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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Body Building

Body Building

Architecture is defined by its users. This statement can raise many questions. One could be the relation defined between the architecture and the user and its definition. What is the connection between them? Is it only the user that defines architecture or do they both affect each other? Does this mean that depending on the user, architecture can be defined in different concepts? Another question could be the definition of the “user”. Do we believe that we, the humans, are the users? For example imagine a house. In a house there are furniture, food, pets and also humans. But we never believe that the user of a house is neither a pet nor the furniture. If we accept that the users of architecture are humans, we come to the question of what are humans. As we questioned the nature of architecture, could we also question the essence of human identity? Are the qualities which give one being human status rigid? Or are they subjective? As we look at the relation between the architecture and the user, we come to the conclusion that neither architecture nor the user or even their relation are inflexible. “As a result, who we are, is no longer tied to where we live, who we know, or even what we’ve experienced, but is instead an amalgam of all our own experiences combined with the experiences of others shared through various media.” [Noble, 2010] This means that nowadays our identity is more than what we believe we are. The relation of human beings to their surroundings is an important part of their identities in the new era. Therefore the relation of human and architecture could be defined as a soft and unsettled bound. The architecture is capable of changing according to the qualities of the user, making it a “soft architecture”.

This essay seeks to outline some of the ideas concerning the relation between human and architecture by taking a look at related literature and brief studies of relevant works.

Third Hand - Stelarc 1980

Third Hand – Stelarc 1980

Nietzsche [1889] approaches art in his book Twilight of the Idols as: “A man in this state transforms things until they mirror his power, until they are reflections of his perfection. This having to transform into perfection is, art.” As it could be clearly seen in this statement, one of the most important concerns of humans throughout the history is their perfection. Some of the biggest names in philosophy believe that “philosophical thinking begins with the human subject, not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual.”[Macquarrie, 1972] As we look at ourselves and the things surrounding us we can see how everything is influenced by our human-centered perception towards the world. Donna Harraway explains in her text The Companion Species “that man makes himself by realizing his intentions in his tools, such as domestic animals (dogs) and computers (cyborgs), is evidence of a neurosis that I call humanist technophiliac narcissism.” [Harraway, 2003] This could imply that the perfection that man is seeking is not only throughout their body but also in their tools and surroundings.

But human, this sacred specie which we are fascinated by its perfection is being upgraded in this century. For example, we are replacing ourselves with our better avatar versions. They are duplicated forms of us representing glimpses of our lives that we choose to share and reflect throughout the media, images that are the perfect moments and thoughts that show our intelligence. We also are using different techniques to enhance our bodies. Technology has enabled us to replace a missing organ with prosthetic ones and enhance the body performance by more powerful and efficient parts. But nowadays one not necessarily need to be disabled to use technology on their body, using visual aids (Google glass) and hearing extensions (cellphones) enable us to improve the performance of our body organs.  Donna Haraway [1991] explains in her text  a Cyborg Manifesto, that “No objects, space, or bodies are sacred in themselves; any component can be interfaced with any other if the proper standard, the proper code, can be constructed for processing signals in a common language.” So maybe it is time for us to accept that there are imperfections related to our body performance and that “the human body is obsolete”. [Stelarc, 1960] This leads us to the desire of having a new body and in result, maybe a new identity and this could be the start point towards upgrading the human specie.

Evolution - Lucy McRae and Bart Hess 2008

Evolution – Lucy McRae and Bart Hess 2008

Nietzsche [1891] understood the man’s obsession with his perfection but he also knew that “Man is something that shall be overcome.” He explains in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra that “Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman, a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.” The human of the new era has accepted this idea. We know the imperfections and deficiencies of our bodies. We are not the humans of the Renaissance era who believed that perfection is reflected throughout the human being. Eventually in our time we see the possibility of overcoming our accustomed bodies and identities.

Richard Coudenhove Kalergi [1925] predicted in his book Practical Idealism that “The man of the future will be of mixed race. Today’s races and classes will gradually disappear owing to the vanishing of space, time, and prejudice.” We could have the same logic towards the different species. The mixed creature that Kalegari is talking about could be more than a mixed-race human; it could be of a mixed specie, a product of an amalgamation between humans and other species, for example machines. Nowadays we can easily see the movement towards this mixed-specie human as prosthetic body organs, implanted electrical chips or even virtual reality goggles. This diversion of different approaches towards upgrading human body can somehow emphasize Don Ihde’s [2002] statement that “while humans using technologies enter into interactive situations whenever they use even the simplest technology- and thus humans use and are used by that technology, and all such relations are interactive- the possible uses are always ambiguous and multistable.” This means that passing through the stage which the humans are in, could happen in numerous different ways. As it was mentioned earlier the human identity is not only about the human itself but it is influenced by various elements, which redefining or challenging the existing definitions of them could lead us to different descriptions of human identity. This gives us the opportunity to think about new ways of achieving a more advanced version of human being.

Now this question might come to mind that what is a better version of us? “This requires a willingness to revisit some of our basic notions of what a body is and does as an acting, perceiving, thinking, feeling thing.”[Brian Massumi, 2002] If we are willing to upgrade ourselves we have to at first understand what we are, how do we function and what makes us feel and react. The first step towards this notion could be a more precise understanding of our bodies as well as our minds.

