The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses Book Report

The book The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses is written by Juhani Pallasmaa. It provides the readers with a unique way of perceiving the architecture by incorporating all of the five senses. A small, yet influential essay of Pallasmaa was originally published in 1996, and ever since then it has become a classical work selected and required by the majority of schools of architecture. This book report aims at elaborating on the ideas advanced by Juhani Pallasmaa, namely on the significance of engaging various senses instead of relying solely on the vision while trying to perceive the essence of architecture.

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The title of the book highlights the significance of the tactile sense for an individual experience and understanding of the world. The author notes that all the senses are the extensions of the tactile one, since each of the sensory experience is a mode of touching. Thus, it is evidently related to the tactility. In this context, the architecture needs to address all five senses at once and involve them in the process of perceiving the world in order to stand out and become life-enhancing. The architecture strengthens the existential experience, whereas it allows one to determine the feeling of being in the world. The essential task in this regard is to combine the concepts of accommodation and integration by enhancing the sense of reality and self. Each building provides a history of the gradual development and understanding of the human existential notion. A truly distinguished work of architecture not only related this story, but also contributes towards the enhancement of such feelings as being self, aspiring and spiritual. 

In the first part of the book, Pallasmaa introduces the essential idea that will permeate the entire book. There is a substantial influence of different senses on conceiving, teaching and criticizing various architectural styles. In this regard, there is a clear dominance of the vision, while other senses are being suppressed. Meanwhile, some architectural projects aim at astonishing of the human sight; people tend to perceive the world with a combination of five senses. The aim of the architecture is to domesticate the limitless space and enable human beings to inhabit it.

There is a certain peculiarity about the architectural works. It is the way they are being perceived, namely the combination of shapes, colors, textures and materials. According to the author of the book, “it also incorporates and integrates physical and mental structures”. Thus, the strongest influence is guaranteed with the help of such integration that emphasizes the overall coherence and significance of human existential experience. 

The modern techniques of designing always involve specific computer programs. According to the author, this trend is alarming, since it benumbs the architect’s ability to rely on all of his or her senses when creating an architectural project. Computers facilitate the process of creating sketches, but at the same time they tend to flatten a multisensory capacity of the imagination. Furthermore, a certain gap emerges between an architect and his or her creation, when all the drawing and calculating are made with the help of the machine. It becomes a passive process. Meanwhile, incorporating drawing by hand as well as model making requires from an architect to incorporate all of the senses. This creates a profound connection between the creator and the object. The space is not being analyzed from a distance, but perceived and assessed comprehensively. Thus, Pallasmaa asserts that a “creative work calls for a bodily and mental identification, empathy and compassion”.   

Just like any other art, architecture focuses on the questions related to the human existence, time and space. There is interdependence between these dimensions, which is strengthened by incorporating the interiority and exteriority as the measure of the space. Meanwhile, buildings that are wisely constructed with the consideration for human senses are meant to last for years and tell the story of previous generations.

In the second part of the book, the author discusses the negative developments that stem from the dominance of the visual aspect in experiencing the architecture. The author emphasizes that when the senses are being neglected during the creation of an architectural construction, a substantial imbalance can be observed. The contemporary architecture and urban areas demonstrate a striking example of such approach. The lack of taste and understanding of how the combination of elements creates a whole picture have resulted in the modern cityscape. It contributes toward the emergence of such feelings as detachment and alienation to a considerable degree. The result of this can be easily noticed in how the modern world develops.

It is essential to note that constructing in traditional cultures involves the use of all senses instead of focusing solely on the visual expression. A gradual transition to the modern way of creating can be seen, when analyzing the history of architectural development. 

However, the emphasis on the sense of sight should not be perceived in a negative manner, whereas it enables the incorporation and even reinforcement of other senses.  Despite this fact, the modern architecture tends to neglect the unconscious tactile ingredient in the sense of vision. Meanwhile, it was of paramount significance in the historical architecture. Pallasmaa highlights the significance of a multi-sensory experience in conceiving the architecture by asserting that “qualities of space, matter and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton and muscle”. Each sense is being described in different chapters of the book, with specific examples from nature being given in order to demonstrate how these senses contemplate the space.

The author of the book states that the weakened sense of materiality has resulted in the substantial flatness of modern standard constructions. A significant role is being played by the material chosen for the designing purposes. Natural materials tend to convince the observers of their veracity, such as wood, brick or stone. By looking at the surface of natural materials, it becomes possible to distinguish the history of the object, its age, origin and whether it was used before by others. The outward appearance of objects made of natural materials encompasses the concept of time and process of aging. In the meantime, the popular materials in the modern world made by machines, such as synthetic plastics, enameled metals and glass, lack the spirit of the abovementioned age and origin. Their surfaces convey nothing but present figuratively unyielding materials. It is difficult to imagine modern buildings that are created without the usage of these materials. The reason for this is that such constructions are meant to last for a substantially long period of time aiming at the ageless perfection. The dimension of time is absent, while the processes of aging can be hardly traced. Nonetheless, it is crucial to admit that everything has its age. Thus, the eventual spoiling of materials is unavoidable. Moreover, it highlights the essence of life, while the desire to avoid it shows the common fear of death. In this regard, the author emphasizes that “the timeless task of architecture is to create embodied and lived existential metaphors that concretize and structure our being in the world”. 

In conclusion, it is crucial to note that the book The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses is a unique and remarkable work that has become essential in understanding the concepts of architecture that incorporates all the human senses with the purpose of its comprehension. Juhani Pallasmaa is known for his unconventional approach towards architecture. Unfortunately, in the modern world, there is a tendency to construct highly effective, yet soulless buildings that emphasize the perfection with all their appearance. The author insists that the true goal of architecture is providing human beings with convenient and inspiring spaces instead of limiting their aspirations and ambitions by locking them in badly organized premises. Designs should aim at enhancing the life of people, while the architecture being an art should decorate the environment and invigorate without considering time or space limits.

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