Joint Doctoral Seminar edition:15 location:Brussels date:21 November 2008
In exploring the notion of Universal Design, the specific aim of this PhD research is to develop haptic design parameters architects can use during the design process. These parameters should enable
architects to design more multisensory spaces. To this end, the research relies on the expertise of people
who are congenitally blind, because they are more attentive to non-visual sensorial experiences. Their
expertise is mined through in-depth interviews, focus interviews and observations using photoethnography.
The empirical part of the research is complemented with a theoretical study, which is the focus of
this paper. The paper tries to provide insight in the concept of a multisensory space and its meaning for
Universal Design. It starts with the question how we can define a multisensory space in architecture. This
requires first of all a clear description of space. Bearing the aim of Universal Design in mind, we define
space from a phenomenological point of view. In phenomenology, experiencing space is a bodily way of
acting in the first place. This approach shows strong similarities with the spatial experience and
exploration of people who are congenitally blind, as body-centred or egocentric information is more easily
available when vision is absent. Moreover, research has pointed out that blind conditions enhance spatial
processing in favour of the body centred or egocentric reference system.
Subsequently, this theoretical insight is illustrated and compared with excerpts from in-depth
interviews with people who are congenitally blind. These excerpts confirm that experiencing architecture is
a result of not only physical architectural features, but also conceptual, behavioural and perceptual
aspects. Each characteristic is illustrated by a tangible example and their relationship is explained.