SPACE PERCEPTION -through seeing, hearing and touching

Post 630 –by Gautam Shah


Space perception is realization based on three faculties of Perceptions, namely seeing, hearing and touching. First two of these are bi-nodal, and allow us to perceive an extra dimension of the space, whereas touch is multi-focal, but operates as local sense. The information is received through spatially separated sensors, but complex neural integration allows the three to be perceived in mutually balancing experience. Absence or deficiencies of one or few are substantially overcome through such assimilation. These sensorial experiences (seeing, hearing and touch) persist in a space for a while, and so prolong and reinforce the experience. The experience persists, when the main happening is active, through the fading period, and after the expiry of the original causation.


Earth Sphere, Science city, Kolkata > Wikipedia image by Biswarup Ganguly

Space perception is a process of becoming aware of the relative positions of the own-self, surrounding objects, and environmental effects. Sense of near-far, distance, orientation, datum, are part of space perception. Space perception of objects in movement and changes in the environment offer cues to direction and rate of change. Space perception occurs naturally and virtually. It occurs substantially through making-up by the past remembrances. And so though it is substantially predictive, surprises, deviations and deceptions do occur.


Rainy Day Boston > Visual depth and dimensions of perception > Wikipedia > ART by Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

Space perception offers dimension, orientation and direction to the space. The dimensions are perceived in terms of body sizes and capacities. Orientation suggests the position of the causation in front, back, up, below, or sideways. “The horizontal, vertical, and sagittal planes divide space into various sectors: something is perceived as ‘above’ or ‘below’ (the horizontal plane), as ‘in front of’ or ‘behind’ (the vertical plane), or as ‘to the right’ or ‘to the left’ (of the sagittal plane). The Horizontal and Vertical have universal justification of the gravity, reinforced by the fluid levels. But it is the sagittal plane or the sense of left and right, which is self centred.


Elgin Cathedral ruins Scotland > Pixabay image by misterfarmer Deutschland

The depth in space is a perceived notion. Visually it is sensed by the stereophonic vision and fading over (only larger) the distance. Depth is perceived by scaling in scenic perspective. Visual depth perception is also a process of learning. Seafarers, aircraft pilots, mountaineers, desert travelers have extraordinary sense of space distances. Similarly architects, embroiders, watch repairers have coordinated visual and touch depth perception.


Woman carrying head load looks as big as the tree due to absence of foreground-backgroud clues > Wikipedia image

Aural perception of space dimension, orientation and direction operate differently. The two ears create stereophonic effect for richness of sound, but unlike vision do not lead to distinct direction or orientation of the space perception. The sense of the dimension, though is more accurate, as sound fades remarkably strongly even in the shorter depth. Aural perception has more deviations and deceptions. Depth or distance perception is due to the loudness and pitch, both affect little late (sound of lightening), but reinforce the information offered through the visual perception. Changes in pitch ( Doppler effect) of a moving object, defines the depth.


Pipe organs are conceived in terms of the space, sound and visual placement > Taiwan National concert hall at Taipei > Wikipedia image by : Alton Thompson

Touch perception of objects is governed by recognition of the edges or remarkable intermittent features. Touch perception is texture recognition combined with energy transmission (temperature, electrical, magnetic, vibrations etc.). These operate at touching or very close distance, but are highly variable. The perceiver and the perceived (object or an organism) both exchange the energies to form the perception. The touch perception plays very little role in perception of spatial dimensions in spite of transiting between edge to edge, or other features of the surface.


Streograms are stereophonic image or animations that combine Left and Right frames showing slightly different visual angles to form 3D perception

Clarity and Consistency of visual perception are very important features of experience. It is accepted that visual clarity depends on the distance, quality (angle, strength, contrast, colour) of illumination and physiological condition of the perceiver. Beyond these obvious parameters other factors are foreground-background, glare, framing of the view, other distractions. Consistency of visual sensation derives from field size, movement of the perceiver and within the scene, distractions, aberrations. Clarity and consistency, together depend on subjective aspects, such as the intent and duration of the perception.


