare that "no Temple can have a rational composition without symmetry and proportion, that is, if it has not an exact calculation of members like a well-shaped man". [10]  So the body is a representation by good feature of its perfection of even shaping initially and primarily and not in its natural proportions, which is frequently misunderstood. [11] The human body is preferred by Vitruvius, as a case in point of modular formation from nature, in order to bring up a paradigm for the essential rules of proportion.

The Roman architect’s principles of design are a remarkable effort to join different methods strained from the Greek and Roman traditions.

The Renaissance

The architectural theories derived from the Early Renaissance often use the human replica as an example of fine architecture, although in quite different ways. Prime examples of theories regarding architecture, body and proportions are Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Pacioli, Sebastiano Serlio and Francesco di Giorgio Martini.

Leon Battista Alberti concentrates on researchers in his architectural dissertation "De re aedificatoria", his multifaceted aesthetics declarating the laws of numerus, finitio and collocatio, in order to accomplish the crucial aim, concinnitas. Alberti proposes straightforward numerical proportions to the architects, particularly musical ones. [12] Anthropomorphic architecture, which could also be called anthropomimetic [13] , is designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini from Siena in his two architectural essays (1) Trattati di Architettura [14] and (2) Das Skizzenbuch [15]  . Like Vitruvius, Francesco unites geometrical procedures like the square root with a modular approach. He also is familiar to understand this close parallel to the human body for the floor plan or even for a façade and entablature of a church, constantly in order to give the building the excellence of beauty. Figure 1: Pacioli: Divina Proportion of the head, 1509, f. 28r

For Luca Pacioli the human body is provides as an illustration for perfect proportions, but also in the guidelines as a concrete replica. Pacioli recognizes the Vitruvian figure of the man in circle and square in the logic that the geometrical figures have their derivation in the human body. He is the first who portrays the so-called homo vitruvianus with spread legs, so that it must be extended cruelly to fit in the square. In a profile of a head with asymmetrical grid, Pacioli draws and adds the third geometrical form, the equilateral triangle. On the opposing Pacioli suggests to architects commensurable proportions, which are easy to make on drawing board or building site. The ideal architecture of Pacioli's lay on the three essential as he believe parts of the building, which are the column, pedestal and entablature. [16] 

The same tradition is also following Sebastiano Serlio as Pacioli. Serlio makes use of simple, commensurable proportions. The columns are built in a module system, the entablature and its parts apply separation of the module, and also the base is designed by geometrical operations. [17] 

Followed by great thesis from Vignola and Palladio, Scamozzi and the Italian classicists to the theory of the 19th century in which commensurable ratios are suggested, and in accumulation to the human body as comparative figuration.

The Nineteenth Century:

In the middle of the 19th century Adolf Zeising start on his investigations on proportions in nature and art, upcoming from the philosophical aesthetics. His works invest that type of literature on art that attempts to examine the proportions in order to increase the information gained about the procedure of design. Zeising marked the start of a completely unusual approach in the literature and the understanding of the relationship of human body and architecture. Having extensively discussed actual theories Zeising develops his own aesthetics, born from a romantic, idealistic tradition, which had found its most perfect realization however only in the human figure" [18] 

Figure 4: Zeising: The proportions of a man's skeleton in the Golden Section, 1854, fig. 49

Thereto he presents his own proportional investigation of the human body, including vertical and horizontal measures, but illustrates it independently. Subsequent to the investigation of the ideal man he looks at traditional statues and explains the dissimilarities among sexes, races and stages of life from embryo to old man, and then he turns to nature: stars, crystals, plants and animals.

The Twentieth Century:

From more or less scientific investigations of proportions, art-historical science, and psychology in the first decades of the 20th century, a universal certainty happened that all artistic action is supported on basic "arch-proportions". Some artists such as Paul Serusier used it as tool to manage his designs [19] , but the Parisian group of cubists Section d’or, with Delaunay, Duchamp, Léger and Gris, imagined it as a signet for their concentration in science and philosophy.

Figure 5: Neufert: The proportions of the human body, 1943, p. 23

In order to appreciate and examine better the relation of body inside the twentieth century two architects will be analyzed and researched which are, Ernst Neufert and Le Corbusier. Neufert unites balanced norming with an aesthetic impetus. He spreads architectural principles of proportion, that jointly with his own normed measures guides to a "spiritual permeation" and a regeneration of architectural formation by "an inner law" in the spirit of Antique, Gothic, Renaissance, and Classicism of Palladio and Schinkel [20] . In fact Neufert does not actually join Zeising’s human "golden" proportions and his own anthropometric normed measures, because he chooses distances very sensibly by looking at interior architecture. [21] 

Figure 7: Le Corbusier: Measures of the man, 1946, fig. 23

On the other hand we see planning in proportions origined by aesthetic reasons in the other great system of the 20th century, Le Corbusier's Modulor. He works up to this later essay with different proportional systems in his early years in the manifesto Vers une architecture. [22] . However Le Corbusier does not yet recommend concrete proportions, but only to use "tracés regulateurs", measure-ruler, to control the geometrical organisation of design, always façades in his examples. The geometrical figures of the measure-ruler themselves are at the architect's liking, but Le Corbusier presents only a few, and his examples strongly resemble those in Auguste Choisy's history of architecture, who also delivers Le Corbusier's figures. [23] 24

The Modulor in Le Corbusier’s story combines square and Golden Section, but as a result it does not offer anything else than a modular system. From a blue series of numbers (total height) and a red series (height of the navel) results a sequence of measures. In the role of the navel as origin of the red series, Le Corbusier alludes to the tradition of the homo vitruvianus and the related speculations about the harmonies in the anthropocentric cosmos.  [25] Figure 9: Le Corbusier: Man in proportioned square, 1955, fig. 15

The Modulor has some deficiencies, however. First, although Le Corbusier meant for it to be used for all dimensions, vertical and horizontal, he bases it solely on the vertical dimension. Therefore the Modulor should not be called a system of proportions but a catalogue of irregular measures. Le Corbusier's importance and his great impact seem to originate in his normative aesthetics, which propagates the combination of abstract geometry and anthropomorphic measures. [26] Figure 8: Le Corbusier: Catalogue of measures, 1948, fig. 24