Pallasmaa on Experience and Architecture

The “experience of being”, according to Juhani Pallasmaa in his essay “The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses” is the ability to appreciate life to its fullest by suppressing vision and using all of the senses in tandem, In our modern, technology-driven, ocularcentric world, Pallasmaa argues that humans are vulnerable to losing their “experience of being,” But should we resist this loss? Could this loss possibly be beneficial to proper productivity in our modern society? In theory, the “experience of being” is a highly ideal way to live yet it is also highly impractical; this experience has no place in everyday life but should be saved for those special moments where we would get the most out of it, this way we never truly lose it, In our society, productivity is crucial.

If someone were concerned with the “experience of being” all the time, always having their head in the clouds, then he/she would be extremely unproductive.

It is difficult to be a truly productive member of society when you are not fully concentrating on the task at hand.

Pallasmaa expresses a wonderful, ideal way of being, but it is not practical. However, when situations arise such as appreciating art and architecture or intimate moments with loved ones, we should utilize the “experience of being”, The most obvious factors at odds with the “experience of being” are our ocularcentric society and the use of bright light in public spaces For example, when in a hospital, every corner is illuminated in the stark-white homogenous light of cleanliness.

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All one is able to think about when in a hospital is the brightness of the lights and the pain and suffering he/she is feeling due to an illness or a loved one’s illness or perhaps the happiness of birth; however strong the feelings in this moment are, one cannot help but think they could be stronger in a different setting.

This use of bright light greatly hinders our emotional ranger “An efficient method of mental torture is the use of a constantly high level of illumination that leaves no space for mental withdrawal or privacy; even the dark interiority of self is exposed and violated”. This same use of bright light is what makes modern architecture much harder to appreciate than classic architecture. Classic architecture contains beautiful, ornate designs that took great skill and patience to create and include aspects that pique human curiosity and imagination, such as secluded corners cast in shadow. In my opinion, although Pallasmaa disagrees, modern architecture is very similar to the brightness of a hospital. There are no secrets, no secluded corners cast in shadow, nothing to spike our curiosity. Everything is too open and nothing is left to the imagination; it is too vivid.

“The human eye is most perfectly tuned for twilight rather than bright daylight” (Pallasmaa 286). When appreciating art, it is easier for one to appreciate art that pays great attention to shadows and detail than one that does not. Prior to the renaissance, artists paid little attention to detail or shadows and when we look at those pre-renaissance pieces, while they are still very beautiful in their own way, we do not see them as beautiful as renaissance and post- renaissance pieces. The beauty of the shadow is that it allows humans to imagine what is hidden. We are naturally curious and these shadows feed our curiosity. “Homogenous white bright light paralyzes the imagination in the same way that homogenization of space weakens the experience of being, and wipes away the sense of place” (Pallasmaa 286). However, shadows also offer a sense of safety and security from an evolutionary point-of-view.

Shadows keep us hidden and offer us personal space and territory. When we apply the “experience of being” to intimate situations (usually unknowingly), we are rewarded with a much greater range of feeling, physically and emotionally. When alone with friends, family, or a significant other, we tend to dim the lights. When there is indistinct light, we can enjoy the company of these loved ones to a greater effect. We can better feel the humor in a joke, the fulfillment of being together, and the warmth of an embrace. It is easier to feel when the lights are dimmed. But this is not practical outside of these social and art-related situations For example, in the work place you need that bright light to keep your head out of the clouds and in your work If you are in a situation in the work place that allows your mind to wander, that makes for a very unproductive office.

Whenever you are somewhere where you are required to be focused and on-target, the “experience of being” is a great limitation When taking an exam it is not good to let your mind wander. When in a math or science class, it is not good to let your mind wanderl When I am critically reading and writing, it is not good for me to allow my mind to wander; I need to be at full attention Though Pallasmaa says it is good to open your mind and allow abstract ideas to flow in, I say it is only good for those who can think this way and still be productive. It is in these situations where we should temporarily lose our “experience of being” and focus on the task at hand. Because we apply it unknowingly in intimate situations, the “experience of being” can never truly be lost While it is very important, it can be a hindrance in many situations, making it a very idealized and impractical theory. Though it is very beneficial in social and art- related situations, it is unbeneficial in academic and work-related endeavors Perhaps we should not lose our “experience of being” completely, but we should utilize it in situations that call for it.

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Pallasmaa on Experience and Architecture. (2022, Oct 23). Retrieved from

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