Audio perception (and expression) when accompanied by Visual perception, mutually reinforce each other > Wikipedia image

Clarity and Consistency of aural perception occur in terms of the echoes, reverberation, presence-absence of background noise. It also depends on the dominant range of operative frequencies. Clarity is affected when one cannot decode a scrambled or garbled noise. This happens in large halls and open layout offices, where one subconsciously cannot decipher the message, and tries to interpret it. To reduce such irritations, ‘white-sounds’ -a background or masking noise are added to the space. Hospital rooms and commercial spaces with round the clock operations pose different aural profiles at different times of the day-night, ‘white sounds’ reduce such variations. Consistency of level and quality of sounds allows one to ‘fathom’ a space more effectively.


Tactile Floors for Nagoya-daigaku Subway platform > Wikipedia image by LERK

Clarity and Consistency in touch perception are important in space perception, so far these are demarcations of space zones. For persons with imperfect perceptive capacities (blind, deaf, old age, infants, sick) touch becomes an important faculty to reinforce the space extent. The consistency of touch is governed by duration and use of limbs that show better reception to touch.


Polyphemus, the one eyed mythological character was supposed to be an Iron Smith and used the one-eye vision for work accuracy > art by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein 1802

 Peter Zumthor outlines (Atmospheres, p. 29) that, ‘Interiors are like large instruments, collecting sound, amplifying it, transmitting it elsewhere. That has to do with the shape peculiar to each room and with the surface of materials they contain, and the way those materials have been applied.’



SCALING the SPACES -Issues for design-9

Post 617 –by Gautam Shah


Architectural spaces become relevant through scaling. Scaling creates an organization, where sub-elements are allied to form a holistic domain. The space when interpreted as Large-Small, Wide-Narrow, Tall-Shallow, deep-short, etc. relates to some adjacent reality, or some remembrance. But spaces are perceived in terms task accommodation (functional adequacy), anthropometric needs, sensorial reach capacities, social interactions vibes (privacy, intimacy), degree of objectivity and subjective involvements. Scaled space sizes bring forth proportions, modulation, analogy, sequencing, balance, incidental and regular occurrences, harmonics etc.


Tashichhoe Dzong at Thimpu, Bhutan > Wikipedia image by Rainer Haebner

 Shape and Scale of a space have no relationship. Exterior or Interior shape of a space entity can mislead the perception of the scale. Similarly a very extensive space will need ‘stepping or connecting elements’ within the perceptible range. Spaces that have been substantively transgressed inward-outward, the shape may have been deformed, but the scale remains a relevant factor.


Street scene at Ephesus at Anatolia Turkey Wikipedia image by Ad Meskens

Scale is a matter of sensorial experience. Scaling is predictable and manageable in spaces within the known range of perception (visual, aural, touch or proximity, etc.). The strangeness or alienation of a space is reduced by introducing scalable elements such as: repetitions, harmonics, rhythmic evolution, structured patterning, sensory gradations, acceleration deceleration, graduated changeovers, linkages, relationships through modulation and proportioning, etc.


Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, London > Wikipedia image by Hans Peter Schaefer

A space is perceived to be small, adequate or large in terms of various tasks, and in terms of responses it offers such as echoes, reverberation, reflection, illumination, glares, depth and width of vision. With the same size and shape of space these elements offer varied experiences, some seeming related and some confounding. Within a space, the size changes (and thereby the proportions) to provide variegated settings for different activities. These changes in a space also cause marked shift in human behaviour. Designers, intentionally avoid as well as include such confirmations and contrasts, but even then surprises do occur. Such spatial manipulations and surprises are further exploited by the users for individualization.


German Chancellery Berlin > Wikipedia image by Bruckels

Environment is a consistent space modulator. The environment changes the spatial scale on moment to moment basis. Since these both, seem to occur in conjunction, in design, we try to inculcate one with the other. An environment scales the space more effectively in the peripheral areas the core remains less dynamic. Again a design tool to shift the space. Scaling by environment becomes exciting because natural illumination, solar gains, etc., are directional.


