• Nicole Reinders

Phenomenology through Experience with Environment

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

Bryan Norwood and Sean Lally discuss in a podcast the term phenomenology and how each human experience is different and thus all relating to architecture in a different way.


Wilkenson Eyre's Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay

The intellectual movement [phenomenology] is rooted in the notion that one’s engagement with architecture is preconceived from other encounters which then shapes the current experience. Placing the environment in this context, which is natural and ever changing, delves into a broader scope on how architecture can form and add to the experiences of all who enter the structure.

Phenomenology states that one’s viewpoint of the world is based upon many layers of experience in which they predetermine a series of dispositions, forcing a precursor on how they believe something should go or what something is.


Phenomenology is the study between subject and object and expectation and experience.[1] Thus, when someone moves in through a space, the critiques that arise are rooted from past participation, whether that be in situations similar to the one they are now placed or ones with comparable ties. However, when architecture is combined to enfold nature, the experiences generated are unique from person to person and different with each entry. One could walk through a piece and gain a different perspective each time, as nature is organic, no two things are the same and each organism is in a constant state of changing.


Jay Shafer's Tumbleweed Tiny House


Jay Shafer is the founder of the tiny house movement. After graduating college with an art degree, he decided to live in an air streamer, but after a few too many Iowan winters he decided to forge ahead and build his first house. He took the approach that, a house is nothing but, “a hallow shell”[2] and created a 100 square-foot house that did away of all that was unnecessary to focus on the essentials. In this way, he curated an experience that was tailored to his needs. His house became his controlled environment, containing only things that were of value to himself and also transportable so that he could place his house in an environment he like and with a view he enjoys.

In the same way, Wilkenson Eyre created Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, a 101 hectares conservatory, highlighting the environments most likely affected by climate change. It fleshed out exactly how, “we have been mis-using, abusing, and polluting this extraordinary chemical energy-interchanging system for successfully regenerating all life”,[3]by creating this ultimate interaction of plant systems that have ideal conditions, set by the parameters of the glass, to live in. The firm created the project through the intense research of how technology and materials relate and how this could be placed in context of the site. The gardens, “react to changing interior and exterior environmental conditions”,[4] by having a thin glass structure encase the project to act more as a membrane rather than a wall, heightening the climate of Singapore to accommodate for the environments of Cloud Forrest and the Mediteranea to survive.


Overall, no two people will have the same experience of entering one of Jay Shafer’s homes or the Gardens by the Bay. These two projects take on a different outlook on the environment. On one hand Shafer’s tiny homes are mobile, allowing for one to move from climate to climate and area to area as he sees fit, and take all the unnecessary human conditions out of the structure to allow for the minimalist aspects to shine through. The Singapore Gardens by the Bay hone in on elemental factors such as ideal sunlight and temperature to create human involved biomes on environments most affected by climate change. Shafer only takes on elemental factors for ideal survival whereas Wilkenson Eyre design something that was an ideal experience and one we should strive for.



when architecture is combined to enfold nature, the experiences generated are unique from person to person and different with each entry."

[1] Sean Lally, Phenomenology, with Bryan Norwood, Night White Skies, podcast audio, June 11, 2018.


[2] Reyner Banham, ”A Home is Not a House,” in Art in America, Vol. 2, 1965:73


[3] R. Buckminster Fuller, “Spaceship Earth,” in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969), Series Editor Jaime Snyder (Zuirch: Lars Muller, 2008/2017): 60


[4] Lola Sheppard, “Environment-Webs,” in Bracket 3: At Extremes (Actar, 2016): 45



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