A personal attempt on the exploration of Spatial Beauty.
Spatial beauty is to me a sensual overwhelming feeling of deep satisfaction that overcomes me, an intense pleasure that I feel deeply within my mind. The apparent perfection triggers an incredible enthusiasm in me, increasing my lust. It can motivate me, seduce me, even force me to create something that is just as beautiful, perfect and overwhelming.
Within a setting or a space that triggers such a feeling of Spatial Beauty, my mind is free to wander, as it seems to be stimulated and liberated from all constraints. I consider Spatial Beauty to be memorable moments, instants that pass by, but which I will not so easily forget.
When I speak of Spatial Beauty, I am less concerned with the actual classical definition of the word beautiful in the sense of aesthetics, but rather with the feeling that is transported, that rises and spreads within me.
Architecture frames our life and its design can be seen as a tool to emphasize our humanity (1)*. In the context of space we feel Spatial Beauty. Different spaces can stimulate us in many different ways and make us enjoy staying there longer and more often, or enjoy performing certain activities there, like working, sleeping, reading. We intuitively find certain spaces more beautiful and pleasant than others. I think, in order to be able to recognise this feeling of Spatial Beauty, there is no particular training as an architect or artist necessary.
In architectural education I learned how to design and plan a space, but I know no better than non-architects what beautiful architecture is. However, shouldn’t it be my goal as an architect to design the built environment in such a way that this feeling of Spatial Beauty is evoked in the users?
For Spatial Beauty both space and viewer are fundamental.
“ That the world as it appears to us is bright because we have eyes; full of sound because we have ears; solid because we have a sense of touch, and that in reality it arises merely from different vibrations, which are absolutely looked at, mute and immaterial.” (2)*
The perception of the spatial environment and its Spatial Beauty occurs entirely through the senses. Using the five different senses, which all react to different impulses, one forms and creates an image of the surrounding space. Everything that one believes to understand through the senses is then usually described as reality and its existence is not questioned. Yet "[one] create[s] reality as [one] go[es] through space." (3)* During a rational description of the environment, one only describes what reality looks like in one's own imagination. (4)*
The knowledge is based purely on the experience and subjective or learned interpretation of the sensory experiences and one actually knows nothing about the true, truthful and real existence of the surrounding space.
If the senses, the sensors for the stimuli, were to disappear, the perception of the external space would also disappear. What role does real space play when the knowledge of its existence is only derived from personal perception?
Is the existence of the reality of space even essential, if Spatial Beauty takes place only in the head anyway and is a result of brain reactions? Why shouldn't the imagination and the dream be as essential and real as perception?(5)* Actually, the imagination or dream creates the same image as the apparent reality, because "everything imagined [exists] simply by being imagined"(6)*. Spatial Beauty thus lies more in the perceived space than in the visible and real space.
Must architects then continue to concern themselves with beautiful planning if the perception of Spatial Beauty cannot be specifically determined by the built environment? Is detailed planning through floor plans and sections still necessary, even though those do not really say anything, because in the end it is all about how the person perceives it? The viewer as the subject is essential to perceive Spatial Beauty. But what is the subject, how relevant and how determined is it? Is the subject, the self, not just a product of the built environment? (7)* Perhaps there is only the built environment that shapes us and defines our perception of Spatial Beauty. Just as we understand the subject as a consciously influencing force, so perhaps the object is just as capable, however subconsciously and passively, of changing the subject. Is the inner life also just a product of the outer? Perhaps there is neither subject nor object, but both exist at the same time and real space and viewers are in constant mutual interaction and interplay.
Spatial Beauty is a construct of one’s own mind.
“Perception without conception, [Kant] said, is blind; while conception without perception is empty.”(8)*
The eye, the nose, the ears, the tongue and the skin are body organs that, like sensors, absorb stimulation. These stimulations, which act on the organs, are neutral, are perceived and then deciphered and interpreted in a certain way. Without this moment of decipherment of the perceived, the so called conception, one perceives everything that is around oneself, but would not understand what the senses tell oneself. It would be a jumble of information that makes no sense at all to the human being. One might see everything, but would be blind at the same time. Vice versa, one cannot grasp without perceiving. Conception and perception are connected at all times and could not exist without each other.
During the act of perception one makes a kind of 'perceptual classification', while searching in the 'filing system of [our] mind'(9)* for a suitable form or an auxiliary construction, testing how it fits best and then projecting it onto space. This system of [our] mind fills up during our life with different experiences and emotions through self-experience, learning and dreaming. Everything we see forces us to reflect, during which it is matched with our individual filing system and placed in a familiar construct. This act of projecting and classifying is the deciphering, the perception and a fundamental process in the interpretation of perception. The understanding of concepts and objects is elementary in all kinds of interaction with the environment, which is why these constructs or auxiliary constructions are the basic elements of thinking and help to understand them.
Spatial Beauty is such a construct, a mental auxiliary construction with which we evaluate our environment. It depends on how our mind, during the act of interpretation, deciphers and classifies the perceived surrounding space. Spatial Beauty is thus an image and a construct of our mind and our feelings.
Spatial Beauty is a deeply internalized concept.
“Laws of nature are human inventions, like ghosts. Laws of logic, of mathematics are also human inventions, like ghosts. The whole blessed thing is a human invention, including the idea that it isn’t a human invention. (...) We see what we see because these ghosts show it to us, ghosts of Moses and Christ and the Buddha, and Plato, and Descartes, and Rousseau and Jefferson and Lincoln”(10)*
Through the act of conception we project familiar rules, patterns and concepts onto what we perceive and by doing so decipher it. We do not record the world as it actually is, but only how our mind makes sense of it. While we try to describe something rationally, we only use concepts that we have learned and some mind has invented in the past. Although concepts such as space, time, substance and continuity cannot be seen, we understand them and have internalized them. They are all inventions of scientists and philosophers, among others. Even the fact that they are not inventions is an invention itself. We learn these concepts and internalize them in such a way that we declare them to be reality. (11)*
There is no such thing as absolute, pure Spatial Beauty. (12)* It is also a concept that is defined differently by cultures and societies. Shaped by history, experience of societies, religion and special personalities, Spatial Beauty is not always triggered by the same environments.