Environmental variations and space scale modulation > Sky Garden atop the ‘Walkie-Talkie > Wikipedia image by user: Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Our perception faculties are directional and nodal. Hearing and vision, are bi-nodal. Vision, smell and taste faculties are frontal, whereas touch is non-local. These variations in perception affect how elements scaling the space are perceived. Shapes like convex, concave or parabolic curvatures modify the movement. Planes that slope away or towards the user, mean opening or closing of the form. Right and left turns have culture specific relevance which may override presumed biological preferences.


Sydney Opera House > Wikipedia image by Enoch Lau

Directional emphasis for scaling is also very important for orientation. Gravity offers a parallel to the ground plane, the horizontal, and a counter effect as the vertical. The horizontal and vertical make the scaling of space resolutely simpler, and every other scaling to be dynamic or unstable. The stability of gravity and stability of vertical allows forms to be wider at base, the inevitable force for space scaling.

At Absolute level the size is perceived as the difference between the Length and Width of a space. It is seen as a narrow or wide entity. The height confers its own scale of narrowness or broadness to the space. Height accentuates or de-emphasizes the character of the space nominally contributed by the relation between the Length and the Width. The equality of Length and Width of space marks a balance. The orientation of smaller or larger size gives a feel of a deep and shallow space.


Street, Sana’a, Yemen > Wikipedia image by Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia

Narrow spaces have length as the dominant scaling factor. Narrowness of the space could be a carryover of the past experiences or a psychological condition. Narrow spaces have domineering effect of the side barriers, more so if these are opaque, that is without any break or transgression. The scaling elements in such spaces are like, the doors, windows, columns, corners, benches, niches, public address systems, focussed illumination spots, air movement-delivery and ventilation nodes (fans, air conditioners, heaters), stair entrances, junctions (cross corridors, floor cutouts), signboards, parapets, ash trays, etc.

Scaling of narrow spaces can be experienced in art exhibition galleries, which tend to be linear spaces, but similar areas in museums show master pieces for distanced viewing. The hall of mirrors, Versailles is a classic example of long space; opaque on one side and fully windowed on the other side.

Size in a neighbourhood space is perceived in terms of the reach. Whatever is within reach (of touch, vision, hearing or smell) is considered the neighbourhood space. Here the recognition of reach also defines its functional adequacy for interpersonal relationships and related behaviour. Occupation of large public spaces is challenging. One needs points for anchorage, a direction for orientation, presence of other human being (or an animal like a dog) for confirmation, and a ready strategy for exit in any exigency, but all scaled to personal relevance.

A hazy or foggy atmosphere dulls as much as a bright sunny day highlights the spatial elements through enhanced light and shadow differentiation.

Past midnight in absence of nearby background noises, the far-off sounds are acutely heard, increasing the extent of the neighbourhood space.

Hospital wards seem very strange (large) to a patient, in comparison to domestic (small home) spaces, because the space size proportions are different and surfaces are harder and less absorbent (causing reverberation to be different), background noises are less passive, illumination levels are brighter during day and night, furniture and furnishings are unusual, in addition to sickness and weakened mental faculties.

Occupation of domains with unusual proportions (combinations of lengths, widths, and height) and sizes require extra efforts of accommodation.


Old Roman Theater at Ephesus > Wikipedia image by Eoe gian at En Wikipedia 

Amphi theatre performances require large frill dresses, loud dialogue delivery, spaced out movements -theatrics, real or make-believe sub-zoning of the stage. Large space audiences can be reached through public address system, a large podium, stage setting, colour-light highlighting, etc. People in large spaces like airports and marriage halls reach out to others through wild gestures, shouting etc.

Shape configurations are closed or open ended, and show potential of scaling through distension, contraction, or attachments. The spatial scaling when include such edges formations, the subsets become very complex entities.

