Knowing Inside Out - experiential knowledge, expertise and connoisseurship
EKSIG 2013 edition:3 location:Loughborough date:4-5 July 2013
To address the visual bias in architectural design, we explore ways to include vision impaired persons in architects’ design process. In this context we studied the development of non-visual experiential knowledge in the process of becoming blind to explore its potential in designing multisensory space. A postphenomenological framework provides us a way of understanding the continuum of different relations between body and world. How we gain knowledge of our world depends on the situation and ranges from more tacit background and embodiment relations to more explicit alterity and hermeneutic relations. By analyzing John Hull’s written accounts of becoming blind, we learn how his awareness of a multisensory environment grew. Because of his changing body, he gradually built up connoisseurship in engaging with his environments. Due to the gradual nature of the process, his first experiences were still explicit to himself, and his written accounts thereof can make explicit his gradually acquired connoisseurship to us. Closer to architects’ design process are the processes of becoming blind that practicing architects Carlos Mourão Pereira and Christopher Downey underwent. Our interviews with them, analysis of their design tools and observations of Pereira’s engagement with buildings, suggest that they underwent a similar process as Hull in which their connoisseurship became explicit to them. Moreover, they recognized the potential of their newly acquired skills and knowledge for design practice. In making the move to design, their knowledge becomes explicit not only as verbal account, but also in the shapes and materiality of their designs. Their design expertise, acquired before losing their sight, becomes explicit too. As their body changes, their expertise in using visual design artefacts becomes obstructed. Observations of the learning processes of changing bodies (and thus also changing body-world relations) can thus make explicit both newly acquired connoisseurship as well as previously acquired expertise, the latter in its failing.