Research article
Issue: № 1 (8), 2013

Ortiz J.A.

B.Arch ITESM, M.Arch student PFUR



The purpose of this work is to raise awareness to the increasing influence of technology and the digital in the way people relate to space and Architecture. New ways to interact with the environment and between each other have altered the way we perceive; hence the built environment is switching meanings. If architecture is to cope up with these changes, its boundaries need to expand to new dimensions.

Keywords: Architecture, Proxemics, Digital Space.

Space is the matter that the architect molds. It is the multidimensional synthesis of senses and meanings, and is naturally in a constant state of change. As new ways to relate with the environment appear and different channels of information are enabled, the limits of architecture expand. Technology has opened the way to new sensibilities. That which was once unreachable by our senses is now understandable trough digital means. The way we deal with distance, space, and data has changed, and so have the speed and the amount of information that we perceive. Now the challenge for architecture is to cope with these changes in the understanding of the world through the digital in order to create coherent spaces for the ever transforming man.

One of the reasons architecture is dynamic as a discipline is the fact that it is unescapably bound to perception; and perception is by nature relative and dynamic.  To make a comparison: In geology, the shape, the texture, the color, the chemical composition and all that is related to the characteristics of a given form can be logically and systematically traced to an action or a circumstance in the history of the Earth. By studying all of the characteristics of the object trough time, the geologist is able to recognize patterns and mechanisms that can help deduce past circumstances and to predict future events; but in his work the form itself is described as if it were alien to him for he tries not to interfere in these processes. Form, in this sphere, is thus regarded in a purely deterministic manner, leaving little place for subjectivity. In architecture, however, form is looked at trough man and is shaped both by and for him. This means that architecture goes through several filters before reaching the final goal which is the user’s experience: That is, from the architect to the physical object and from the physical object to the dweller. In the designing of space, the architects can’t play a passive role; they cannot be alien to the object of study, for their sensitivities towards space are necessarily implied and thus reflected in the results; whether it’s on a conscious or subconscious level. The biological background, the social status, the cultural context, the interpersonal relationships and an a great number of variables produce more than an attitude towards space; they are the molders of the individual’s perceptional feats, and therefore determinant factors in his understanding of space as the environment which affects him.

I use the term feats to relate to the sensorial capacities of the subject to make it clear that the system which allows him to perceive is not by any means static (it changes) and is deeply bound to cultural traits and now highly influenced by artificial enhancers and new mediums such as the digital. People learn from what they see and consequently learn to see differently. The selectiveness of the data that is received by the eyes and the ability to hypothesize about missing information are clear indicators of this phenomenon.

“If man did not learn as a result of seeing, camouflage, for example, would always be effective and man would be defenseless against well-camouflaged organisms. His capacity to penetrate camouflage demonstrates that he alters perception as a result of learning.”(HALL, 1969)

The sensible apparatus varies widely between individuals because it utilizes past experience, and more intensively between cultures. Diverse ethnical groups possess different sensibilities and customs that can be identified and are highly related to the way they live and communicate.

Technology has allowed men to expand the range of experience and with it the reach of his actions. Without the aid of any perceptional enhancer, the distance in which a man socially interacts with one another is ranged between 4 and 8 feet (HALL,1969).  Now with the aid of computer based technologies, rich social interaction can be achieved between people at opposite ends of the world. The interactions by digital means have become gradually more intense to the point that today, through the use of smartphones or other devices, people are connected with each other practically 24/7. These prostheses are becoming an increasingly important access to the digital world which is reshaping the way we connect with each other and with our environment.They are not only enabling users to gather more data about the environment, but are becoming sensitive themselves and able to respond through artificial intelligence (VIRILIO,1991). New channels for communication have been opened and with them a whole new system of relationships.  Through the digital, what was once static has become mobile and replicable.

 “Digitalization brings with it an amplification of those capacities that make possible the liquefying of that which is not liquid. Thereby, digitalization raises the mobility of what we have customarily thought of as immobile, or barely mobile. At its most extreme, this liquefying dematerializes its object. Once dematerialized, it becomes hypermobile – instantaneous circulation through digital networks with global span.”(SASSEN, 2001)

The use of these prostheses (the mediation of stimuli through external means) yields an increased state of awareness on areas previously unreachable because of organic limitations, but it should be noted that the limited translation of data to audiovisual stimulus poses a latent threat of depersonalization and organic atrophy. While these apparatus enhance our abilities to gather data, they do not increase our physical capacity of processing it. This means that in order to cope with the intensifying stimulus of the environment, the sensible apparatus is compelled to increasingly discard data from other stimuli located out of focus. We could make an analog to the inverse situation of a blind man whose senses become more acute. This comparison might lead to think of a determined amount of data that the individual is able to process in a given time. So the man, who fails to receive data through the optical nerve, is able to process what might as well be previously disregarded information from the other sensible inputs.  This process, however, does not occur in an instant or at the speed of light, for perception is an interaction between the subject and the environment; and different sensible apparatus have different rates of data assimilation.  The reductionist visual understanding of space could have been the responsible for a common disregard of time in the process of perception.

“As speed increases, sensory involvement falls off until one is experiencing real sensory deprivation. In modern American cars the kinesthetic sense of space is absent. Kinesthetic space and visual space are insulated from each other and are no longer mutually reinforcing. Soft springs, soft cushions, soft tires, power steering, and monotonously smooth pavements create an unreal experience of the earth. (…) Automobiles insulate man not only from the environment but from human contact as well. They permit only the most limited types of interaction, usually competitive, aggressive, and destructive.”(HALL,1969)

In this example, as a result of this process of purging information, the space perceived gives for little more than route foresight and the avoiding of collision with objects. While submerged in this medium which is the automobile, the user’s resources for communication with the immediate environment are limited to the automobile features. Claxon and lights can be used to give basic signals. The same could be said about the situation taking place in the social networks and the internet in general. While it enhances reach and the amount of data available is now colossal, it lacks many of the characteristics of non-digital communication that are deeply related to primitive biological processes. Such is the case of the olfactory receptors and the chemical functioning of the subject (HALL,1969).

The perceptual prostheses, whether they are mechanical or digital are thus capable of completely transforming the perception of space. This idea goes beyond shallow considerations for space and specialization in environments affected by the use of specific artifacts. We are dealing with an increasingly rapid transformation in the way people sense their environment, and that means that architecture and the environment itself is mutating. The appearance of new abilities and the disappearance of others are linked to a perceptual world which is changing, and with it the meaning and boundaries of architecture and space.


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