Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

Scroll to top


No Comments

Designing for Optimal states of consciousness

Designing for Optimal states of consciousness

Featured image – Loop.pH ‘OSMO’

The main aim of this investigation is to create immersion states based on Flow Theory with optimal states of consciousness. My research interests in immersion states, states of consciousness and phenomenal consciousness, has led me to create a project which consists of material and immaterial soft architecture elements. These two parts can currently be the ideal method for optimal immersion in a surrounding space. Optimal states of consciousness for immersion are explained in this paper through an immediate feedback loop between an inflatable object which can create a space with lights and user’s perceptual and conscious state. States of consciousness is constantly fluctuating in response and with surrounding environment. Therefore, the main questions of this paper are:

How can the installation influence perception and state of consciousness of the user?  How can user’s conscious state change their surrounding space? For this propose, this paper will demonstrate several design experiments which are based on light modulation and inflatable materials for creating an optimal state, arguing the possibility and necessity of designing spatial interaction which can induce immersion state through altering the user’s state of consciousness as well.


  1. Introduction

Immersive environments are one of the focal factors not only in architectural field but also in the whole art field. Many designers have investigated the relationship with immersion experience when they create their works. However, which features are needed to trigger the optimal experience for the viewer? Are these features fixed or adaptable? Past experiences, and the architecture around us, affects humans’ perceptual experiences, making the immersion state of users affinitive to architecture.

However, standard immersion states are not objective, as it depends on the individual (i.e. education, cultural background, social factors, or states of consciousness and so on). Human inner states are both astonishing and fascinating as they enrich the experience of art works. Therefore, the designer should consider how to optimise the user’s attention and interest.

This paper will begin with the psychological perspectives of “Flow Theory” by Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi (1975a, 1975b) and the state of consciousness in terms of communication between space and users. My design project ‘Soft Optics’, which will be explained in detail in chapter 6, will also be explored to answer the question: ‘How are states of immersion created in a space with several features?’.

This project explains how flow theory, phenomenal consciousness and states of immersion can be relevant to the architectural field. In detail, it seeks to establish connections between immersion experience based on “Flow Theory” and ideal state of consciousness, integrating elements of these two theories creating immediate feedback loop between the inner state of the user and a space through the ‘Soft Optics’.

All in all, this thesis has three basic objectives:

  1. To explore the essence of the “Flow Theory” by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi and relationship between human’s perceptual spectrum and Phenomenal consciousness for immersion experience.
  2.  To create soft architectue which can trigger apperception of the user, and test whether the user’s phenomenal conscious state can influence and create their surrounding space or not.
  3. To consider the parallels between phenomenal consciousness and immersion experience with respect to soft architecture.                                        

2. Immersion and State of Consciousness

The explanations surrounding states of immersion are highly diversified in various fields of study. “Flow Theory” by Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi is considered to be one of the influential theories to describe immersion state of humans. Csikzentmihalyi and Selega (1992) argue that people can easily be immersed in an environment when they spend time in a stable mental state while doing work related to their interests or old habits, regardless of field.

These are examined in the following sections in detail.


2.1 Flow Theory

(1) Definition

Mihalyi Cscizentmihalyi (1975a, 1975b) defined the concept at first as not being bored or nervous in the specific task. In general, when a person has control of their actions and information, they require effoet and skill to attain (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.3).From these idea, he formulated his theory of flow:

“A theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow — the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

-Csikszentmihalyi, 1990


Figure 1. “Flow” model (1997)

Csizentmihalyi argues that individuals focus their mind on where one wants, cutting off all the obstacles and distracting thoughts (1992, pp.219-231). In addition, voluntary participation of the user can induce the psychological states of intrinsic motivation and immersion called “Flow”. This means that an immersive experience is triggered by the user themselves, as a continuity of feedback between their skills, actions and environment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992, pp.102-104).

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) explains that at the time of immersion, the individual has a ‘comfortable feeling like water flow’. Subjects experience an ‘altered sense of time’, in which the subject is absorbed in the details of what is happening in a short period of time, despite feeling time as a short moment. Flow is widely used in diverse situations with specific and major features. He found a common point of having a deep preoccupation and feeling of sinking into a deep immersion and transformation of time (1990, pp.27-28).

In order to create optimal immersion state through the design project ‘Soft Optics’, it seems that the interaction between the architecture and the user needs proper challenge and their skills without any obstacles between the communication.

