Are we losing our senses? Whether we are directly aware of it or not, human beings are very tactile creatures. We discover the world through touch. We instinctively try to pick something up to examine it. In a Covid world where we are, understandably, asked not to touch things, to create a bubble around ourselves, I ask what long term impact will this have on our learning?
I’m reading ‘The Thinking Hand’ by Juhani Pallasmaa, a renowned Finnish Architect, who reveals the miraculous potential of the human hand. He suggests that we celebrate the body for its beauty or its physical possibilities, ‘but our embodied existence is rarely identified as the very basis of our interaction and integration with the world’. I cannot help but think that if we are restricting the use of our hands, and the role they play in discovery, what insidious impact will this pandemic have on the way we navigate the world?
It is easy to underestimate the knowledge you gain from tactile experiences. Pallasmaa calls it “silent knowledge” and in a device-obsessed society we often either ignore, or simply reject, the intangibles. Pallasmaa argues that perhaps only 20 percent of human interaction is through a verbal or conceptual channel. The rest remains as unspoken experiences.
As a kid I would swing on the monkey bars in the playground. I didn’t sit down and write a thesis before trying the swing – I just tried it. In the process, I was creating muscle memory and trusting that my hand would do the thinking and know instinctively what to do next. I had to explore my surroundings through touch and feel. Over time the playground did not change but the way I interacted with it did. I had gathered knowledge and was able to experience and understand the same space differently. It is this sort of interaction that has helped me in the way I design as an architect.
On my way to work each day, I see people with their invisible social bubbles, taking the same safe and known routes. I catch myself putting on this invisible bubble and ask myself what kind of “silent knowledge” am I missing out on?