With the proposal investigative title of “a sense of movement”, the aim was to investigate the act of movement and the connection of this with the senses of our bodies, in particular the sense of touch – by way of a ‘thinking machine’*.  This project was part of my BArch Degree in Architecture and I undertook this project with the sense-loss charity Sense Scotland.

The interest in this humanities research originated from working in industry, whilst being involved in the design of a Special Needs School in Strabane, Northern Ireland. The new school now educates children of primary school age, with a wide range of disabilities, sensory impairments, learning, communication and mental impairments.

A Sense of Movement

“Passing through, visiting, dancing, gesture – all allow us to appreciate the splendour and exploration of that which is hidden: to move closer, move away, go round, go up, go down, go into, escape, are all actions which invite us to organise for ourselves what we want to see, hear, feel, smell and touch in a given environment.”

(Michel Serres, The Five Senses)

Does a user with visual impairment make use of their other senses to have the information to safely move through a public realm, is “The true seeing is when there is no seeing” (Shen Hui), and does touching, tasting, hearing and smelling create an increased knowledge of the visual?

In this investigation I was very much concerned with the connection of:

Movement by Texture without Sight through Touch.

“Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states,”

Carol Welch

The fascination behind the ‘thinking machine’ and the connection of this to the paper lies in the investigation of movement with the senses, in relation to texture(s) combined with scales and rhythm and what they can imply.

Prototype Wall

Architects such as Glenn Murcutt, Steven Holl and Peter Zumthor have been intent on the user experiencing Architecture through the body’s senses; this is highly evident in the main text used for text of Juhani Pallasmaa in the text ‘the eyes of the skin’ where in the conclusion his ‘view calls for a full understanding of the human condition’.

In working with participants from Sense Scotland I have explored movement through touch. The ‘thinking machine’, has utilised the ‘close sense’ of touch and through investigation it has been proven that vision dominates when the goal is the perception of shape, but touch is superior in the perception of texture. In the case of this study movement can be understood by way of texture and touch.



The ‘object’ creates a temptation for the user to reach out and touch the textures, and the kinaesthetic quality provided by the textures allows the individual to explore through a ‘hands on’ experience relating to location, range, speed, acceleration, tension and friction. This is true even if they have full use of their senses, they may even be touching the texture by accident, in the way that a child dragging a stick along a metal railing, it may be an unconscious act but it aids in the fact that we touch our surroundings.

When hands are rubbed over sandpaper the properties taken from touching it will be different from that of cotton wool, these objects have real texture, however sometimes to actually see these properties, closing ones eyes will enhance the sense of touch.

A ‘language of movement’ was created. The texture, touch and movement have all become interlinked to provide a controlling medium for movement, the object doesn’t have to be explained through actual audio conversations and the ‘moving’, (fast or slow), will be evident in the touch of the skin and connection with the texture.


*Thinking Machine

The purpose of the ‘thinking machine’ is to help each student define a theoretical position in architecture, which may informhis/her main architecture project. The student is therefore asked to produce an object and a text that in some way relates to his/her architecture project, but which lifts it out of the context of program and client (in any case, a fantasy) and grounds it in the reality of ideas and materials. There can be no precise specification of what the object is, or even if it is singular; we have called it thinking machine. It may be an apparatus – abstract and machinic – like Brunelleschi’s perspective demonstration; it may be a carefully crafted domestic object like a Diller+Scofidio suitcase; it may be functional like Libeskind’s reading writing memory machines. (Go check out these examples).



Juhani Pallasmaa. – Eyes of the Skin.

Michel Serres, The Five Senses.

Pierre von Meiss, Elements of Architecture, Form to place.

Shen Hui. Chinese Zen Master. ‘Seeing, Vision, Perspective’. www.gardendigest.com/see

Carol Welch ‘Brainy Quotes’. www.brainyquote.com