Human Bodies & Buildings!

Instructor: Marco Frascari!

Consciousness ! &! Architecture!

Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism! Carleton University!

A Public Seminar! Winter 2009!

Just  as  we  think  architecture  with  our  bodies,     we  think  our  bodies  through  architecture.      
(M.F.,  Monsters  of  Architecture,  1991)    

By understanding that architecture is the result of the merging the arts of thinking well, building well and living well, the main concern of this seminars is to raise a novel awareness of the processes taking place in the mind and body of architects during the acts of perceiving and conceiving architecture. 
In probing the role of the body in architecture, this seminar takes part of a substantial concern regarding the human body as a subject of scholarly inquiry. In recent years, in fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, psychology, geography, philosophy, religious studies, art history and theory, and gender and culture studies, embodiment has become an key word to unlock amazing areas of study

The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious. The body is a complex structure. The function of its different parts and their relation afford a source of symbols for other complex structures. We cannot possibly interpret rituals concerning excreta, breast milk, saliva, and the rest unless we are prepared to see in the body a symbol of society, and to see the powers and dangers credited to social structure reproduced in small on the human body.!

Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966., p. 115.


In architectural drawings, human figures can be seen as the creation of base configurations that perform, form, reform and transform architecture by tracing metaphorical, metonymical and demonstrative patterns in plans, elevations and sections.!

Buildings are as useful to our minds as they are to our bodies. ! John Onians!

Architectural knowledge generally originates with the individual’s perceptual and motor systems. ! Architecture is framed by embodied experience and embodied experience is framed by architecture !

The Neapolitan Giambattista Vico, an unusual philosopher of the eighteenth century, was interested in the power of imagination and discovered the beginning of humanity in the ontological dimension of stench. Vico’s discovery is that the world of senses begins in the periphery of our bodies and moves to inner and higher levels of perception. From there, in analogical manner, the senses rule the way we willfully and wittily act in our world. !

Senses are at the basis for a sated human sapience and consequently Vico points out: !

Rational metaphysics teaches that man becomes all things by understanding them (homo intelligendo fit omnia), this imaginative metaphysics shows that man becomes all things by not understanding them (homo non intelligendo fit omnia); and perhaps the latter proposition is truer than the former, for when man understands he extends his mind and takes in the things, but when he does not understand he makes the things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them.!
Giambattista Vico, New Science, 405.!

The role of architecture, as a “body art,” is to foster happiness, to facilitate the ‘beatific’ life.!

By using philosophical meditations and critical theory about architecture, drawings, images, affects, and cognition, this is an exercise about the second nature of architecture. Ascribing embodied and embedded thought to architectural drawings the aim is to redefine our relationship with them and enlarges our ideas about body, mind and buildings. This novel and closely interdependent relationship marks a turning point in our understanding of the connections between humans, the uses of architecture and architectural conceiving. !

Transubstantion from body to building!
The identification human body with buildings and its parts survived in many medieval churches where the axis of the apse is slightly slanting to the right of the axis of the nave, revealing the inclination of the head of Christ at the moment of his death on the cross: ! et inclinato capite emisit spiritum. !

The notion of embodiment in architectural thinking intimately depends on the duality of perception of the internal representation of human body. !

•  Body image is a system of
perception attitudes and believes. !

•  Body schema is a system of
sensory-motor capacities that function without awareness or perceptual monitoring

Descartes’ partitioning of the world into objects (res extensa) and mind (res cogitans), occurs most profoundly at the level of the body. The identity of the individual, the formerly complete unity of body and soul, is separated.!

Descartes’ error of the separation of mind and body could not be perpetrated without the replacement of the metaphor of architecture as human body with the mirror metaphor of the human body as a building. ! The union of body and mind was challenged by the new anatomical conceptions of the body as machine which became extreme in the case of Julien Offray de la Mettrie. !

The body’s vocabulary of primary positions articulates not only its own subjective presence, but its surrounding space.!

•  Architecti est scientia pluribus disciplinis

et variis eruditionibus ornata, cuius iudicio probantur omnia quae ab ceteris artibus perficiuntur opera. Ea nascitur ex fabrica et ratiocinatione. Fabrica est continuata ac trita usus meditatio ad propositum deformationis, quae manibus perficitur e materia, cuiuscumque generis opus est. Ratiocinatio autem est, quae res fabricatas sollertiae ac rationis pro portione demonstrare atque explicare potest.

Illustration from Le Corbusier, Precisions: On the Present State of Architecture and City Planning, p. 125. Skeleton, musculature, and viscera provide inspiration for the free plan.!

The anatomical body changed the perception of the building body !

bloody organs in a marble statue

Scale Figures

From pencil points 1929