The Dissolution of the Body Image: Immersive Environments and Sensory Experience

Crossley, Tatjana (2019). The Dissolution of the Body Image: Immersive Environments and Sensory Experience. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis attempts to provide a reading of the body image in immersive space. Since this is a subject that has not been explored in architectural discourse, it is important to examine the implications of the architectural immersion on the body image.

The research first analyzes the term ‘body image’ and uses the theories by Sartre, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty and Schilder to produce an understanding of its formation and development. The body image appears in tandem with subjectivity and this occurs through the identification of what constitutes the self and what is outside the self. This understanding of subject-self and object-other is a result of sensory perception. Synthesizing these theories, the thesis places the body image in the context of the immersive environment arguing that any space that manipulates sensory perception to some degree is immersive- hence the importance and relevance to architecture. The immersive environment, through the affectation of the senses, causes a disorientation and re-orientation of the body image. It is a cyclical process of subjective experience influencing perception and the new perception influencing the subject resulting in a continual evolution of the body image.

These concepts are then examined through a range of case studies that span history and media originating from 2-dimensional immersions, progressing to 3-dimensional ones. There has been little evolution in the way that architects take advantage of something that is inherently architectural. Consequently, the precedents expose a lack of development in understanding the implications of immersivity in architecture. The immersive has been and is still being used in ways that harbor on the gimmicky and illusionistic instead of assessing, with subtle nuances, the sensory effects of their spaces on the subjectivity of their users. The thesis provides a critique of architecture’s use of immersion and intends to begin a larger architectural discourse on the body image in the immersive environment.

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