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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Nähe. Emotional and physical closeness

Nähe. Emotional and physical closeness

Gravity Fatigue by Hussein Chalayan for Sadler’s Wells © Lidia Crisafulli 2015

The German word ‘Nähe’ can be translated as closeness, nearness and affinity as well as proximity and vicinity. It therefore brings together the spatial and emotional closeness. In my research I am investigating the relationship between the two. To do this I am working on a series of experimental body augmentations to create a sense of connection and intimacy.


The field on proxemics that studies the human use of space. Edward T. Hall breaks up the space surrounding us into intimate distance, personal distance, social distance and public distance. In his book ‘The Hidden Dimension’ he lays out the relevance of this understanding of ‘personal’ space on interpersonal connection and communication.

He makes the case that the boundaries between these distances fall at the points of sensory shift. If people enter our intimate space we start experiencing them through touch and smell, potentially even taste, and might even perceive their body heat. These senses have a very private function and are generally suppressed by our culture. They do however create a lived, immersive experience that envelopes and unites us.

The greater the distance, the more we loose these perceptions and rely solely on vision and hearing. These ‘sterile’ social senses, are privileged by the rules of our culture and the design of our environments and render us to the role of a spectator. We are confronted by the realities we perceive this way. Separated rather that united.


With the aim of creating closeness and a sense of intimacy I decided to focus on the sense of touch. In my experiments I will be using haptics to transmit kinaesthetic communication through the skin.

“The eye is the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of nearness, intimacy and affection.”

Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin

I want to investigate how such a connection can affect:
> my interaction with and awareness of another person
> the perception of my own body and body ownership
> the perception of and interaction with the environment

In a first instance I will approach the design of this connection from two angles (to be combined at a later stage):
> Analogue: mechanical, physical connections
> Digital: electronic, remote connections (bio-sensing and actuators)

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