(2) Characteristics of immersion

Csikszentmihalyi identified seven common features of immersion states through interviews exploring individual’s personal best immersive experiences from different situations in daily life. Below are the seven characteristics (1990, pp.48-67., 1980, pp.401-414., 1992, pp.219-231):

  • Clear goals and immediate feedback
  • A challenging activity that requires skills
  • The merging of action and awareness
  • The paradox of control
  • The loss of self-consciousness
  • Concentration on the task at hand
  • The transformation of time

(a) Clear goals and immediate feedback

It is possible to achieve a deep state of immersion with certain involvement in a situation that has a clear goal and immediate feedback (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega,1992, pp.102-103). For instance, when a designer has produced work which has an inner goal, the person will know whether the process is what she wanted to approach or not. The feedback loop of satisfying the artists expectation becomes essential to the immersion experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp. 54-56).

(b) A challenging activity that requires skills

Immersion can be achieved by using sequences of activities that are bounded by rules. An optimal experience is yielded by the feeling of self-control by use of appropriate skills and interaction with the space (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp.49-53., p.226).

(c) The merging of action and awareness

If the observer has a clear goal, feedback and uses appropriate skills, ongoing action and awareness that can all merge (Csikszentmihalyi,1975b, pp.42-44). An individual’s attention is centred when their body moves automatically without thought (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega,1992, p.103). As a result, people can repeatedly react within unconscious attention states (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp.53-54).

(d) The paradox of control

As mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of immersion is the sense of control. However, if the person has a full sense of control in a task, it can conversely produce a lacking of self-control. This is because the person becomes so dependent on the skill involved in the activity that they cannot pay attention to other situations, and ultimately lose control (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp.59-62).

(e) The loss of self-consciousness

The merging of action and awareness will always lead to a loss of ego (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega, 1992, p.223). Also this characteristic is very important to challenge an individual to do their best and to improve their skills constantly, because giving up self-consciousness is important for building a clear self-concept to push their immersion state forward (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp.64-66).

(f) Concentration on the task at hand

Concentration on the task, with a clear goal and immediate feedback provides order of consciousness and can induce better quality of experience (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega, 1992, pp.3-8).

(g) The transformation of time

If all of the previous features are emerged, a person feels like they are losing their sense of time. This is one of the key descriptions of a state of complete involvement (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.66-67).

The four key characteristics of flow, “Merging of action and awareness, concentration on the task at hand, clear goals and feedback and the loss of self-consciousness”, are measured by the impact on the relationship between a sense of space and the ability of the observers to interact with the immersive environment (Csikszentmihalyi and Hermanson, 1995, pp.59-61). In addition, “Flow Theory” refers to an optimal state of concentration which requires attention as a main factor, as well as enjoyment and positive feelings with the action.

Thus, these four key features will be included and presented in the design project ‘Soft Optics’ through the surrounding environment and several interactive elements, which can induce user’s inner goals and provide a clear physical feedback loop.


2.2 Connection between Flow Theory and States of consciousness

There is a close connection between immersion experiences and state of consciousness. Csikszentmihalyi (1990, pp.17-21) emphasizes the structure of consciousness within three media: attention, which can occur information in consciousness; awareness, which is ability of understanding the information; and memory, which can recall and store the information or events.

Also, within the seven different characteristics of immersion, “merging of action and awareness” and “the loss of self-consciousness” focus on the states of consciousness of the individual in a situation (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega, 1992, pp.220-235). “Merging of action and awareness” exist in their behaviours in the immersive state. It means that body and mind become one without any specific effort, because awareness is absorbed in the action (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp 53-54). This element is the clearest sign of ‘flow’. Since, “Merging of action and awareness” occurs when the activities require the correct personal skills held by the individual (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, pp.38-39). “Loss of self-consciousness” according to immersion of ego is a consciousness state in which individuals are aware of their own actions but not aware of that fact because ego-centrism entirely disappears when the behaviour requires full immersion (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp 62-66).

It seems that this state means that self-recognition disappears, this does not mean a loss of ego and loss of consciousness. The concept is expressed like harmonising with environments or concentrating on becoming one with their emotion. As mentioned above, it can be concluded that immersion has a direct connection with consciousness state. (See. Figure.2)


Figure 2. Flow experience and consciousness


2.3 Ideal State of Consciousness for immersion state

As as architecture designer, creating work with optimal state of consciousness and immersion requires a critical of understanding how each state works. Many theories have been proposed to argue what is the definition of each state of consciousness and how to distinguish the countless states of consciousness.

