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By : Ann Heylighen, Caroline Van Doren, Peter-Willem Vermeersch

The relationship between the built environment and the human body is rarely considered explicitly in contemporary architecture. In case architects do take the body into account, they tend to derive mathematical proportions or functional dimensions from it, without explicit attention for the bodily experience of a building. In this article, we analyse the built environment in a way less common in architecture, by attending to how a particular person experiences it. Instead of relating the human body to architecture in a mathematical way, we establish a new relationship between architecture and the body—or a body—by demonstrating that our bodies are more involved in the experience of the built environment than we presume. The article focuses on persons with a sensory or physical impairment as they are able to detect building qualities architects may not be attuned to. By accompanying them during a visit to a museum building, we examine how their experiences relate to the architect’s intentions. In attending to the bodily experiences of these disabled persons, we provide evidence that architecture is not only seen, but experienced by all senses, and that aesthetics may acquire a broader meaning. Senses can be disconnected or reinforced by nature. Sensory experiences can be consciously or unconsciously eliminated or emphasized by the museum design and use. Architects can have specific intentions in mind, but users (with an impairment) may not experience them. Attending to the experiences of disabled persons, and combining these with the architect’s objectives, provides an interesting view of a building. Our analysis does not intend to criticize the one using the other; rather the combination of both views, each present in the building, makes for a richer understanding of what architecture is.
Keywords: Architecture, Experience, Disability, Museum, Inclusive Design.

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