Through these learned concepts we already approach spaces with a certain expectation.
Things must be the way they are in order to be perceived as Spatial Beauty. This can be characterized by a general consensus in society, a general view that something is perceived as beautiful.
One has learned to evaluate certain things as spatially beautiful. One has internalized these concepts in such a way that they are no longer conscious as concepts. "Psychologists call such levels of expectations 'mental set' (...). All culture and all communication depend on the interplay between expectation and observation, the waves of fulfilment, disappointment, right guesses, and wrong moves that make up our daily life." (13)*
Spatial Beauty is a conscious decision.
“Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. (...) I choose to see the beauty.” (14)*
Based on our culture, origin, or the so-called mental set, we have already internalized certain concepts to such an extent that we are no longer aware of them as concepts. They are called reality, and spaces are thus countered with certain expectations. This expectation of a space "compromises the attitudes and expectations which will influence our perceptions and make us ready to see, or hear, one thing rather than another." (15)*
But every space always has more than one underlying nature that can be viewed, but "[o]nce a projection, a reading, finds anchorage in the image in front of us, it becomes much more difficult to detach it.” (16)*
Spatial Beauty is therefore not necessarily a quality of a space, but a decision about which perspective to look at, because there is always more than one. It is based on internalised concepts, which have a lot of influence on one.
One can become aware that no evaluation can be obligatory in order to face the spaces with an open mind. In doing so, the attempt is made to reflect on or forget as many learned and internalized concepts as possible in order to see and experience the spaces in a new way and to intentionally bring about an aesthetic moment. These expectations one has of a surrounding can be consciously controlled by changing and opening up one's attitude.
Although it is still the same space, it can be seen completely differently depending on how it is perceived. A conscious and reflected decision changes everything. In the sixteenth letter on aesthetic teaching, Schiller distinguishes between 'the reflective man', who 'conceives of virtue, truth, happiness', and 'the man of action', who 'only exercise virtues, only apprehend truths, only enjoy happy days'. (17)* The prerequisite for this decision is reflection, the resulting awareness, the will and patience to deal with it.
If I can always decide how I see the space, there are consequently no spaces that are spatially beautiful, but Spatial Beauty is the result of the decision for which observation image and being one chooses. Therefore everything can be beautiful, it is only a question of our decision from which perspective we perceive the space. Nobody is able to tell what is right and what is wrong, or what is true and what is untrue, just as nobody can tell what is spatially beautiful and what is not spatially beautiful.
Text & Images by: Karina Andree
All the rights are reserved to the author of the pictures. Full credits Karina Andree
1. Dadich, Scott (Prod.). Ilse Crawford: Interior Design. Abstract: The Art of Design. [Netflix series] Season 1, Episode 8. RadicalMedia, 2017.
2. de Pawlowski, Gaston. (1912) Reise ins Land der vierten Dimension. Berlin: zero sharp, 2016. p. 10; translation by the author.
3. Dadich, Scott (Prod.). Olafur Eliasson: The Design of Art. Abstract: The Art of Design. [Netflix series] Season 2, Episode 1. RadicalMedia, 2017.
4. Cf. Bachelard, Gaston. (1958). The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. p. 139
5. C.f. Bachelard, Gaston. (1958). The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. p. 177
6. de Pawlowski, Gaston. (1912) Reise ins Land der vierten Dimension. Berlin: zero sharp, 2016. pp. 113-115; translation by the author
7. Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. HarperCollins e-books, 2009. (Kindle-Version). pp. 126. “In all of the Oriental religions great value is placed on the Sanskrit doctrine of Tat tvam asi, “Thou art that,” which asserts that everything you think you are and everything you think you perceive are undivided.”
8. Kant, Immanuel. (1789). Critique of Pure Reason. cited from: Prof. Perry, Ralph Barton. Philosophy - Introduction to Kant. The Harvard Classics, 1909-14. available on: <https://www.bartleby.com/60/144.html> [February 10th 2020]
9. Gombrich, Ernst. Art and Illusion - A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon Press, 1984. p. 147
10. Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. HarperCollins e-books, 2009. (Kindle-Version). pp. 31-32.
11. C.f. Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. HarperCollins e-books, 2009. (Kindle-Version). pp. 31-32.
12. Li, Xiaodong and Yeo, Kang Shua. 中国空间 Chinese Conception of Space. Beijing: Tsinghua University Press, 2007. p. 51. “all space is shaped and defined by culture, there is no such thing as absolute (pure) space.” 13. Gombrich, Ernst. Art and Illusion - A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon Press, 1984. p. 50
14. Nolan, Jonathan & Joy, Lisa. “The Original”. Westworld. [TV series] Season 1, Episode 1. United States: Warner Bros Television, 2016.
15. Gombrich, Ernst. Art and Illusion - A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon Press, 1984. p. 149
16. Gombrich, Ernst. Art and Illusion - A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. London: Phaidon Press, 1984. p. 181
17. Schiller, Friedrich. On the Aesthetic Education of Man. cited from: Donoghue, Denis. Speaking of Beauty. In: Daedalus, Vol. 131, No. 4, On Beauty. (Fall, 2002). pp. 11-20. “to achieve instead of moral practices, morality, instead of things known, knowledge, instead of happy experiences, happiness, is the business of physical and ethical education; to make Beauty from beautiful objects is the task of aesthetic education.”