Blinds Perception Of Architecture Cultural Studies Essay

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Architecture is a tool through which we relate ourselves to this world, we relate ourselves to time and space. This relation is made through architecture, which is experienced by our senses. If we isolate ourselves from experiencing space and time, we remove our being (the 'I') in this world. Architecture is the representation of self. Architecture which stimulates senses not only enhances the quality of building and space but also enhances and strengthens the whole being of humans on this earth.

Experience of a space through our five senses change as per dominance of one particular sense. Before 16th century people just didn't first see but smelled and heard. During renaissance there was a shift from this and the visual became the dominant sense of all and the same is prevalent till now, visual dominates over all other senses (Pallasmaa, THE EYES OF THE SKIN, 2005). This dominance of visual can also be seen in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Heraclitus etc., how they consider eye and vision as the supreme gift for the living beings. But as Juhani Pallasma writes and describes in his book, 'Eyes of the skin', Tactile sense as the most significant sense of all and all the other senses including vision as its extension, and if this is true then why is visual sense so dominant ?

Architecture is highly affected by the way it has to be experienced. Dominance of a particular sense over others affects the whole architecture. Similarly, as the dominance of a sense affects architecture, loss of a particular sense also affects it. Say if a building is to be experienced by only those who are visually impaired then its architecture should reflect it. So architecture to be universally experienced by all kinds of people should be multi-sensory.

The reason for dominance could be many things. One of the examples for this dominance could be technological advancements. In the world of technology where most people spend most of the time on internet, it's the look of a building that becomes the most important as photographs are what will be seen of it. Introduction of computer software's which help making organic forms also in some way promotes the dominance of visual sense. Few other reasons will be briefly discussed in the second chapter.

This dissertation briefly aims to question the dominance of visual sense over other senses, and what role does architecture play in invoking the other dormant senses of human beings, or to say does it have a role to play?

To understand the dominance of visual sense and its effects on architecture, this dissertation intends to understand the Non-visual perception or blind people's Perception of architecture because they by default don't have this factor of visual sense. It is not that due to the lack of visual sense their other senses get amplified, but they do have a better sensual experience then a normal person. By understanding there experience we can see where we lack in providing a multi-sensory architecture. So, this brings us down to the main question which this dissertation intends to answer - How can we enhance the experience of architecture through our senses by understanding the Perception of Architecture through Non-Visual senses ( Blinds Perception of Architecture ).


How can we enhance the experience of architecture through our senses by understanding the Perception of Architecture through Non-Visual senses (Blinds Perception of Architecture).


Our experience of space and time through our senses is being polluted by the life style we follow today. Pollution and the fast running life hardly leave any experience for our senses. There is a strong need for an architecture which invokes the dormant senses and defines what a multi-sensory experience is.

A need to understand our senses (specially other four senses) and their role in connecting one with the architecture around.

Architectures role has to examine in stimulating our senses and creating buildings and space which compensate our loss of experience, due to our lifestyle or the whole city (e.g. Traffic).


This Dissertations immediate scope is concerned with studying five senses - Vision, Tactile, Olfactory, Taste and Acoustic and there role in understanding and relating one with architecture, and thus presenting the argument of the dominance of visual sense. A very limited discussion will be presented on all nineteen senses together; otherwise this dissertation will be limited to only five senses mentioned above. Perceptual aspect of Non-Visual architecture or blinds architecture falls under the scope, leaving the technical aspect of it.


Due to limited interactions with blind people and limited time period, I might not be able to do justice to the whole issue.

For case studies I intend to take help from blind students of institute for blind, take them to famous buildings in Delhi and note there experience. Thus the inferences made out of the case study will depend to certain extent on the understanding and co-operation of the people involved in the study and how well they have understood the process of study.

Covering all the questions posed above in detail won't be possible in this limited time period. So the main question - dominance of visual sense and understanding of the non-visual perception will be covered in detail and others will be only used to complement the study.

To understand blind perception, I will go through one or two books on psychology of blind and mainly rely on summaries and reviews of the books.


A thorough and exhaustive literature survey on senses and perceptions related to Visual and Non-Visual senses and around it will be done, which will provide a data base to start the dissertation.

Defining and Classifying senses and clearly marking the five senses mentioned in the scope and understanding where they lie on the overall list of Nineteen senses and there role in experiencing architecture.

Tracing the history of senses in human beings and culture and the shifts that occurred in the dominance of one sense on another over the time and the changes that happened in architecture due to it.

Understanding blinds psychology and perception of architecture through four Non-Visual senses.

Getting the real picture of architectural perception by doing case studies and interviews(which will be a comparison and analysis of the reading of a space by a blind person and myself ) and then analysing the collected data and the real picture together to reach to the final conclusion.

