Vision is a Learned Practice

architect Juhani Pallasmaa
interviewed by Maroje Mrduljaš, Tomislav Pavelić


Interviewed in Dašekovo on 23 May 2015


Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa confirms the possibility, even the need for writing a specific, personal, to some extent also localized architectural thought into the global discourse. His multicultural approach is unburdened by theoretical fads, and engages a whole range of references of very different backgrounds, through which he supports his analyses of the relationship between man and architecture. In a number of his seminal books, such as The Eyes of the Skin, or in his collections of essays Encounters I and II, he critically advocates the understanding of architecture through the lived, haptic experience, which has its roots in the Nordic tradition. Such approach is, of course, built into the experiences of contemporaneity so that Pallasmaa has recently directed his interests towards neurosciences, opening up a whole new area of research.


ORIS —  I would like to start with your today’s lecture and also with your book, Understanding Architecture, in which you base your discourse on experience of architecture. In the book, you are putting forward the understanding of architecture as embodied experience, in opposition to architecture as a purely visual sensation, which is a dominant perception of architecture today. Do you think that it is necessary to put such a strong statement against one possible approach in favour of something else?


Juhani Pallasmaa — I think so, because things are dramatically wrong. For instance, the dominance of vision is already pathological. It is a fact that no architecture school, until now, has been concerned with peripheral and unfocused vision. The entire theory of architecture is about focused vision. But when you see something in focus, by definition you are outside of what you see. How can we speak of architecture, which is being inside of space, through those terms? I think we cannot. We have to acknowledge that we become participants in space through peripheral, unfocused and embodied vision. Our experience of the world is fundamentally a haptic and body experience. We experience space through our embodied sense of being as much as through vision. So there are very fundamental attitudes starting from architectural theory through education to practice, that need to be reconsidered. I have started, more than twenty years ago, the criticism of the hegemony vision. Now I am convinced that I’m right about it, that architecture is not limited to the five Aristotelian senses at all; we could well be concerned with a dozen senses; Steinerian philosophy, in fact, identifies twelve senses. There is a recent book called The Sixth Sense Reader, in which one of the writers categorizes thirty three systems in which we are in sensory relationship with the world. So the whole issue of how architecture works on us is very complex.