Movement in Architecture


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Movement in Architecture

How can the Architectural Promenade Create Experiences Which Heighten Our Connection to Built Environment?

“I see plainly how external images influence the image that I call my body: they transmit movement to it.And I also see how this body influences external images: it gives back movement to them.”

- Henri Bergson





Movement of Body in Space

Decision Making In Movement

Formulation of Movement Criteria





The act or process of moving people or things from one place or position to another.

Architectural Promenade

The experience of walking through a building. The complex web of ideas which underpins Le Corbusier’s work, most specifically his belief in architecture as a form of initiation.[1]


An organised group or line of people or vehicles that move together slowly as part of a ceremony.


The activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing.


This paper seeks to explore how, through design architects can enhance the users experience in the built environment through movement and the architectural promenade.

Our bodies are an extraordinarily well designed mechanism and an astoundingly complex piece of engineering. It has been advanced and enhanced through evolution - and we are intended to move. The environment we choose to generate around this masterpiece merits the uppermost conceivable level of consideration. The way we inhabit the built environment replicates our capability and the yearning for our bodies to move and dwell. Architecture has always been designed with movement in mind, whether it is intentional or unintentional. This thesis aims to examine and reveal the numerous ways our bodies move within the built environment and investigate how architecture and design can accommodate or dictate human movement.

The focus of my study will be on the design of museums as this provides a great insight into the ways humans move and make decisions within the built environment. From the public plaza to the heart of the exhibition spaces, museums provide a stage for human movement within architecture.

Movement of Body in Space

According to Robert Yudell the interaction between the domain of our bodies and the domain of our dwelling places is constantly in motion. Whether we are aware or innocent of this process, our bodies and our movements are in endless dialogue with our buildings. The critical interaction of body form and movement with architecture deserves our careful attention as architects.[2]

Movement and procession has been key to the formulation of the built environment dating as far back as ancient Egypt, Greece and Roman architecture. In particular when it comes to sacred or ritual spaces. Many of the techniques architects use in modern day design to promote movement date back to the methods used in the past. For example in the Temple of Khons in ancient Egypt the use of light, threshold and variation in levels not only defined the space but also the procession through the space. Architects such as Philip Johnson and Le Corbusier have studied this procession or promenade to create more engaging architecture in modern times.

Through advancement in technologies man is “moving” faster and farther than ever before, but this movement is primarily a passive experience unlike the engaging architecture of Le Corbusier in early modernist times. Our bodies are being moved or propelled in space rather than physically moving ourselves. In essence we are actually experiencing less active movement in the horizontal and vertical planes than ever before. Yudell describes this as frozen and floating bodies. This concept differentiates between the self-

movement of a body or the displaced body that is moved by other means such as a vehicle or elevator. We rely on the displaced movement of our bodies to travel greater distance but one may question if we are becoming too reliant on these methods and as such becoming unhinged or alienated from our environments as we merely pass through space by mechanical means.

The Futurist Movement is an extreme example of this alienation from the world and our experience of architecture around us. One of their visions promised total freedom of living on an infinite gridded platform into which we may plug for energy, information or nutritive needs. This scenario however embodies a clear denial of the need for the interaction of body and architecture. It provides no landmarks, no stimuli, no stages, and no centres. [3] Changes in technology has meant that some of these futurist ideas have been implemented at a smaller level. Our movement within the built environment has become increasingly passive due to regulations for accessibility and in some cases for pure convenience. It is our job as architects to address this lack of engagement and passive movement within the built environment by creating a promenade that encourages movement and exploration in our surroundings.

Decision Making In Movement

Le Corbusier’s prime motive when designing was to aid people in the process of “savoir habiter”, knowing how to live[4] and it was his opinion that the architectural promenade would be designed to “resensitise” people to their surroundings.[5] In designing in this fashion buildings become a series of experiences, beginning with the approach from the street, pathway or square and drawing a person inside and in along a series of experiences in space. In a way the architect becomes a type of choreographer, creating spaces which anticipate a person’s movement. It creates a dialogue not only between people and the built environment but also amongst other people.

Le Corbusier strived to create spaces where people would be prompted to use their memory, analysis, reasoning and ultimately formation of an appreciation of his architecture, compelling them to bring their own experience to the building, creating something entirely new. He endeavoured to create a framework in which people could live their own lives and make their own decisions whilst dictating very strongly exactly what that framework should be. This paradox is what makes Le Corbusier’s work so interesting. It is one of the most perplexing issues of architectural practice; how can an architect design spaces that encourage movement without restricting the persons free movement within the space. Le Corbusier tried (not always successfully) to address how other people may experience his buildings and to emphasise the message that buildings were considered as unfinished without people and their experience within.

