The relationship of architecture and the body is fundamental and in constant flux. Here we have reconsidered architecture as merely and infinitely one of the many mediums of technology that constitute the physical, political, urban and legal constructs of our environment. As a medium of technology, architecture’s reconsidered relationship with the contemporary body will be unpacked in the terms Body, Technology and Incorporation. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, drawn from the writings of Vitruvius, exposed an understanding of the ideal epidermal-contained physical body. Here we will attempt to outline the evolved relationship between the body and architecture since The Vitruvian Man. Reconsidering these terms we hope to expose a potential new avenue in the innovatively stagnant relationship of the contemporary body and contemporary architecture. The limit of this article is that it will only ever represent a moment in the continuum of the ever fluxing relationship between architecture and the body, thus this article should constantly be rewritten.
We have understood the body as a manipulable product of our contemporary context and architecture as a technological tool of manipulation upon the body. Technology has extended the physical body beyond its epidermis-defined envelope. Technology has generated methods of simulating the body’s existing behaviours, for example what was once ear is now headphone and eye is camera. As well as normalising the body to its expected function and appearance, glasses normalise vision, prosthetics normalise mobility, skin grafts normalise skin and pacemakers normalise the beating heart. These two approaches of technology have a conservative relationship with the body, only repairing and replacing an established pre-existing condition.
Beyond this, technology has at brief moments extended and transcended the body beyond normalising and simulating. Written language extended the spoken word, car extended the walk and Stelarc’s third ambidextrous hand provides him with an interchangeable third hand. What were once normalising and simulating technologies can, with minor evolutions, evolve into extending technologies. This is crucial to understanding that architecture, like the common notion of technology, can manipulate and extend the body, not merely provide a container for our context’s pre-existing notion of bodies.
We thought that maybe technology is a continuous element in the relationship between architecture and the body, not only related to newness. Is stone still a technology now as it was in the Stone Age? Is the spear of yesterday the iPhone of today? Cavemen put on fur to warm themselves, fulfilling the psychological need of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We now still survive by the technology of our clothes whether fulfilling physiological needs or self-actualising needs. Whether physiological or self-actualising, technology is still technology. We must not be clouded by newness or the `digital’ as a criteria to classify technology.
Beyond Descartes’ theory of Dualism, which differentiated the body and the mind, we find an evolution of the relationship between the contemporary body and technologies. Architecture and other mediums of technology are blurred with our conception of the contemporary body through a process of incorporation. The smart phone will shortly be incorporated with our existence to the point of perceivable invisibility. Incorporation tricks us into misunderstanding the potentially interrogating role that technologies can play on the body. We struggle to see the incorporated technology that we depend upon. We lose the ability to understand the importance of architecture. Its constructs, its construction of our environment and its stagnation are not helping this. Architecture has maintained a somewhat consistent relationship with the body, its constancy caused by the basic and consistent dialogue between the body and a sheltering structure.
Brief periods of thought have given insight into new potentials of the body and architecture, from modernism’s machine for living to post-human structures, but these have only scraped the surface of the epidermal-contained body. Architecture as a medium of technology has the potential to extend and interrogate the assumptions of the body.