Four different states of consciousness have been explained by Michael Tye (1995, pp.84-87) as the one of typical studies:

  • Higher-order Consciousness
  • Discriminatory Consciousness
  • Responsive Consciousness
  • Phenomenal Consciousness

Higher-order consciousness means that there are no thoughts about behaviours of themselves. Discriminatory consciousness and Responsive consciousness are concepts of conscious with skills in dealing with their situations, and it can be partial in their limitations. Phenomenal consciousness is typically pivotal to experiences and feeling by the five senses: sight, olfactory sense, auditory sense, palate and tactile sense.

In this paper, we will focus on Phenomenal Consciousness because it is formed by sensory integration of observers’ attention, making it the most powerful consciousness for the user’s immersion experience in space. The relationship between the world around users links to process of consciousness in terms of perceptual experience (Kulstad and Carlin, 1997, pp.9-10). Thus, attention can be considered as a fundamental factor for creating Phenomenal consciousness. In the following chapters, attention in the perceptual spectrum and phenomenal consciousness will be explored further to explain why these two elements are ideal for immersion state and to illustrate how they link to each other.

(1) Perceptual Spectrum

In daily life, humans perceive numerous surrounding situations in varying was, both unconsciously and consciously. However, different degrees of perception are fixed by the individual’s focus state.

We are never without perceptions

but it is necessary we are often without apperceptions”

– Leibnizian, 1997

 According to Leibniz (1997, pp.11-12), apperception is distinctive of spirits, and “consciousness, or the reflective knowledge of this internal state”. There are three distinct levels of perception from the lowest to the highest; bare perception, sensation and thought.

figure 3

Figure 3. Perceptual spectrum (1990)

The lowest one, bare perception, is present without distinct memory. The middle one, sensation, occurs with memory and heightened distinctness. Finally, the highest one, thought, can be created by memory, distinctness and self-reflection. Among these three levels, apperception can be involved in the upper part of perceptual spectrum, because human create intuitively attention by apperception with memories and past experiences (Anapolitanos, 1999, p.31).

Therefore, it seems that apperception triggers human to move towards another state of consciousness, and the attention state can be considered as crucial to reach appropriate perception.

As a result, apperception in the perceptual spectrum has the potential to change internally from present state to extended future states. This can profoundly influence human sensory actions which are linked to Phenomenal consciousness.

(2) Phenomenal Consciousness

‘Phenomenal consciousness’ or ‘P-consciousness’ for short, is a sort of gateway to connect humans’ goals, behaviours and experiences.

According to Carruthers (2000, p.13) and Tye (1995, pp.84-87), P-consciousness has clear characteristics, including subject quality and feelings (pain, touch, smell and so on), and is also defined as sensory experience.

In his book ‘The Burning House’, Tye describes ten cases of P-consciousness state. There are a number of situations of P-consciousness, but I will focus on mainly two cases. This is because both cases included human senses and extended behaviours by past experiences.

He proposes different situations to illustrate his argument about P-consciousness including example of a wine taster who can distinguish subtle differences in wines, and the birdwatchers, who can conscious the bird visually and acoustically, whilst the other birdwatcher can only conscious acoustically in the same position. First of all, the case of the wine taster illustrates the P-conscious state with a sense of taste by his previous countless training. Therefore, past experiences create unconscious discrimination about the certain differences in wines which to most people would taste similar. Secondly, in case of the birdwatchers, Tye (1995, p.82) describes the changing of attentional consciousness with both vision and acoustic sense. Both senses can recognize where the bird is, but only one, visual perception, can see and hear where the bird exactly is. However, the other person can only, acoustic perception, hear the bird singing, and try to find the bird in pointing the exact location.

These two cases show us that P-consciousness is compulsory to experience and to feel in general situations. It provokes the thought that several ideas behind P-consciousness generate perceptual experiences of most situations. Moreover, unconscious states can link with states of Higher-order consciousness, creating a sub-conscious state of P-consciousness (Carruthers, 2000, p.236). As explained previously, higher-order consciousness form P-consciousness, so can be also be considered as a crucial state of our whole experience (Carruthers, 2000, pp.210-212).

In summary, higher-order consciousness, which most commonly means unconsciousness about consciousness, is a form of an unconsciousness state in combination with perceptions (Carruthers, 2000, p.215). The concept of the consciousness is an “introspective awareness”, and has higher-order thought about other perceptions of on-going situations (Tye, 1995, p.84).

In addition, Antonio Damasio claims that there is another part of the unconscious, the “Proto-self”; a preconscious area that holds memories required by the conscious to perform its functions (1999, p.174). This “proto-self” can generate the “core-self” and the “autobiographical self”, which are respectively core consciousness and extended consciousness (1999, pp.177-178). This idea aligns with Tye’s theory of consciousness concerning unconsciousness state based on previous situations or experiences, for example the case of the wine taster.