In a less formal setting in Mikkel Rugaard’s “Street Movement” in Denmark (which originated as a Parkour training company) has attempted to address the idea of designing for freedom of movement and expression in the built environment. Rugaard attempts to define spaces, surroundings and objects in the built environment to make sure they become inspirational and invitational towards physical activity and movement without compromising the architectural vision and aesthetic value. Rugaard notes that designing for movement successfully is easy but what becomes more complex and challenging is the addition of different people who are passing through these spaces and how the function of those not participating in parkour increases the complexity of design. [6]

The Gugenheim Museum in New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959 is an example of a building that is clearly designed with a very controlled movement or promenade laid out within the building. The ramping walkway guides the visitor up through the building circulating through the whole exhibition space. There is no decision making in this process but rather the visitor is led in one direction ether up or down through the exhibition space. It is my intention to examine through case studies how movement can be achieved in a more intuitive way rather than the forced nature of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in the Guggenheim in New York. In a way the controlling nature of the promenade within the Guggenheim is differs little from the control of movement within the futurist ideals. The visitor is not being engaged with the architecture but rather is being brought in a certain controlled direction.

Formulation of Movement Criteria

In order to examine how movement can be controlled in a museum setting it is necessary to set up a criteria by which I will examine a number of case studies. This has been primarily determined by the work of Le Corbusier and the architectural promenade. He believed that the task of architects was to respond to the inner “sounding board” of the human body and act upon it to initiate a response in the form of action. [7] Examining the criteria he used focuses on the ways in which architecture can facilitate this process and as such act as a call for movement.

Believing as he did that the body plays a principal part in the absorption of knowledge Le Corbusier developed a series of techniques to integrate this process. Deriving from his palate of sensory experiences, rhythm, colour, light and touch, he choreographed sequences of spaces that would provoke a response at the most instinctual level. In his early work regulating lines were used to direct these distinct messages to the mind, following this the modular man would contribute to this undertaking. Light and dark would add a further level to the choreography of the promenade by playing to the building user physiologically through the power of symbolism.

I will endeavour to examine further how the following sensory factors play a part in modern architecture where technology and even the advancement of light control can play a part in the design and choreography of the modern promenade.

  • Rhythms of the Body
  • Scale
  • Sound
  • Light
  • Colour
  • Sensory Stimulation

On a basic level Le Corbusier’s promenade consists of a series of experiences in space using texture light, memory and associations which provoke action but there is a more intricate combination of these which needs to be examined. It is how the use of these elements together which formulates the true promenade in his buildings. Le Corbusier’s buildings can be examined from a set group of elements of his promenade but not every building can be examined with regard to this formula (threshold, sensitising vestibule, questioning, reorientation and culmination) therefore I have set myself the task of creating my own formula or group of elements that will aid my examination of movement through museum space from past to present.

It is from examining these criteria against current models of museum design will aid my quest to create a more engaging and exploration encouraging building to inspire people to move and interact with their surroundings rather than the slightly displaced relationship we currently have with our environment.






Cover Image

Alexander Straulino – My First Lightbox


Figure 1

Produced By Author


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Figure 4

My Playground - Kasparworks


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Figure 6

Flavie A. Iteration Type A (2009)


Samuel F. Le Corbusier & the Architectural Promenade. Sheffield: Birkhauser 2010

Kent C. Bloomer, Charles W. Moore, Robert J. Yudell Body Memory & Architecture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press 1977

Le Corbusier. The Marseille Block. London: Harville 1953

Menin S. & Samuel F. Nature & Space: Aalto and Le Corbusier. London: Routledge 2003

The Parkour Architect, video, Flow-The Pakour Kommunity, 7 October 2012, viewed 31 October 2014 <>

[1] Samuel F. Le Corbusier & the Architectural Promenade. Sheffield: Birkhauser 2010

[2] Kent C. Bloomer, Charles W. Moore, Robert J. Yudell Body Memory & Architecture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press 1977

[3] ibid

[4] Le Corbusier. The Marseille Block. London: Harville 1953

[5] Menin S. & Samuel F. Nature & Space: Aalto and Le Corbusier. London: Routledge 2003

[6] The Parkour Architect, video, Flow-The Pakour Kommunity, 7 October 2012, viewed 31 October 2014 <>.

[7] Samuel F. Le Corbusier & the Architectural Promenade. Sheffield: Birkhauser 2010

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