Chapter II


Senses make us experience the whole world around us and this is how our existence here is proved. Architecture being a tool to relate our being in the world is dependent on the senses which make us perceive and experience it. Before going into the depth of the whole enquiry, we need to define the scope and the terms around which the enquiry revolves.

II.I Senses and perception - definition

Sense and perception needs to be defined together as definition of one calls for defining the other.

Oxford dictionary defines Sense as 'A faculty by which the body perceives an external stimulus; one of the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.' (sense, 2012),whereas perception is defined as 'The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.' (perception, 2012)

Sensation is the instant response of our sensory receptors (Nose, Ear etc.) to basic stimuli like sound, texture etc. whereas perception is the process by which sensations are nominated, interpreted and organized. (chapter2 perception)

As the research is based on the five traditional senses, we need to first understand what they are and how they are defined which is:

Visual sense: It is the sense which is related to seeing and visual perception of a space.

Tactile sense: It is related with the sense of touch and tactile experience.

Olfactory sense: It is related to the sense of smell.

Auditory sense: It is related to the sense of hearing.

Gustatory sense: It is concerned with the sense of tasting.

II.II Classification of senses

According to Walter S. boernstein in his article 'Classification of the human senses', psychologists and physiologists have avoided classifying senses under one common principle and rely on the categorisation provided by earlier authors. (Classification of the Human Senses) Though, to have a clear understanding of how senses affect the perception of architecture, it is of utmost importance to understand the categorisation of senses under heads like psychology, physiology, anatomical study, receptor organs etc., but due to the limitations of this dissertation we will focus on the classification based on receptor organs and stimulus location.

It is very important to understand the classification of senses based on the receptor organs and the stimulus location because in architecture, design elements very much depend on how and at what level of contact it has to be perceived. For e.g. visual perception can happen at an immediate contact level dealing with textures and colour as well as at a distant level where we focus on the overall form whereas for tactile perception we need to have an immediate contact (Juhani Pallasma might still argue that one touches the surface and form with their eyes)

Based on the distribution of the receptor organs in the body, senses are categorised as:

General sense: In which receptor organs are distributed all over the body and no special organ is dedicated to them.

Special sense: In which receptor organs are housed in one complex setting (Head) and has a dedicated organ associated with it.

Senses categorised under Special sense are: Vision, Olfactory, Auditory, Gustation and equilibrium. All the senses in this category is important to perceive architecture but the point to note here is that out of the five traditional senses, all lie under this category except touch.

Based on the location of the generated stimuli senses can be categorised under:

Proprioceptors: Detects stimuli generated inside muscles, tendons and joints.

Interoceptors: Detects stimuli from interiors of the body.

Exteroceptors: Detects stimuli from exterior of the body.

All five of the traditional senses are exteroceptors and they receive stimuli from exterior of the body. Though architecture very much generates stimuli which are perceived by proprioceptors and interoceptors as well, but our discussion in this dissertation will be limited to exteroceptor senses.

Edward T Hall mentions another important classification based on the distance between the receptor and the stimuli generator, which is:

The distance receptors: Those concerned with the examination of distant objects. Senses falling in this category are the visual, auditory, and Olfactory senses.

The immediate receptors: Those concerned with the examination of stimuli generated at an immediate level.

The Judaeo-Arabic philosophy also categorises the senses into two:

External senses

Internal senses

All the traditional senses belong to the first category, which are external senses. They further divide the external senses into two categories which is somewhat similar to the categorisation done by Hall based on distance and it is:

The finer or intellectual sense: Visual, Auditory and Olfactory

The coarser or the material ones: Taste and tactile

Now we broadly understand where our traditional senses have stood through history and how they have been classified under various heads like philosophy, psychology, physiology etc. We can see that vision, auditory and olfactory sense has been the favoured senses over others.

II.III Shifts in the Dominance of senses - Brief History

Pallasma in his book 'The Eyes of the skin', places tactile sense at the top of the order and calls all the other senses including the visual sense as its extension. Also according to the Aristotelian psychology, when children are born, they only have the sense of touch and then develops the sense of taste. Visual sense is the last to develop in all five senses. (SENSES, THE FIVE (Hebrew, or ), 2011)

In the ancient time people didn't just see but heard and smelled equally. In fact visual sense was not the dominant sense at all but it was the auditory and olfactory sense that dominated. As Lucien Febvre [1] mentions it, It was only around the sixteenth century when the dominance shifted from Olfactory and auditory to the visual.

If we go through the history, we'll see that in every century some or the other senses have dominated and understanding its order only helps in responding and designing the perception of to some extent. But the fact that single-sense dominated architecture kills and reduces the overall experience of architecture can't be denied.

II.IV Senses and architecture

As mentioned before, the perception of a space completely depends on the senses and the level to which they have developed in we people. But it is also the responsibility of architecture to invoke and make us aware of the senses that have gone dormant.