Colleen and Larry (1993, pp.74-77) explain that memories of past experiences always affect us unconsciously. This can be understood in the same context with Rosenthal and Josh’s theory (2008), which suggests that humans have senses which can be recognised and constructed by our own mental states and mind.

According to Carruthers (2000, pp.210-236), higher-order consciousness includes some sub-functions:

  • Higher-order Thought (HOT)
  • Higher-order Experience (HOE)

In other words, suggesting that both these sub-functions are involved in P-consciousness. On the other hand, Tye (1995) integrates higher-order thought into higher-order consciousness without classification.

This paper will focus on Phenomenal consciousness for immersive experience and will therefore conclude that higher-order consciousness with two sub-states including HOT and HOE is not classified.

In conclusion, humans can be conscious and unconscious about their past experiences and situations in an intuitive and perceptual way, and as a result, human thought, behaviour and feelings are the consequence of past experiences. Furthermore, when inner and outer sense integrate, it can generate an experience (Carruthers, 2000, pp.212-215). As an architectural designer, it provokes the idea that states of consciousness can create spaces every time without having a static architecture.


Figure 4. Phenomenal Consciousness


  1. Soft architecture, state of consciousness and immersion

Looking at the wider spectrum of architecture, immersive structures can be adapted to optimize the immersion experience in a space. As well as theoretical knowledge, practical knowledge about states of consciousness in space are required. I will therefore explore various design experiments in a space in order to produce this background knowledge. In this chapter, the design project ‘Soft Optics’ will use soft architecture, presenting spaces through softness of light and inflatables.

I will therefore focus on two main questions:

  • How does softness relate to consciousness and immersion?
  • How can the use of light and inflatables materials achieve soft architecture?

Based on P-consciousness (Carruthers, 2009, p.13), these multi-sensory stimuli will provide a more immersive experience for the user, as they employ a wider range of users’ sensory input and forms of immediate feedback loop. As the theoretical exploration suggests, the sensory system is a crucial factor in ensuring smooth interaction between the viewer and a space.

3.1 Softness of light

Amongst the diverse sensory network, the visual system can be considered as the most important and complicated. Not only is vision closely related to the other sensory modalities, such as sense of touch and auditory senses, visual perception enables the observer to contact and interact with the visible surrounding space (Lou Michael, 1996, pp.8-9).

James Turrell’s ‘Shallow Space constructions’ project nicely illustrates the use effects of light to produce variation perception in the visual field. Turrell (2009, p.40) argues the changing of visual perception encourages the other sensory modalities to emerge.

We eat light, drink it in through our skins. With a little more exposure to light, you feel part of things physically. I like feeling the power of light and space physically because then you can order it materially. Seeing is a very sensuous act-there’s a sweet deliciousness to feeling yourself see something.”

– James Turrell, 2009

 With this comes the idea that a space can be generated through viewers’ attention, which is related to memory or previous experiences (Carruthers, 2000, pp.200-215).

Shallow Space constructions (See. Figure 5) by James Turrell is an immersive space viewed from a large room. The space has controlled lighting that challenges the observer’s perception of depth. Their experience of the changing effects of light therefore requires attention, extended behaviours and memories of past experiences with light.


Figure 5. James Turrell – Shallow Space constructions (1968)

As a result, the effects of the softness of light can be considered as a main source of immersion experience in the ‘Soft Optics’ project because light is the one of the powerful materials which creates sense of space and shape space even when static (Turrell, 2009, p.40). Light can generate entirely different and unique atmospheres and thus several states of consciousness in the same space. This is because it makes visually different reflections, shapes, brightness and shadows.

Light’s scattering phenomenon can lead to a form of consciousness engaging visual perception mainly. This concept is conceived in several ways, by looking at changes in light with transitions from light to dark or the diffusion of lights. Also linked is the subjective experiences of the outside world and the inner world of the human being. Visual experience is a way to interact with the surrounding environment, resulting in

thought, behaviours and reactions in an environment, and visual experience is a way to interact with the surrounding (O’Regan and Noe, 2001, pp.959-960).  Therefore, through extending of the user’s attention from one sense to another can construct immersive experience.

It can be concluded that space with light can induce general curiosity in the users through varying colours, scales as so on (Turrell, 2009, p.46), which can appeal to the observers’ personal interest. After engaging the users’ interest, their previous experiences, memories and multi-sensory elements are integrated naturally to immerse with the space with harmonizing small challenges and the users’ skills for immersion state. Inflatables were also considered as an extended design element to combine with softness of light to generate soft architecture.

