in Final Project, Process, Research

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

The information below are extracted directly from ‘The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses’ by Juhani Pallasmaa. Only relevant information will be written and it will be paraphrased and be included in my final report.

Book: The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

Author: Juhani Pallasmaa

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Ltd in 2012, First published in 1996

Purpose of this book: This book explains the idea of relationship between architecture and the senses of the human. It explains how one informs the other, creating an exchange between the two. The book further progresses and explains architecture as a metaphysical ideology that strengthened the individual’s self-being.

The essential mental task of buildings is accommodation and integration. They project our human measures and sense of order into the measureless and meaningless natural space. Architecture does not make us inhabit worlds of mere fabrication and fantasy; it articulates the experience of our being-in-the-world and strengthens our sense of reality and self. – Page 12

The sense of self, strengthened by art and architecture, also permits us to engage fully in the mental dimensions of dream, imagination and desire. Buildings and cities provide the horizon for the understanding and confronting of the human existential condition. – Page 13

The ultimate meaning of any building is beyond architecture; it directs our consciousness back to the world and towards our own sense of self and being. Profound architecture makes us experience our embodied and spiritual beings. – Page 13

Architecture, as with all art, is fundamentally confronted with questions of human existence in space and time; it expresses and relates man’s being in the world. Architecture is deeply engaged in the metaphysical questions of the self and the world, interiority, exteriority, time and duration, life and death. – Page 19

Architecture is our primary instrument in relating us with space and time, giving these dimensions a human measure. – Page 19

The task of art and architecture in general is to reconstruct the experience of an undifferentiated interior world, in which we are not mere spectators, but to which we inseparably belong. – Page 28

It is evident that the architecture of traditional cultures is also essentially connected with the tacit wisdom of the body, instead of being visually and conceptually dominated. Construction in traditional cultures is guided by the body in the same way that a bird shapes its nest by movements of its body. – Page 29

As buildings lose their plasticity, and their connection with the language and wisdom of the body, they become isolated in the cool and distant realm of vision. With the loss of tactility, measures and details crafted for the human body – particularly for the hand – architectural structures become repulsively flat, sharp-edged, immaterial and unreal. – Page 34

Architecture and the Human Figure

Caryatids of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis of Athens (421-405 BC), British Museum, London. Image from

We tend to interpret a building as an analogue to our body, and vice versa.

Perspecta 8 1963: 17 by Aulis Blomstedt

Image from

Since the dynasties of ancient Egypt, measures of the human body have been used in architecture. The anthropocentric tradition has been almost entirely forgotten in modern times.

Sensory experiences become integrated through the body, or rather, in the very constitution of the body and the human mode of being. Our bodies and movements are in constant interaction with the environment; the world and the self inform and redefine each other constantly. The percept of the body and the image of the world turn into one single continuous existential experience. – Page 44

To at least some extent every place can be remembered, partly because it is unique, but partly because it has affected our bodies and generated enough associations to hold it in our personal worlds. – Body, Memory and Architecture (Kent C Bloomer and Charles W Moore) – Page 44

A walk through a forest is invigorating and healing due to the constant interaction of all sense modalities. The eye collaborates with the body and the other senses. One’s sense of reality is strengthened and articulated by this constant interaction. Architecture is essentially an extension of nature into the man-made realm, providing the ground for perception and the horizon of experiencing and understanding the world. – Page 44

Every touching experience of architecture is multi-sensory; qualities of space, matter and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton and muscle. Architecture strengthens the existential experience, one’s sense of being in the world, and this is essentially a strengthened sense of self. – Page 45

The City of Participation vs. The City of Alienation

The city of sensory engagement

Pieter Bruegal the Elder, Children’s Games, (1560)

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The city of sensory deprivation

Thames Town, near Shanghai, China. 

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An architectural work generates an indivisible complex of impressions. – Page 48

An architectural work is not experienced as a collection of isolated visual pictures, but in its fully embodied material and spiritual presence. – Page 48

The door pull is the handshake of a building, which can be inviting and courteous, or forbidding or aggressive. – Page 67

Door pull in Korundi Art Museum in Rovaniemi

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When experiencing a structure, we unconsciously mimic its configuration with our bones and muscles: the pleasurably animated flow of a piece of music is subconsciously transformed into bodily sensation, the composition of an abstract painting is considered as tensions in the muscular system, and the structures of a building are unconsciously imitated and comprehended through the skeletal system.  – Page 72

(My understanding) The author is trying to say the architecture becomes a metaphor for the body or vice versa.

  • The music played in the building – Bodily sensations 
  • Abstract paintings in the building – Muscle tensions of the body
  • Structure, foundation, frame – Skeleton of the body

We have an innate capacity for remembering and imaging places. Perception, memory and imagination are in constant interaction; the domain of presence fuses into images of memory and fantasy. – Page 72

The architecture of Michelangelo does not present symbols of melancholy; his buildings actually mourn. When experiencing a work of art, a curious exchange takes place; the work projects its aura, and we project our own emotions and percepts on the work. – Page 74

(My understanding) When we see a (or any) building, we build a relationship with the architecture based on our understanding, knowledge and how we create exchange, interaction with the place. The architecture influences us and we project our understanding of its influence back to it.

The timeless task of architecture is to create embodied and lived existential metaphors that concretise and structure our beings in the world. Architecture reflects, materialises and eternalises ideas and images of ideal life. Architecture enables us to perceive and understand the dialectics of permanence and change, to settle ourselves in the world, and to pace ourselves in the continuum of culture and time. – Page 76