Dialogue and its execution are reliant on and affected by physical infrastructures, and so it is vital to recognize the ways that the construction of our environment has implications for the direction and quality of the dialogues in which we are involved. One of the most important elements of successful dialogues is that, even in their most rudimentary forms, they always demand a semblance of vulnerability regardless of the subject matter. Thus, it is essential to ensure that any and every space that we set up for a formal dialogue accommodates for and ensures that the space lends itself to potential disclosures of vulnerability by the dialogue partners. In fact, in my research I have found that the most successful dialogues are those which promote various kinds of openness, including and especially, those "openings" that reveal the kinds of personal, "vulnerable" disclosures that often provide essential insights about one or more of the dialogue partners. Therefore, the architecture of physical space is imperative for allowing possible moments of what I call “vulnerable communication.”
Conversing with others is at the epicenter of human desire. It is an innate behavior, and the intricacies of conversing include preserving humanistic tendencies that either close off or open the process of dialogue which is essential for building healthy community relations. Thus, it is imperative for our physical spaces to continue to nurture and enable primitive functions. Speaking is an innate and inevitable habit and humans are hard wired to express themselves vocally. Verbal expression takes precedent over any other communicative function. Through more intentional usage of space in our buildings, relationships can be nurtured.
It is my second year working with The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP, and the focus for this academic year’s work has been on learning just what it means to carry on a philosophic dialogue, which I have condensed and have used my research efforts to examine the influence that curvilinear spaces have on self-disclosure and the success of a dialogue.
Architecture has proven to be essential to the human experience because of how it surround humans in their daily, mundane experiences of human life. The presence of architecture has had impending and prevailing impacts on the cultivation of our surroundings. According to Donald Schmitt, our environment is highly constructed and does not correspond authentically with the notions of a natural world. Consider that fifty percent of the world lives in an urbanized setting and by the year 2050, two-thirds of the population will be found living in a constructed, urbanized world. Dialogical conversations have occurred in the kinds of spaces that have been designed or designated as spaces that could accommodate singularly assigned topics, thus facilitating back-and-forth dialogue, as opposed to the universality and organic flow that may transpire in a other kinds of casual conversations without such intentional topics. Thus, architecture, as a design practice, can influence someone’s disposition towards this or that subject matter to be explored.
Physical spaces are important for developing particular kinds of dialogue and thus, from my research, more work needs to be done to understand how physically built spaces are oriented to inspire and cater to specific topics. What I mean is that architecture can be an enabler of dialogue and has unspoken components that facilitate the transpiring of fruitful forms of dialogical speaking. The principles of architecture adhere to a consensus that the priority in designing space should be to create the conditions to become like a catalyst that can release the potential that corresponds to a subset of demands. For example, space as a concept can best be described as a phenomenon that is produced or constructed to align with current social phenomena and its Zeitgeist. It is a structural formation that coincides with and placates the current demand but still has the capacity to render itself adaptable. What I have learned from my research is the importance of architecture as an extension, supporting and mediating the dialogical climate. In other words, architectural space is where the conception of ideas and discussion occurs and is intended to foster multiple voices and thus it is essential to ensure that more attention be given to how constructed spaces accommodate the multiplicity of voices that form the openness of dialogical encounters.
A good example of what I have learned in my research about how architecture fosters dialogical openness is how the physical schematics of space are composed of tangible characteristics, which are fundamental to the physical manifestation and presentation of the space. Every presentation of space is subject to the qualifications of space. The contents of space are composed of universal and consistent criteria that align with the human senses and so the implementation of certain kinds of sensory components can generate a synchronized experience for dialogue between humans in such spaces. Visual stimuli like color, textual components, auditory ambiances, and scents can be been utilized for a facilitating a kind of ‘harmonizing’ functionality as opposed to stimulating or inciting dialogue or creating an atmosphere appropriate for allowing for dialogical vulnerability. The regulation and transition of space being individualized and assessed—i.e., utilized for what I call harmonizing functionality—occurs cognitively, and thus, exposure to such spaces has had a generalizing experience attached to them, meaning that the sensory elements of space can be used to create back and forth dialogical experiences that inadvertently "cause" individuals to converse in kinds of general, homogenous ways—as just one of the mass crowd. The mind deciphers and differentiates each space according to its material manifestations and there are certain attributes that induce specific reactions and feelings. Hence, particular material or design features can precondition the direction of a conversation and thus the experiences for the individual and their speaking partner.
It has been recently learned that there is an innate preference in visual culture for curvilinear spaces or replications of it and that “We gravitate towards curvilinear forms as being more approachable than rectilinear ones. Angular objects have an unconscious effect on your emotions, they inhibit out playful impulses while round shapes do the opposite”. Integrating and achieving a universal architectural language that remains adaptive and accommodating to any potential conversation in a multitude of spaces is created by implementing essential architectural language as a material context that facilitates, adapts, and emphasizes how humans connect via verbal discourse. It has been suggested that the most efficient configuration of space that creates the possibility of eliciting the aforementioned objectives are curvilinear spatial configurations or imitations. What I have also found in my research is that historical accounts support the idea that circular arrangements have been a recurring form that remained relevant because of their versatility and that such forms are more conducive to a happier lifestyle for the civilians using spaces with curvilinear elements while also being a practical use for the environment. The oldest forms of curvilinear construction have been circular, but the use of curvilinear forms in architecture has presided and persisted throughout history because its geometry is favorable to promoting dialogue between humans and because it is a basic symbol that represents unity. Furthermore, spaces assembled in curved fashion are proven to evoke positive feelings, be they psychologically comforting feelings or just the promotion of pleasant feelings. Therefore, curvilinear arrangements are optimal configurations because of their restorative qualities for both mental and emotional aspects that are necessary as a precursor to successful and transparent dialogues.