3.2 Inflatable Architecture

In order to expand softness of light and to trigger more perceptual responses, the field of inflatable architecture was chosen as a complimentary design element for ‘Soft Optics’.

“Aim was to develop the perception of body in space while working through the pleasurable and anxious feelings prompted by social interaction”

-Ant Farm, 1968



Figure 6. Ant Farm — 50 x 50′ pillow (1970)

According to Ant Farm, inflatable architecture consists of conflicting feelings (2004, p.17). Based on the quote of Ant Farm, when users explore an inflatable architecture, they can feel both the softness and the vulnerability of material at the same time. This interactivity creates a conscious feedback loop with the user’s feelings, behaviours and sensory feedback.

A key structural feature of inflatable architecture is air. It is thought that inflatables build flexible space and result in different behaviours without heavier structure. Therefore, lightweight structure can create myriad behaviours (Wiliam and Pete, 2015, pp.9-11). The potential of soft tactile and air structures can redefine the physical interaction between architecture and enriched sensory experience of occupants.

3.3 Contributions to the field of soft architecture

The effect of light and inflatables can contribute to the field of soft architecture in three different ways: material, visual and behavioural.


Figure 7. Potential contributions to the field of soft architecture

(a) Material aspect

This ‘Soft Optics’ project seeks to explore a combination of not only tactile soft materials, inflatables, but also untouchable materials, being light.

Lightweight inflatables and light effects can help create softness which is an important vehicle to responsiveness in the observer (Negroponte,1975, p.147). Through the material aspect, it can affect seamless interaction with malleable human behaviour.

(b) Visual aspect

By changing the effect of light in an inflatable space, the viewer can shift their conscious state. Varying optical properties of inner architecture stimulates perception as it generates habitual unconscious behaviours with past experiences.

(c) Behavioural aspect

If an inflatable space has a series of diverse materials such as the effect of light, it can help to change the observer’s behaviour and perceptual attention. The space triggers the user’s different focus state, creating interaction. As a result, space can be created through the integrated behaviours of light, inflatables and the observer.

Based on these potential contributions, this design project will aim to shift and change the diverse involvement of users, and the results will be explored in the next chapter. 


  1. Design experiments of ‘Soft Optics’

4.1 Project description

The basic aim and concept of this design project ‘Soft Optics’ is to explore and understand the effects of the softness of light and inflatable objects between the users and their surrounding space. In addition, this project will investigate how stimuli and spatial feeling, for example with lights and various kinds of materials of installation, can influence and change the user’s states of perception for optimal immersion experience. Overall this will prove that architecture designers can stimulate and change the observer’s perception and states of consciousness through the using of soft materials in a space.

  • Which behaviours of soft architecture encourage conscious behaviours and change focus state of the observer?
  • How user can define optimal spatial experience with feedback loop of conscious state?

4.2 Series of Exercises

(1) Lights and Materials analysis

Before exploring diverse design exercises, we tested several materials to explore the influence of light in order to switch the observers’ focus with visual perception. The materials included a mirror board, iridescent film, fabric, mylar sheet, colour sheet and transparent pattern sheet. Through these experiments, we got extraordinary and unexpected effects including geometric reflection, multi-colour shadow and refraction.


 We decided that the ideal materials were the ones that resulted in clear and dramatic visual effects in the surrounding space. We realised that different materials produced effects of light that have the potential to generate extended behaviours and can shift focus state of users, and trigger observers’ reaction by attention. Not only are there visual aspects involved in feedback loop systems, but also the user’s sense of touch, which comes from the users’ movements. As a result, we did various experiments based on this stage of the users’ movements with inflatable material.

(2) Cube Space


Figure 8. Simulation of Cube Space


Figure 9. Inflate with reflection of lights


Figure 10. Testing change of conscious state with transparent cube


The first experiment focused on creating a space with a simple double layered inflatable objects using light as a source which can make geometric shadows. The effect of light with the transparent, colourful and inflatable cube was appropriate to create not only apperception of the observers’ visual perception but also phenomenal conscious state. We got several unexpected reactions from the observers, for example looking around the cube installation, approaching and touching the surface and the reflection of lights. This meant that the experiment has limitations, as it offered immediate physical feedback to the user about their behaviours.

