Body, Space, and Technology – Part 1

Body and space interacting together

Today, we discuss how our bodies and mind relate to our surrounding work space and to all the elements present in that space including technology. This concept needs to be understood to create a truly human-centric work environment

This is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, steps in the creation of good work environments. It should come before the more obvious ones such as identifying the quantity and quality of air, water, color temperature and light. 

Other overlooked steps include understanding the meaning of the term “work environment”. There are many types of “work” and different definitions of “environment”.  Another is how to compose these elements specifically for each work environment to support the type of tasks or work being performed in it—such as a space for meetings, producing objects/reports, or taking a rest.  Designing a good office or home office is like making music.

The configuration of these different environments must be in correct order and balance to give people a harmonious experience and the freedom to interact with and within the space. This will be discussed in more detail in future articles.

Body and space interacting together

Body as a part of space

Let us delve further into body and space which is the main topic of this article.  We tend to forget that we are a part of whatever space we are in.  In western thinking, the “logical” convention is that architecture (the built environment), is an object. Therefore, as an object, it has functions, certain efficiencies related to said functions, and certain degrees of beauty. In early definitions of “sustainable architecture”, one of the premises was that built objects should not harm the earth or environment. 

The conventional view is that a human being is an object, within the built object. However, in reality, we as human beings are a living and participatory part of the spaces we inhabit: We move around within it, use it, see, and feel it in first-person perspective, and respond to it.  This is more the Japanese or Eastern understanding philosophy around the built environment.

Testuo Watsuji, a Japanese ethicist, said in his famous book A Climate, “… the instant that the cold is discovered, we are already outside in the cold. Therefore, the basic essence of what is “present outside” is not a thing or object such as the cold, but we ourselves.”

If you are a movie fan, you might know the films of director, Yasujiro Ozu.  In his films, he often shows space, a house or a street, through the eyes of the character instead of the traditional bird’s eye view perspective. As the character moves, the space he or she sees, transforms accordingly. When the space transforms, i.e., from a wide street to a narrow one, the character acts differently, with smaller and slower movements, which implies the changes in his senses and feelings in relation to the altering space.

This first-person perspective, our unique addition to the human-centric approach, deepens the understanding of human-space relationship and interactivity and greatly expands the possibility of the environment as something that works for us.

Understanding Body and Space Using Technology

What does the understanding of body and mind, as a part of space, mean in terms of having the work environment work for us?  What kind of tools are needed and where should we focus special attention to achieve this goal?  One possible answer is to visualize the space and the body in the space, to better comprehend environments and their influence on us.  In other words, identify the essential environmental elements to determine how they are changing from one moment to the next and the impact that has on people.  We can therefore characterize how the body and mind responds to the changing environment. We can use relevant technological instruments (such as EEG) to document the continuous shifts taking place in the senses and other physical responses. 

In Part 2 of this article, we will continue the discussion of body and space and show how available technology can be used to create and monitor the relationship between them.

(Written by Yoko Kawai and Yvonne Burton)