The White Body Fan - Rebecca Horn 1973

The White Body Fan – Rebecca Horn 1973

We know and control our bodies through their boundaries. Body is our territory and environment is where is outside these boundaries. But as Haraway [1991] suggests “Why should our bodies end at the skin or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?” One artist who challenges these concepts is Rebecca horn. In her piece White Body Fan, she tries to extend body throughout two wing-like extensions which carry out her movements to space and we could see how the line between body and space are fading into each other. In another work of Horn, Finger Gloves, we could see how extending human boundaries by the gloves leads to challenging the usual human figure.

But maybe as Kalergi [1925] predicts, human body evolution is more than it extending or its boundaries changing and as he suggests is more about of a mixed specie. As we can see in the works of the artist Stelarc, “Body and thing are extensions of each other. They are mutual implications: co-thoughts of two-headed perception. The two-headed perception is the world.” [Brian Massumi, 2002] If we accept the idea that body and things are extensions to each other, they could be the perfect combination for achieving a mixed specie. Stelarc examines this idea in his work Exoskeleton. He looks at human body performance when in relation with an outer skeleton. “He puts the unthinkable objects on the body to see what might become of it.” [Brian Massumi, 2002] and pushes the body to the extreme limits of working with a machine. As Azumi describes the relation between an individual and a cup in his article Physical and Sensual Communication, “it becomes a part of your life and you may even feel that it becomes a part of your body“[Azumi, 2010], we could see how an exterior object could be considered as a body part in a certain condition. If we believe that body and the thing could be extensions of each other, we have the possibility of defining a new type of human being which is far away from what we know as a one.

Extending body boundaries, challenging human figure and mixing species could be some of the approaches towards a new understanding of the human body. But what about our minds? As we suggested earlier in order to upgrade humans we need to explore the body and mind abilities. Mind, the organ responsible for our thinking and as Deleuze [1994] believes, the junction between art, philosophy and science”. [Patricia Pisters, 2012] As we accept the role which mind has in our human identity, we can predict that our brain is soon to be upgraded to satisfy the post-human desires. It is not possible to have a body which performs perfectly in the new conditions but a mind which is not able to analyze the situation and respond to it flawlessly.

As Brian Massumi [2002] suggests “word for the real but abstract incorporeality of the body is the virtual”, the type of reality which is progressing day by day, changing our perception to the world, somehow encouraging us to become something else. As Pisters [2012] explains “the becoming is something between the two, outside the two”. This idea could be examined through the project, In the Eyes of the Animal by Marshmallow Laser Feast. According to Pisters statement could we assume that by wearing the headsets, we are creating a new being? One who sees the world as an insect but reads it as a human. Or as Thomas Nagel [1974] argues in his text What is it Like to be a Bat?, “Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into a bat, nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like”. By these means we could never actually understand how is it to be another being unless we become the other being. But if we become the other then there is no chance of analyzing the present experience because we no more have the same perception towards the previous experience to connect and compare to. Massumi [2002] explores the same idea in the Stelarc’s goggles: “The goggles Stelarc invented effected an inventive reversion from human instrumental reason to humanoid-insect intelligence.”

In the Eyes of the Animal - Marshmallow Laser Feast 2015

In the Eyes of the Animal – Marshmallow Laser Feast 2015

As it was discussed in the sections above, we are challenging our bodies nowadays in figure, content and its relation to its surroundings. This may lead us to a new understanding of our identity as a human being or it could also question the relation of human individuality to the body image.  We came to the conclusion that challenging the usual human descriptions may lead us to a new identity but we also accepted that we could never have a clear perception of it. But does all of this imply that we are soon to be replaced by new species with different types of identities? And as Nietzsche believes we are the bridge and not the end. Or maybe these are only few responses for the humans dealing with new circumstances. For example challenging our bodies in figure could be a result of human body obsolescence, or suggesting new extensions to the body could be an answer for us dealing with new types of communication with our environment. This could imply that the future race will not necessarily be of a new specie. It may still be the humans, but ones who have accepted their perfections along with their imperfections.

By looking at relevant studies it could be understood that there is a gap concerning these ideas in the field of architecture. As it was discussed in the beginning of this essay the basic principles of the relation between the user and architecture could raise many questions. But as we reviewed some of the ideas related to these topics, we still have not reached a new definition of architecture concerning the new understanding of human identity. As the users of architecture are being redefined, the architecture also needs to be redefined. Architecture has an accurate relation to our bodies; we perceive it by all of our senses, so what could happen if these senses and our bodies are merged in architecture? Maybe by exploring this idea furthermore, architecture could reach a level of becoming a body extension. Or as we are challenging the relation of our bodies to their surroundings, what could happen if the boundaries between architecture and body are faded away? This could suggest the idea that architecture could not only be defined by the user but could be the user himself.


-Azumi, S. (2010). Architecture and the body. The American Institute of Architects.

-Coudenhove Kalergi, R. N. (1925). Practical Idealism.

-Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is philosophy?. Columbia University Press.

-Haraway, D. J. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. Routledge.

-Haraway, D. J. (2003). The companion species manifesto: Dogs, people, and significant otherness (Vol.1). Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

-Ihde, D. (2002). Bodies in Technology (Vol. 5). U of Minnesota Press.

-Macquarrie, J. (1972). Existentialism.

-Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the virtual: Movement, affect, sensation. Duke University Press.

Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat?. The philosophical review.

-Nietzsche, F., & Large, D. (1998). Twilight of the Idols. Oxford University Press.

-Nietzsche, F. W. (1950). Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Kreactiva Editorial.

-Noble, C.A. (2010). Architecture and the body. The American Institute of Architects.

-Pisters, P. (2012). The neuro-image: A Deleuzian film-philosophy of digital screen culture. Stanford University Press.


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