The Art of Touch:
Architecture Encouraging Intimacy
Published on the 13thof November, 2018
Our protagonist lays in her shelter during a night of a heavy storm. She does not think she has heard thunder roaring as loudly before. She feels scared and curls up in a fetal position, hoping that the storm would soon subside. Beside her, lays man… her companion. They are both lying by one another in an effort to brave the storm. Their shelter is small allowing them both to sit close to one another, and suddenly they hold hands. Our protagonist needed to feel that she is not alone in her fear, and somehow, feeling that man is sitting so close to her makes her feel safe. In between lighting flashes and thunder strikes she loses herself in feeling comfortable and connected with man. They embrace, they know they will be safe through the night. They look forward to a future together tomorrow.
Is it safe to say that we have become afraid of intimacy?
This article will not tackle “touch” in a merely haptic sense (“why is it important that people use their sense of touch to explore architecture” type of talk), but on how architectural enclosures should encourage people to engage with one another in varying degrees of intimacy (why is it important that people use their sense of touch to explore other people and how can architecture help” type of talk).
Out of all the five senses, “touch” seems to be the one that establishes a sense of “reality”. As our protagonist interacts with her fellow human, she could see him in front of her, hears him speak, and could even maybe smell his piercing aftershave (or worse yet, body odur); yet she could convince herself that all the above could be her brain playing tricks on her, a figment of her imagination, or maybe even a dream. In order to convince herself she is living a “reality”, more often or not she will need to reach out and touch him to ensure that he is not some kind of a mirage. This is where the whole “pinch yourself to make sure you are not in a dream” talk comes from, as we often need to feel something brush up against our skin to make sure that we are not living in our own airy bubble in the astral plane.
When two such individuals touch (be it by brushing up against one another, deliberately shaking hands, or engaging in more touch friendly activities) their perceived imaginary astral bubbles burst as they are subtly reminded that they are not alone in this existence, and energy of both souls are exchanged. If it is an unintentional brushing up against someone else, such energy could be shocking or unwanted, leaving one or both parties irritated or surprised; the handshake allows each individual get a sense of what the other is about; and other touch friendly activities allows people to get to know one another in a more intimate sense (with varying degrees).
Our social, personal and intimate enclosures allow and perhaps encourages people to get to exchange such energy with one another through touch. Spaces that allows the individual to become at ease is even undisturbed when such an unintentional brush occurs – not jolt or spasm of energy is evident as the exchange of energy becomes natural. Such spaces are considered to be beautiful designed as they facilitate such communication between people, albeit unbeknownst to them that they are being encouraged to do so in the first place.
Nowadays, the way we architects design our cities, urban spaces, residential blocks and homes seem to promote isolation rather than interconnection. We have heard the previous generation’s claustrophobic call to segregation and the addition of more space between us and our fellow man all too well and have taken our design intentions to the other extreme. We boast and celebrate our introduced of the gated community, which when you really think about it is a bit of an oxymoron (an isolated community with no real intention with integrating with neighboring communities, allowing the sense of connectivity to be completely broken once stepping out of our comfort zone of the gate), and we do not realize the psychological effect this has placed on all future generations. The invisible personal bubble surrounding our physical bodies has tripled in expansion, and we allow less and less individuals to penetrate said bubble using their hand to place on our shoulders. Think about it for a second, how many people do you feel comfortable allowing them to place on your shoulder? Not that many I bet … why do you think that is? Why do you and I get so irritated when someone we know does something as harmless as place a hand for a second or two on our shoulder? Do you think that we as a community would be able to connect with one another, forgive one another, love one another and understand one another if we allowed each other to be more touch friendly with one another?
It is my belief that the reason we are feeling more and more isolated from fellow members of our community is because over the past few decades we have been accustomed to a built environment that has encouraged us to become more isolationist and give higher importance to our need for security over our need to connect with one another. Our enclosures do not encourage us to touch one another, and unfortunately, it seems that we have forgotten how to do so. It is time we change that.
We need to forgo with all the concept of “gated” in our communities. We need to build spaces with the suitable dimensions to facilitate conversation in all public, social, personal and intimate discourses and settings. We need to design our leisure activities to allow for connectivity and communication with others rather than short term self-gratification. We need to realize that whatever we do in the macro level of design becomes influential in the micro level of how human beings interact with each other We need to understand that the choices we make as designers today affect the behavioral patterns of our future generations tomorrow, coming all the way down to how they share intimate touches with one another.
Until next month 🙂
Mahmoud M M Riad
Director of RiadArchitecture