Procedural Architecture and Embodiment

University of Art and Design Helsinki (now Aalto University), MA Program in Environmental Art, 2006-07.

A year-long theory studio exploring the nature of embodied experience through architectural experimentation.

Constant, experimental space
Constant, experimental space

CONTENT:  This course combines theoretical study of spatial perception and embodied consciousness, a survey of modern and contemporary architectures attempting to address the body/mind in its fullness, and the design and construction of physical (or virtual) environments.

The work and researches of Arakawa and Madeline Gins provide our main guiding thread, and as a final project we will take the challenge of following their “Directions for Architectural Invention and Assembly”, a do-it-yourself guide to procedural architecture.

GOALS: Learn the basics of how we experience space, and of how space and embodiment inform thought and consciousness generally; Gain experience in translating perceptual or conceptual insights into a built structure communicating those insights to others; Develop basic woodworking skills for modelling and construction.

FORMAT:  The course is conceived as a “theory studio”, which means serious theoretical study (readings, empirical exercises, written analysis of works) will be accompanied and enhanced by the practical task of translating ideas into constructions.

In the Fall, we will concentrate on establishing a strong theoretical background, with practical exercises and embodied research playing an important role. In the Spring we will concentrate on the construction of environments conceived in the Fall, ending in a final exhibition.

LEVEL:  For MA students from any field, or qualified BA students in environmental art, spatial design or scenography.

LANGUAGE:  The course will be conducted in English; all participants should have a strong reading competence in English.

MEDIA, MATERIALS and SKILLS:  At the beginning of the course, participants will be trained and certified to use the wood workshop for model-building and construction. Other materials may be used for modelling exercises, and for the final project students will have the option of creating a physical or a virtual immersive environment.

Spring syllabus


am: Re-Intro   

For next week READ: Karen Franck: When I Enter Virtual Reality, What Body Will I Leave Behind? in Architectural Design [Profile No. 118, Architects in Cyberspace], no. 65 (1995, Nov.-Dec), pp.20-23.


am:/pm:  Discussion, 3D modelling workshop

For next week READ: Ollivier Dyens: “The Rise of Cultural Bodies”, Ch. 3 from Metal and Flesh, The Evolution of Man: Technology Takes Over. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE): Ch. 1 Posthuman Development in the Age of Pancapitalism

Ch. 3 Buying Time for the Flesh Machine: Pharmacology and Social Order, from Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and New Eugenic Consciousness. New York: Autonomedia, 1998.


am:/pm:  Discussion, 3D modelling workshop

For next week READ: Ch. 5 “Visual Space Perception” by H.A. Sedgwick, in E. Bruce Goldstein ed. The Blackwell Handbook of Sensation and Perception. London: Blackwell, 2004.

and Ch. 2: “Landing Sites”, from Gins and Arakawa, Architectural Body. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.


am: Discussion/Lecture: visual space perception and virtuality

pm: begin Hall Job project

For next week READ:  Ch. 13 “Spatial Perception and Spatial Behavior” from J.J. Gibson, The Perception of the Visual World. Boston: Greenwood, 1950.

and Ch. 2 “The Sense of Movement: A Sixth Sense?” from Alain Berthoz: The Brain’s Sense of Movement. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.


am: Discussion/Exercises: proprioception and bodily integration of spatial frames

pm: Work session: Hall Job

For next week READ: Ch. 4 “Frames of Reference” from Berthoz, The Brain’s Sense of Movement.

and Brian Massumi: “Building Experience: The Architecture of Perception”, in Lars Spuybroek, NOX: Machining Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004


am: (Re-)Discussion: perceptual effects in Spuybroek’s “Wet Grid”

pm: Work session: Hall Job

For next week READ: Ch. 6 “Notes for an Architectural Body”, Gins and Arakawa, Architectural Body.


am/pm:  Work session: Finish Hall Job

For next week READ: Ch. 10 “The Body-Minded Brain” from Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. New York: Avon Books, 1994.


am: Discussion: mind as a survival trick evolved by the body, by-product: self

pm: Begin Space Lab experiments

For next week READ: Ch. 5 “The Organism and the Object” from Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999.


am: Discussion: the body as the “ground reference” for coordinating a “self”

pm: Space Lab

For next week READ: Ch. 3 “Architecture as Hypothesis” and Ch. 7 “Two Architectural Procedures”, from Gins and Arakawa, Architectural Body.


am: Discussion: built tactics for the destabilization of self

pm: Space Lab

For next week READ: Ch. 8 “The Somatic-Marker Hypothesis”, from Damasio, Descartes’ Error.


am: Discussion: the Somatic Marker Hypothesis as a bodymind leverage point

pm: Space Lab

For next week READ: Ch. 1 “To Live as an Architectural Body” and Ch. 9 “Nearly Universal Affidavit/Loosening Identity for Biotopological Purposes” from Gins and Arakawa, Making Dying Illegal: Architecture Against Death: Original to the 21st Century. New York: Roof Books, 2006.


am: Discussion: the Architectural Body Hypothesis, and the biotopological advantages of loosening identity

pm: Space Lab

For next week READ: Ch. 4 “Architectural Surround”, Ch. 5 “Procedural Architecture”, Gins and Arakawa, Architectural Body.


am: Discussion: Procedural Architecture as a “Built Discourse”

pm: Space Lab

For next week READ: Ch. 9 “Sensory Engrams” from Deane Juhan, Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork. New York: Station Hill, 1987.


am: Discussion: “Engrams” and “Biograms” as bodymind leverage points

pm: Space Lab

For next week READ: Ch. 4 “Metaphorical Projections of Image Schemata” and Ch. 5 “How Schemata Constrain Meaning, Understanding and Rationality” from Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.


am: Discussion: “Image Schemas” as bodymind leverage point

pm: Space Lab


am: Work Session

pm: Work Session

18. Thematic Review

19. Final Session:  Critiques  with artist and theorist, Jondi Keane, PhD, convener of the Interarts Program at Griffith University, Australia.