Conversations in their most rudimentary forms tend to be practiced with the intent of expressing internal concerns and function as the preemptive and primary manner to discuss and disclose. It is important to recognize that dialogical forms of conversation are precursors to social progress and that if we want to better understand what a successful dialogue is, we should be attentive to self-disclosure efforts regardless of the setting. However, it has also been discovered that the practice of self-disclosing information is partly a product of its environment, that is, of the architecture of a space. The likelihood of sharing personal information is increased when the disclosure’s state of mind is positive, which can depend upon how someone feels in this or that physical space. Self-disclosure is an integral and fundamental event that presides in the premature stages of relationships and can strengthen all types of relationships. However, because of its demands on the participants to become more vulnerable while also being able to reflect on their newly disclosed and possibly intimate subject matter, it’s important to also keep in mind that fruitful dialogues do not occur instinctively but rather are reliant on environmental factors which then gradually generate the emotional capacity to disclose.
Research has been conducted to further emphasize the emotional and mental inhibitors or amplifiers to which certain spatial arrangements may contribute. One experiment that I studied had multiple variables enforced to best examine and achieve a conclusion regarding responses that differed based on different kinds of space. Both rooms were identical but differed in size and interior design. One room was constructed in a narrow and imposing fashion, whereas the other was constructed resembling open, curvilinear arrangements. Participants in the experiment were placed in their designated rooms and were asked to vocalize their initial experience of the space. Participants assigned to the rectilinear space shared common responses of feeling confined and discouraged to freely express themselves. On the other hand, the responses of the participants in the curvilinear-oriented room consisted of feeling “free” and “pleasant.” Questions were then formulated to best cater to the self-disclosure formula: self-referencing and emotional and mental transparency. Questions began as standard and trivial conversations; how their day was and requests to describe a night out with friends. It then traversed into topics that are atypically discussed—they were asked to recount times they have felt scared, lonely, or insecure. Self-disclosure was then measured by recording and analyzing the speaking tendencies, self-referencing habits, and their behavioral reactions to the spatial properties.
Participants in the curvilinear room spoke for a prolonged amount of time and provided an extended amount of information, describing that they felt “comfortable in the room” and frequently self-referenced themselves. In contrast, in the rectilinear room, the participants spoke in curt direct responses, supplying only what was asked and not inserting any personal information; they did not reference themselves, responding in a disconnected manner and internalized their emotional dilemmas to only express their perceived spatial frustrations: “inside this room, I feel unhappy” or “I feel uncomfortable sharing personal information." The experiment solidifies the success of curvilinear spaces at assuaging and regulating mental and emotional tensions that preface the potential of a successful dialogue.
Practicing interpersonal transparency is a prerequisite to normalizing and broadening the contents of a dialogue. However, dialogues and other sorts of conversations seem to adhere to a kind of spatial etiquette and can be better understood as also products of their environment, enforcing the idea that if we are to have a successful dialogue we should pay better attention to the kinds of spaces in which they occur. Circular or curvilinear arrangements remove predisposed and inhibiting factors when deciding to verbalize vulnerable and sensitive information. Circular or curvilinear arrangements also appease the innate nature we have to communicate significant personal aspects about ourselves and thus should have a historical presence to solidify their reputation as conducive forms to implement a universal architectural language.
Because of the research that I have done regarding the good effects of curvilinear space for promoting more open and giving dialogues, it is clear to me that curvilinear configurations are compatible with the demands of dialogic conversation and encourage the humanistic tendency of communication.
1. “Speaking Is Natural; Reading and Writing Are Not.”
2. “The Impact of Architecture | Donald Schmitt | Tedxutsc.”
3. “Senses of Place: Architectural Design for the Multisensory Mind.” Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Sept. 2020
6. “Circle in Space-Space in Circle: A Study of Ratio between Open Space and Built-up Area in Historical Circular Objects.”
7. Room to Move: On Spatial Constraints and Self-Disclosure
Written by Jazmine Gracia, Undergraduate Research Fellow
The University of Texas at El Paso, The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP
Banner image courtesy of Vincent C. Martinez.
--Jovi, Biljana Stanislav. “Circle in Space-Space in Circle: A Study of Ratio between Open Space and Built-up Area in Historical Circular Objects.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 22 Apr. 2021, https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/13/9/4662.
--Moats, Louisa, et al. “Speaking Is Natural; Reading and Writing Are Not.” Reading Rockets, 29 Aug. 2019, https://www.readingrockets.org/article/speaking-natural-reading-and-writing-are-not.
--Okken, Vanessa. Room to Move: On Spatial Constraints and Self-Disclosure during ... https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239851527_Room_to_Move_On_Spatial_Constraints_and_Self-Disclosure_During_Intimate_Conversations.
--Schmitt, Donald. “The Impact of Architecture | Donald Schmitt | Tedxutsc.” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Apr. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVsCHMj5_Bo.
--Spence, Charles. “Senses of Place: Architectural Design for the Multisensory Mind.” Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Sept. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7501350/#:~:text=While%20architectural%20practice%20has%20traditionally,%2C%20smell%2C%20and%2C%20on%20rare.
--Tahsiri, Mina. “Designing with the Dialogic Self: A Framework for a Polyphonic Practice of Architectural Design.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 5 May 2022, https://www.mdpi.com/2673-8945/2/2/20.
As our humanities research project progressed in 2022 and 2023, one of our current priorities was creating an online symposium that would take place on April 12, 2023. We had been putting together an engaging and informative program meant to provide valuable insight and challenge the negative misconceptions of disability and showcase how art can be a powerful tool for expression and activism.