The result of the first installation did not meet the desirable outcomes in aspect of shifting from apperception, phenomenal conscious state to immersion state which required immediate feedback. However, there was potentials with regard to offering apperception. The is because the user can recognize the other effects of light in their surrounding space situation especially in dark environments. Therefore, they can instinctively shift their attention and focus state. This led to further investigations exploring the scale of the installation, combining different sizes of modules in order to make more dramatic surrounding space and to create much more active participations of the users.

(3) Inflatable dome


The goal of the second exercise was to explore the huge scale of the installation, a large inflatable dome, with reflective and non-transparent materials. The results suggested that scale is one of the most primary factors for immersion state. The installation was placed in Museu do Amanha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The user was able to explore a unique space with the diffusion of light and a changing reflective environment. In addition, as people pass by the dome, they were immediately able to realise the sheer size of the dome, as well as movement and noise from those inside the dome. Therefore, observers outside the dome were able to extend their apperception to their behaviours with phenomenal consciousness. For example, they touched the surface of the dome and tried to enter into the dome. After the users entered into the inflatable dome, they experienced a totally different atmosphere between the outside world and the inside environment, resulting in rich and dynamic behaviours based on phenomenal consciousness. Through these behaviours, users can create an immersion state in a large reflective dome without the other perceptual stimulation from the outside. Although the dome does not have any physical feedback, the users themselves physically react with movement, trying to interact themselves.

Overall, we leant about the potential of enormous scale and the effects of reflection. However, instead of one large soft space, it seems to me that designing collection of soft optics will lead more effective communication which can create users own soft surrounding space.

(4) Urban Kaleidoscope

The third exercise used multi-modules of soft optics to define their space with the users’ spontaneous behaviours with their apperception and Phenomenal conscious state. With several soft modules suspended in space, the users can create their own conscious space.

Creating different sorts of light effects with reflections mylar and colours surrounding the iridescent inflatable module, we offered different focus states and attention to explore, with more inside of the urban kaleidoscope for the observer. Therefore, in this experiment, the behaviour of the observer has an important role in change surrounding environment.


Figure 11. Defining their own soft space


According to distance between each object and the user, the modules can inflate and deflate separately. The user can therefore construct their own private space, which can be changed randomly by their behaviours. However, the exercise had limitations in respect of simple and identical behaviours of whole soft optics.

The urban kaleidoscope exercise does not have a clear boundary, and creates only low level interaction with one behaviour. Therefore, the exercise led us to explore different movements of soft optics to create and define the users’ soft architecture with perceptual behaviours and rich sensory experience.

(5) Interactive Chandelier


Figure 12. Front view of Interactive Chandelier

The last concept explored was an interactive chandelier. The main aim was to combine several shapes and movements of soft optics which could respond collectively to the observer’s behaviours.


We achieved several movements with the inflatable objects, including folding, rolling up and using a transparent object to create a spatial pattern in a surrounding environment. For the the most outer layer, the inflatable objects can breathe consistently and make reflections with the surrounding natural lights. Thus, the interactive chandelier can evoke more different focus state than the previous exercise.


Figure 13. Section plan of Interactive Chandelier

As the user approaches near to the chandelier, it can open up the space for them, and the user can discover the other inflatable object which can lead them to explore inside. Through this step, the user can interact with the chandelier and can create their changeable private space. (See. Figure. 19) However, it was hard to enhance the user’s phenomenal conscious state with the small range of different behaviours of the soft optics. Therefore, this exercise led us to develop behaviours of the objects by dividing them into several separate group of soft optics.


  1. Soft Optics

5.1 Immersion experience in Soft Optics

Constructing active iterative processes of perception, realization and conscious behaviours, which can create and change surrounding environments is the crucial aim:

  • Input — Attention.
  • Process — Observer’s behaviour with Phenomenal consciousness.
  • Output — Immersion state and creating soft space.

We wanted to design several more main experimentations to offer attention which lead proper interaction between the user and understanding of their space. The previous series of exercises explored how people and a space can be tied together in different scales and behaviours of soft space with light and inflatables.

As a main design experimentation ‘Soft Optics’, the material notion of each layer – which can translate to different space – is designed for perceptual experience and has a much bigger scale of suspended installation than previous exercises.

Each layer has different features to create the flow experience, including both focus state and phenomenal consciousness. The following chapter will illustrate each layer in detail with an explanation of the behaviours and interplay between the conscious state and immersion experience.