Architecture doesn't happen in isolation. Architecture exists with the nature and acts as an extension of nature into the man-made realm. Every experience of architecture, unless intentional, is perceived by all the senses together. One receptor feeds and collaborates with the other to create a multi-sensory experience.

All the four senses- vision, smell, hear and taste, acts as an interface between the tactile sense, which has skin as its receptor and the world. It is an interface between the exterior and the interior of the body.

We unconsciously or consciously associate some of the senses to almost all of the elements of a building or space. Say, a living room has the sense of vision and touch associated with it. But if we look closely, it can't function without responding to all the five senses.

Chapter III


Visual perception has become one of the most important aspect of architecture. Master architects like Le Corbusier have always advocated the importance and dominance of visual sense through his design and writings.

"I exist in life only if I can see (Pallasmaa, THE EYES OF THE SKIN, 2005) - Le Corbusier"

"I am and I remain an impenitent visual; everything is in the visual (Pallasmaa, THE EYES OF THE SKIN, 2005) - Le Corbusier"

But there have also been master architects like Alvar Aalto and Carlo Scarpa, whose work have a rigorous appreciation of a multi-sensory architecture. Be it a chair designed by Aalto or a staircase by Scarpa, It's all about a multi-sensory experience.

Approach towards the visual sense can be completely different. Le Corbusier's constant advocation of importance of light and vision in architecture projects architecture as something which only has meaning when put in light, whereas the Japanese favour shadows and darkness over light in their architecture. Constant and uniform light freezes the imagination and time whereas darkness and shadows makes us go inwards and takes us towards the peripheral experience of the visual.

III.I Dominance over other Senses

Visual has not always been the most dominant of all senses, but it has only earned this status around the sixteenth century where geometry and order got a strong hold in designs. It was the works of Kepler and Leonardo da Vinci that showed a new world of forms. Renaissance, not only brought a change in the approach towards architecture but one of the basic reasons of renaissance, the invention of printing press, brought a shift in how people perceive information and communicate.

Walter J Ong in his book, 'Orality & Literacy' (Ong, 1982), sees the transition from oral to written speech as essentially a transition from auditory to visual space. By this transition the experiential spaces started getting converted into visual spaces, which are seen as planes of graphical images.

In Pallasma's opinion, the whole experience of architecture has shifted from situational encounter of the subject and the object to a limited image created by a camera. People have started seeing through their cameras. Now, here one could question, that whether a visually dominated architecture has detached the people from an multi-sensory experience and forced them to look through their cameras and consider it as sets of graphical planes, or the advancement of technology has forced architects to create architecture which is limited to what and how the people want to experience it.

Julio Bermudez has his concerns regarding the representation and communication that are taught in architectural schools and which the architects follow today. One of the major tasks of a school is to teach the representation techniques and language of architecture. Now this technique has mostly to do with the visual representation and communication. And since the architects are visually versed people, how to represent and communicate the non-visual aspects of design visually has always been a point to ponder upon. And somewhere what we can't represent is hard to think of or communicate, and thus results into a phenomenologically week architecture.

Another reason for this is the changing trend in the things surrounding us. The use of hyper imagery in the media has a strong influence over architecture.

It would be interesting to see how our senses perceive and process the information received by our receptors and the division in terms of percentage.

Kurt Morteson in his article, 'Engaging the five senses' (engaging the five senses) says that 75% of the information comes to us visually, 13% through hearing and the rest 12% is shared by smell, taste and touch. Even in Hall's opinion, vision has been the last and the most developed sense of all. (Hall, 1990). Going through this one could easily favour and find logic in the dominance of the visual sense but how could one deny the role of architecture in invoking the dormant or the less percipient senses in providing a multi-sensory or a 'whole' experience. In fact a hyper responsive step towards these less perceptive senses could very well change the whole experience and the subject-object relationship.

III.II Loss of Architecture

Architecture of vision has created buildings and spaces which are looked upon as graphic planes, detached and isolated from the world around. The focused vision on the planes removes the factor of time and memory from it. A wall cladded with metal, polished over and over again, doesn't have the marks and undulations that time leaves on it. Junichiro Tanizaki, in his book 'in the praise of the shadows' (Tanizaki J. , 1991)mentions an interesting appreciation that the Japanese people have towards the factor of time and memory in their architecture. Landscape and building walls start being appreciated not when they are new but when they start growing old and show the marks of years that have passed. These undulations have memories associated with it which otherwise is lost in a bland wall.

Preference of focused and photographic vision over peripheral vision creates a distance between the object and the subject. As pallasma says, peripheral vision includes and the focused vision excludes the body from outside.

The most persistent memory of a space is its odour. One might argue here about the dominance of vision over odour in terms of memory associated with a space. But, we need to understand that the senses isolated from each other is what creates a major loss in the experience of architecture.