This is the 9 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN



Post 532 by Gautam Shah



Reach is a way of knowing and acknowledging a space. By both the processes the space is ‘domesticated’. Reach is spread of the body limbs. It helps in physically touching, exploring, or seeking a support to be with an object or person. The reach in space is scaled by the body’s limb sizes, capacities and susceptibilities. Such a reach is physical and creates domains for occupation. Physical reach tools are either body-related or object-related. The body-tools like walking sticks, rails, support ledges or parapets, are closer to the body, functionally specific and styled as personal entity. Compared to these, the object-tools are objects themselves or attached to the larger objects or schema like nature, buildings, structures, etc.


Physical reach in space is amplified and modified by reach-tools. Reach tools extend physical capacities, and correct the limb disabilities. Throwing a stone, spear, arrow, rope sling, etc. to resist harmful things, leveraging with longer handles on axes, adages, tongs, staff, hammers, brushes, swords, and land-based activities such as ploughing, irrigation, harvesting, burials, handling fire and building structures have helped enlarge the ambit of space. Territorial conquests for food, safety and proliferation, were encouraged by capacity to move and travel. The difference between WW-I and WW-II is about the capacity to move and reach out. The conquest of space depends on how one wants to reach out physically or virtually. The purpose of reach to an object or person, has many facets like physically touch, explorative endeavour, support, sympathetic vibes or an exchange.

Accessible toilet Wikipedia image by Author Annasmith1986

Sensorial Reach is an extension of the sensorial capacities to increase or diffuse the perception. All beings have sensorial reach in space within certain biological range. Reach tools help to perceive things that manifest beyond these limited capacities. The reach tools like the listening cone was the precursor of stethoscope and electronic amplifiers. Microscope and telescope are tools that extend the edges of visual perception. Sensorial reach is attuned to the change, and registers the environmental effects in space.

Experimental Night vision goggles Wikipedia image

Sensorial reach defines a finite realm of space, but with reach tools the same reaches to infinite depths, and so could be immeasurable. The sensorial capacities are transmittable, so what we cannot see (fineness and distance wise) can be captured and enlarged, or defined in other scales (UV, infra or radio frequencies, or selective colour modification). Stars are not just observed through telescopes but ‘listened’ to.

Array of Radio telescopes at Socorro, New Mexico, United States Wikipedia image by Author: user: Hajor

Sensorial tools are also used for perception, expression and communication. So reach in space defines the nature and extent of social interactions and is measure how relevant a space can be. The social relevance of the reach in space also regulates privacy and intimacy of individuals and groups. And the same reach makes a space familiar, alien, aloof or crowded. But in spite of some degree of physical scaling by the senses, such a reach in space alone fails to configure it.

Wikipedia image by Author ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office

The reach in space connects the space users and space forming objects. The physical and sensorial distance between the two determine the interactions. The physical and sensorial distance between various objects that form the space have relationships through scale, proportion, environmental variations, affinity, equality-un-equality etc. The relationships or interactions between different space users may not be hinged to distance, or other reach tools. Crowding in a lift or public transport is not perceived with any sexual connotations, but a similar condition in other space could be repugnant. Reach in space marks personal area vis a vis public areas.


Crowding in Metro Wikipedia image by Author Richy

Natural reach capacities and reach tools together define domains and connections beyond. In case of built spaces, the barriers, like walls restrict the reach beyond that envelope. Openings, gaps, doors and windows offer such connections. But built spaces are also transgressed in both inward and outward directions. Galleries, Zarokhas, balconies, Mashrabiyas help inflate the space inside out, whereas Chowks, cutouts, etc. bring the space inward. Such transgressions bring the exterior closer to the interiors.

Reach tools Wikipedia image by Author Ben Schumin

Facilitation of reach in space, availability and use of reach tools all define a personal domain, a zone of regulated and selective participation. This is an area where one can reach out through projection (expression), channels of communication, physically (through body limbs) or stretch out with gadgets. Here the intimacy is regulated but it is not a private affair, unless some screening barriers are used to achieve the privacy. One can dwell in a culture or state formed of metaphysical elements (beliefs, customs, etc.), to achieve the same.

Chawri Bazaar Delhi India Wikipedia image