5.2 Behaviours of Soft optics

(1) First behaviour — Triggering attention


Figure 14 First behavior of Soft Optics

  • Behaviour of inflatables: Breathing and Opening the gate to enter the dome
  • Material: Mylar
  • Effect of light: reflection

This aim of this stage is to attract attention (apperception in perceptual spectrum) of users as a first essential feature of the immersion experience. Behaviour of the most outer layer in general is breathing and indicating the inside of the inflatable space. When users recognize the folding behaviour on one side of dome, they would try to communicate to the inflatables. Thus, folding behaviour of the dome can create users’ apperception and conscious behaviour with the small gate which can make users feel more curious. Users’ attention is expanded and constructs conscious behaviour when entering in the dome, as viewers can discover totally the different atmosphere inside in comparison to the outside world. In this situation, the focus state will be shifted automatically to the inflatable spheres as a new spatial experience within their visual perception.

(2) Second behaviour — Starting physical interaction


Figure 15. Inner space


  • Behaviour of inflatables: Changing scale of each sphere
  • Materials: Iridescent sheet and PVC
  • Effect of light: Refraction and repeating shadow

Merging the first behaviour and the second behaviour of physical interaction can create a more dramatic surrounding. In addition, a large amount of inflatable spheres can induce several conscious behaviours with the following senses: touching, hearing, seeing.

The transparent and iridescent spheres will not able to respond without observers’ behaviours because of the sensors. Therefore, the spheres could have conductive material which could respond when the observer tries to touch the object. In this case it seems that attention is expanded and reaches phenomenal consciousness. When users touch each sphere, the sphere can inflate and deflate, creating a different scale.  Therefore, the effect of light and inflatables of the surrounding environment make immediate feedback by sensory behaviours. Thus, the observers can receive immediate and clear feedback from the installation, and realise that their role can create different space and atmosphere around them. As a result, they can generate different versions of the immersive architecture, which is not static due to sensory information.

(3) Third behaviour — Creating immersive soft space


Figure 16. Effects of light in the middle of dome

  • Behaviour of inflatables: Changing angle and direction of reflection
  • Materials: Mirror and Strong light source
  • Effect of light: reflection

If focus state and Phenomenal consciousness of the user from first behaviour, such as breathing and opening the gate, to the second behaviour of changing scale of each sphere, they will explore more to discover new space in the installation with their expectation. In the very middle of the dome, the most important space for creating the whole effect of light is made by a strong light source and mirrors with an inflatable structure that can control the angle and direction of reflection. The strong light and mirror can cover the whole inner space and change the visual perception of users gradually. The user can realise easily the changing and combination of light effect on the floor because they have already experienced it in the previous behaviours.

As a result, when users perceive each type of behaviour from soft optics, apperception in whole perceptual spectrum can be trigged with mainly visual and tactile sensory modalities. Also, if observers have a clear sense of control and inner goal about the surrounding physical space, the interplay of their perception and immediate feedback from soft optics arouse the observers’ needs and roles in a feedback loop, fulfilling phenomenal consciousness. As all states of consciousness are overlapped, an optimal state of immersion will be created.


  1. Conclusion

Reviewing the three objectives which are explained in the introduction, the following conclusions can be argued:

  1. The theoretical objective:

“Flow” is an optimal experience with voluntary participation and clear interaction in the given environment, including intrinsic motivation, balance in personal skills and challenge level and involvement (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega, 1992). Within this context, perceptual aspect and understanding of the conscious state need to be considered. In the wider spectrum of perception and state of consciousness, apperception – meaning a perception by attention and concentration – for embodiment to their space, and phenomenal consciousness, which is related to human senses, for clear interaction can be the crucial for immersion experience in surroundings. Since, apperception triggers humans to reach phenomenal conscious state with sensible perception, and the apperception create spontaneous and instinctive behaviours of users which construct phenomenal consciousness. Phenomenal consciousness, which is caused by perceptual activities, provokes sensory experiences with immediate feedback loop. Therefore, if these two elements link well in a surrounding, immersive state of users with a space can be built.

  1. The design objective:

In this paper, softness of light and inflatable architecture were covered as soft architecture.  Effect of light triggers visual perception which offer apperception, attention and focus state, in a surrounding. For diverse behaviours of light, inflatable architecture was considered as another design method. Inflatable architecture helps to generate not only several effects of light but perceptual activities based on phenomenal consciousness of the user, because characterises of materials and soft tactile feeling create interactivity with sensory feedback loop. Through the series of exercises with these soft materials, it can be argued that space is created by an integration of the consciousness of the users, behaviours of light and inflatables.

