Architecture of Embodiment is a research environment conceived and realized by Alex Arteaga in which architecture is addressed from an enactivist perspective and through methodologies based on aesthetic practices. As a point of departure, architecture is understood here in its most basic terms—structure, form and materiality—and in relation to fundamental operations—design and construction.
The term enactivism refers to the approach to cognition initially formulated in 1991 by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch in the framework of embodied and situated cognition theories. This approach was extensively described by Evan Thompson in 2007 and further developed by other theorists such as Shaun Gallagher, Daniel D. Hutto, Thomas Fuchs, or Ezequiel Di Paolo.
The main questions of this research environment refer directly to one of the core enactivist theses—“living is sense-making” (Varela, 1991): Can architecture be understood as a condition of the emergence of sense? If so, how does architecture condition the emergence of sense?
The emergence of sense is researched here in attendance to its most fundamental processes: those enabled by the immediate, spontaneous, sensuous, emotional and non-thetic interaction between human bodies and their surroundings, that is, those processes enabled by aesthetic conduct and facilitating aesthetic experience.
These and other related questions are addressed here not with the primary aim of formulating definitive answers, but rather to provide the adequate conceptual and methodological conditions for them to be approached. Accordingly, the products generated in the different research cells are not understood as containers of knowledge, as artifacts infolding explanations of the researched objects, but as elements of contingency that enable and constrain the development of open trajectories of sense in new fields of intelligibility. Accordingly, the realization of this research environment is thought of as mapping a territory—the architecture of embodiment—that is not given but emerges out of the acts of mapping it.
The first phase of Architecture of Embodiment (2013-2016) was funded by the Einstein Foundation with an Einstein Junior Fellowship and hosted at the Berlin University of the Arts.
The operative structure of this research environment is decentralized and non-hierarchical: there is neither a main component nor a gradient of relevance between each one. Instead, Architecture of Embodiment is configured through the coexistence of different research cells, presentations and publications.
Research cells are specifically conceived to perform research practices that, organized methodically, generate and organize artifacts as aesthetic research apparatuses through which each object of research can be differently disclosed. Most of the research cells are realized in collaborations established according to the specific necessities of each cell. Therefore, there is no consolidated research team but temporary and possibly reiterative cooperations.
Presentations are thought of as situations of reflectively sharing the development of the whole environment or of a certain aspect of the research process.
Publications—a hybrid of research cells and presentations—are understood as research apparatuses able to extend their contingent agencies beyond specific situations.
Architecture of Embodiment traces hybrid methodologies based on aesthetic practices. Each methodology is defined dynamically in the framework of a research cell and results from the organization of specific research practices in different media. A research practice is understood here as a particular set of interlaced actions, systematized enough to be performed repeatedly in order to disclose the object of research they address. A medium is conceived here as a set of potentialities that enable and constrain the practices that actualize it.
The hybridization that characterizes the methodologies developed in this research environment does not occur on the level of the single practices—they are radically media- and object-specific and fully autonomous—but on the methodological level, that is, in the way practices relate to one another. Hybridity is therefore an emerging quality, arising in and due to the field of contingency generated by a specific form of coexistence of different practices in one research cell.
The objects of most of the practices performed in Architecture of Embodiment are specific environments conditioned by architectural construction. Correspondingly, the research is developed primarily in direct contact with architectural artifacts, and secondarily with the artifacts generated through the performed research practices.
According to the basic concept of Architecture of Embodiment, the performance of these practices does not aim to explain or describe their objects but mainly to provide alternative approaches. In this sense, the conception of the practices relates to the most fundamental strategy of the phenomenological method: to bracket certain forms of appearance in order to enable other varieties of presence to arise. More specifically, the methodologies designed and performed in this research environment aim fundamentally to provide an aesthetic, that is, immediate, spontaneous, sensuous, emotional and non-thetic approach to their objects, as condition of possibility for them to be radically understood anew. These new ways of positioning towards the objects of research should enable the general subject matter of this research environment to be addressed, on a different basis: architecture as enabling condition and constrain for the emergence of sense.