The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses book by Juhani Pallasmaa explores the fundamentals of a classical architectural theory. The book is composed of two essays that focus on the historical development of western architecture and other authentic architectural experiences, respectively.
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This work aims at inspiring designers and architects as well as enriching the average reader’s perception of architecture. The author emphasizes the prevailing role of visual perception of the classical architecture promoting comprehensive and multi-sensory attitudes that, in turn, facilitate a sense of integration and belonging. Pallasmaa believes that “architecture strengthens the existential experience, one’s sense of being in the world, and this is essentially a strengthened experience of the self” (41).
At this point, the eye is perceived as the flattening organ that allows experiencing architecture without bodily closeness. This phenomenon is called ocularcentrism. Pallasmaa explains the development of ocularcentrism in terms of cultural norms, comparing the modern city with a “haptic city” that can be touched (76). Providing a series of examples in support of his ideas, the author notes the caryatid court and hunting in prehistory when a man was a central point of life.
Furthermore, touching or smell can bring a person closer to the phenomenon of architecture: “in heightened emotional states and deep in thought, vision is usually repressed” (Pallasmaa 30). By linking smell and memory, he argues that they are two powerful mediators of experience. This sensory approach is based on and also produces such senses as belonging, peace, uniqueness, initiation to the fate of another person, security, and others.
The completeness of perception is also supported by exacerbating feelings of loneliness and fear. The author claims that architecture is involved in the formation of human consciousness acting as metaphors of time and space – vertical and horizontal exterior and interior, the center, and the periphery. Reflecting on concepts of time and space, the author refers to the works by Rilke and Bachelard developing their ideas. In particular, it seems appropriate to mention Rilke’s statement related to the shape of touch: “hands have histories; they even have their own culture and their own particular beauty” (Ranciere 161). This signifies that hands are the architect’s eyes and the observer’s means of perception.
The author does not put an equal sign between architecture and pure fine art. He convincingly and passionately opposes the manipulation of images and rigid and obsessive formalization designed for flashy effect. The benchmark is seen in modest, restrained, and contextual architecture in contrast to the aggressive form of modern avant-garde retinal one (Grabow and Spreckelmeyer 5). The current system of architectural value is described by the author as a cult of personality of the architects who are immersed in their own problems. At this point, Pallasmaa discusses the significance of the sensorial component in the design process (68).
He concerns about the revival of the architecture of feelings and emotions that refer to the human experience, promoting the identity of the person. The book is based on the idea that architecture is created for people. It looks like an open door. However, behind this idea, there is an assumption that a man is a being who perceives everything in a tactile manner, and architecture should take human needs into consideration. It should stimulate people’s senses. Tactile touch and texture of natural materials, their smell, and visual stimulus – all need to be carefully taken into account. Pallasmaa compares a doorknob of a building with a handshake (62). Indeed, people go through paying no attention to simple things while it is the first contact with the building that means a lot.
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Pallasmaa stresses the responsibility of the architect in the social sense (56). He calls for a return to a more primitive architecture as there is a need to address the most fundamental human needs, saving on expression, and mediating the relationship of a man with the world. This type of architecture is to provide a new awareness of time and space which transcends the life of the individual. The author also expresses a traditional modernist social care, complaining about the lack of this topic among the basic architecture. However, the main idea of this book is the integration of architecture caused by the sense of belonging.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that a special role of architecture is given to the skin and touch. All the senses including vision are merely an extension of tactility. The book is interesting and thought-provoking. It reflects on the classical architecture theory and relates it to the modern world. The organization of the text is supplemented by illustrations that make the arguments more convincing. The fact that the author provides vivid examples and cites the works by other scholars such as Hall, Rilke, and others makes the work sound scientifically. Consequently, one can conclude that the goal desired by the author was achieved as he provided both an average reader and architects with useful and comprehensible information.
Grabow, Stephen, and Kent F. Spreckelmeyer. The Architecture of Use: Aesthetics and Function in Architectural Design. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.
Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chichester: Wiley, 2007. Print.
Ranciere, Jacques. Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art. London: Verso, 2013. Print.