The relationship between the body and the environment is that of a perceptive nature, we are imminently ties to our spatial occupancy through inhabitation of our body. As Merleau-Ponty writes in Phenomenology of Perception, “To be a body is to be tied to a certain world, as we have seen; our body is not primarily in space: it is of it.” The reception of this spatiality, however, seems to be a compounded effect of our hapticity and our physical body communicating the spatial relationship through a series of forces, as Merleau-Ponty explains in his blind-man-walking-stick example. What became more apparent through this example is that the extension of the physical body includes architecture as a permanent vehicle for these forces. Architecture demands physical contact with the body and thus can work in a symbiotic relationship to communicate spatiality. Where I disagree with Merleau-Ponty is his suggestion that a work of art is comparable to the body. While I understand that they both must be understood through a temporal physical experience, there is a difference in each of their abilities to affect eternally. This mostly pertains to the art of language because it may be written or spoken which Merleau-Ponty identifies yet does not go further to consider the passing on of song and story. This may be a consideration in the same respect as the body’s memory which Merleau-Ponty touches on when he talks about “a grouping of lived through meanings which moves towards it equilibrium,” but falls short of analyzing the ability of the body to retain memory and how that may affect future perception of spatial reality. If the body can foresee spatial relationships through the experiential memory, we may see a change in architecture’s ability to convey volume and create new spatial experiences.
The human subject has taken on a new role, in fact a reduced role in the construction of contemporary architecture as defined by Peter Eisenman in his essay Visions Unfolding: Architecture in the Age of Electronic Media. Eisenman talks about the role of vision in formation of space; where the body has historically understood its personal orientation through the “sight-mind construct,” the “electronic paradigm” now demands that the body “no longer can be put together in the normalizing, classicizing, or traditional construct of vision.” Rather, the “electronic paradigm,” much like the example of the fax that Eisenman begins with, creates an architecture of vision which looks back at the subject, causing the body to be affected by the new orientation of the “sight-mind construct.” This is brought on by a folding of space as Eisenman references Deleuzian theory of the objective and subjective, on either side of a mobius strip, blurring the boundaries of what Eisenman considers the classical “form walls.” Eisenman identifies, through the lens if the technological zeitgeist, an opportunity to fold architecture into new volumes. “Folding changes the tradition space of vision,” writes Eisenman, to an “affective space which concerns aspects that are not associated with the effective, that are more than reason, meaning, and function.” By detaching reason from vision, Eisenman purports the need for new communication in architecture. The line in the Cartesian plane will no longer suffice, there is a desire to express electronically, in a medium not yet fully understood by all who are affected. Regardless, Eisenman’s argument is successful in favor of Deleuze’s folded space amongst this new ecology.
The representation of body in architecture is presented as a phallocentric ideal by Agrest. She forwardly suggests that the male body replaces the female body, and in doing so may fulfill its desire to facilitate life in much the same way the womb of the female does. Here, the notion of the center becomes the focal point for the body in space. The way in which the female relates too this experience varies greatly from that of the male, which has been the dominant driving force in spatial formation throughout classical architecture. The strength and rigidity of the classical orders are inherently male in character while contemporary works are moving into the female qualities of flow, soft boundaries, and a tendency towards cradling the body, and wrapping it with space, versus the traditional square framing of the body in space.
Agrest’s take on the city as the motherly body is more adept at creating an architectural analogy whereby the population and aggregation of physical space within the urban context makes up the city, and yet it relies on a constitutional control from a greater level. That controlling female figure is mother nature at its best, not in the sense of the trees and the grass, but our human nature to condition and curate our spaces.