  1. The parallels objective:

The aim of the parallels objective was considering interconnection between phenomenal consciousness and immersion experience in terms of soft architecture with softness of light and inflatable architecture. The ‘Soft Optics’ project offered different effects of lights in each soft layer, including reflection and refraction, scale and changing direction of soft behaviour, where we were able to shift the user’s attention immediately. Therefore, the focus state extended to their unconscious behaviour with past experience and expectation. The user was able to create a feedback loop with their own state of consciousness by interacting with the physical soft architecture, which is shaped and defined by conscious behaviours and sensory systems enabling the user focuses their attention (Carruthers, 2000, p.13., Tye, 1995, pp.84-87).

It can be concluded that the surrounding space with effects of light and inflatable architecture can adapt to the user’s immersion state by apperception and Phenomenal consciousness.

Architecture is never static as it relies on the process of human perception. The more immersive the environment, with light modulation and soft inflatable materials, the better the methods are in order to create a state of consciousness for immersion state. Of course the factors which are based on psychological aspects of human beings can have limits. Nonetheless, as the paper explained above, through these factors the various states of consciousness of the user can be altered by their behaviours when immersed in a space. This method of approach can also be implemented in different scale of space with a different light source and soft materials.

This paper contributes some basic ideas for creating optimal immersion state in a space, and generating close relationship between apperception, phenomenal consciousness and surroundings. Most importantly, we need to understand the perception spectrum further in order to be able to offer communication between an installation and the user. This should be clear and distinct, with a crucial consideration of researching the importance, necessity and possibility of immersion experience. Also, apart from this design approach, the elements need to express and apply to diverse space for break limited immersive environment.


Further Research

This paper is a part of my research on how architecture designers can change user and ideal consciousness for immersive experience with spatial interactivity. Achieving interaction between visitors, soft material – light and inflatables – and a surrounding space was proposed to trigger apperception and phenomenal consciousness with human senses. The next stage of ‘Soft Optics’ project will concentrate on enhancing varying effects of light in transformative space. Along the same lines, it might suggest a further exploration about behaviours of soft space with effects of light and inflatable material. This research contributes towards the potential possibilities towards interconnection between human consciousness and the field of soft architecture and relationship between users’ inner architecture and physical architecture around us.



Anapolitanos, D, A., 1999. Leibniz: Representation, Continuity and the Spatiotemporal, Science and Philosophy. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Carruthers, P., 2000. Phenomenal Consciousness: A Naturalistic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1975a. Play and intrinsic rewards, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol.15(3), pp.41-63.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1975b. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1980. The experience of freedom in daily life. American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol.8(4), pp.401-414.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1990. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. USA: Harper & Row.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1997. Finding Flow. New York: Basic Books.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 2000. Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Hermanson, K., 1995. Intrinsic Motivation in Museums: What makes Visitors want to Learn?. Museum News, 74(3), pp.34-37, pp.59-62.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Selega, I., 1992. Optimal experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Damasio, A., 1999. The feeling of what happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of consciousness. New York: Harcourt.

Dennett, D.C., 1991. Consciousness explained. London: Penguin.

Dennett, D.C., 1996. Kinds of minds: towards an understanding of consciousness. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Gregory, R.L., 1998. Eye and Brain: the psychology of seeing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewallen, C., 2004. Ant Farm, 1968-1978. University of California Press.

Lou, M., 1996. Light: the shape and space: designing with space and light. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Negroponte, N., 1975. Soft architecture machines. Cambridge:  MIT press.

Martin, D. and Glyn, W., 1993. Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Oregan, J. and Noe, A., 2001. A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol.24(5), pp.939-973.

Rosenthal, D.M. and Josh, W., 2009. Higher-order theories of consciousness, The oxford Handbooks in Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press, Chapter 14.

Turrell, J., Sinnnreich, U. and Unna, K., 2009. Geometry of Light. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

Tye, M., 1995. The Burning House. Thomas Metzinger (ed), Consciousness Experience, Imprint Academic & Paderborn, pp. 81-90.

Kulstad, M. and Carlin, M., 1997. Leibniz’s Philosophy of Mind. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University.

Wihart, M., 2015. The Architecture of Soft Machines. University College London.

William, M. and Pete, S., 2015. Air structures. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Sources for illustrations

Figure 1. Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1997. Finding Flow. New York: Basic Books.

Figure 2. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 3. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 4. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 5. Retrieved on 17 June 2016

Figure 6. Retrieved on 18 June 2016

Figure 7. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 8. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 9. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 10. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 11. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 12. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 13. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 14. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 15. Kim, H. (2015)

Figure 16. Kim, H. (2015)

Videos of the project.

Submit a Comment