Research Project
Beyond the Visual: Towards an Inclusive Architectural History

Research Project
Anna Myjak-Pycia
seit 2022

This project develops architectural history that concentrates on the non-visual realm of the twentieth-century interior in Europe and the US. It examines this realm by attending to the interior's material and technological aspects, and the way they are registered by the people's perception: the sensations of sound, touch, smell, warmth, cold, various humidity levels, the freshness and stuffiness of air, as well as the experience of movement, comfort, and fatigue. The sensations are either non-visual or have a visual side, like touch or movement that can be seen, but their visibility is nonessential for them. The project advances the idea that the non-visual, although insufficiently acknowledged, is foundational for our experience of the architectural interior. It intentionally eschews the tradition of conceptualizing the architectural interior as mainly the pictorial, image-like, an object of visual contemplation.

The project emphasizes the management of the beyond-the-visual sensations in everyday life. This management involves an array of purposeful activities, engaging people, space, objects, materials, technology, and the invisible infrastructure embedded in the building. The project demonstrates how this management founds and sustains the interior, differentiates between uses and statuses of its various areas, and accommodates some users—or some elements of their lives—while disadvantaging others due to factors such as physical features, disability, gender, or their lower standing in socio-cultural hierarchies. Among the main questions the project seeks to answer are: How does the management of the non-visual sensations establish the interior in the perception of the people who use them? How does this management influence users and is influenced by them, and what are the effects of this interaction at the practical and socio-cultural levels?

The novel history of modern architecture that the project offers could not be grounded in a visual approach, the established typical mode of understanding buildings in architectural history. Centering on the visual, architectural history has omitted other realms in which buildings partake, mystified the connections between technology and people's activities in interior spaces, and marginalized a range of contributors to the creation and functioning of architecture. This project advances the understudied area of architectural history, generates a new model of architectural analysis, and offers an account of a broad spectrum of interior spaces as they were experienced by a variety of users. In doing so, it develops a more inclusive understanding of the architectural user and what constitutes the people's interior, and acknowledges a wider range of stakeholders partaking in the history of buildings and infrastructures. Addressing the beyond-the-visual perception of the material and technological, along with broader cultural issues, in the context of the interior, the project steers architectural history away from art history, and its visual bias, in the direction of social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

As its overarching goal, the project intends to demonstrate that the non-visual approach is relevant to analyze and better understand interiors ranging from the humblest to the most sophisticated and elite. In its first stage, it addresses the user's experience of the inherently non-visual interior space: dark interiors, the perception of which is dominated by non-visual sensory modalities. This research employs the analysis of European case studies from world war two concerning the phenomenon of people resorting to the adoption of underground city chambers and passages—such as basements and sewer system infrastructure—to shelter/dwell and secretly pass from place to place.

NOMIS Foundation Project


Dr. Anna Myjak-Pycia