Week 0: Introduction

Mar 29, 2021

Monday, March 29:

Hi everyone! My name is Jacob Helzner, and I am excited to introduce you to my Senior Project on liminal space in transportation architecture. I am really looking forward to taking my first steps towards answering my research question this week. My question is as follows:

“In transportation architecture, how do design elements influence a user’s experience of liminality? How can such architecture be improved to address liminal disorientation?”

Tunnel between terminals 4 and 5 at LAX (1)

In-between and connecting recognizable destinations, a liminal space can be described as a “non-destination” where a particular rite of passage, such as travel, has become entrenched in the way individuals understand that environment. Instead of being its own destination, this environment functions as an intermediate step between a number of distinct locations; think of a tunnel or a waiting room, for example. As users spend extended periods of time in a liminal space, expectations of continued transition from one point to the next may contribute to distress as the constructed purpose of the space remains unfulfilled. In other words, a person’s understanding of their environment as a “non-destination”, intended only for transition from point A to point B, may lead to feelings of disorientation and anxiety while lingering in that environment. This lack of “sense of place” is an example of the anxiety one might feel during the middle stage of a rite of passage: the experience of being not quite here, and not quite there. To account for an individual’s experience of liminal disorientation, the architectural design of a transition space must incorporate elements establishing that space as a unique location, restoring “sense of place”. In terms of design philosophy, these strategies attempt to embrace the middle phase of a rite of passage as a destination in itself.

Over the course of my project, I will be working with my faculty advisor Mr. Opirhory and professional architect Jonathan Toews to identify some of these potential design solutions. Jonathan Toews runs an architectural firm, Davies-Toews architecture, with his wife Trattie Davies. Both were trained at Yale and together have worked on projects ranging from private homes to institutional facilities (official website linked below).

Amtrak waiting area at Penn Station (2)

Under the mentorship of my advisors, I will conduct an analysis of the architecture of four New York City transportation facilities, informing the creation of my own design proposal which will serve as the final deliverable of this project. In my analysis of the chosen sites, I intend to create and publish a survey assessing users’ psychological experience at each of the facilities. This should provide important context to my evaluation of the architectural elements used, specifically in terms of how those elements may contribute to or work against liminal disorientation.

In the coming weeks, I will review the works of reputable scholars in the fields of sociology, environmental psychology, and architecture to establish a conceptual framework through which I can approach my analysis of the chosen transportation facilities. This literature review will be supplemented by analysis of works of art and film that feature liminal space. I also intend to create my own artworks exemplifying both liminal and non-liminal space during this initial portion of the project.

“Paratopic” – Arbitrary Metric (3)

I am very excited to begin working on this project – while uncomfortable to many, I am fascinated by the uneasy atmosphere of monotonous lighting, long tunnels and bland, forgettable corridors. These elements of “non space” are of great interest to me artistically – disparate emotional experiences relating to transition, whether they be the passing of a loved one or advancement in one’s career, form an indistinct picture of what spending time in “non-space” means to an individual on a personal level.

That said, I hope the results of my research serve as a useful framework for the design of future transportation facilities. Airports, train stations and bus terminals used by millions of people each day should foster “sense of place” through their architecture rather than detract from it, making those spaces less disorienting and more habitable.

Link to proposal:

Davies-Toews Architecture:

Images Cited:

  • 1) Coomer, Shawn. “How to Make Airside Connections Between Terminals at LAX.” Miles to Memories, 3 Jan. 2020, milestomemories.com/lax-airside-connections-between-terminals.

4 Replies to “Week 0: Introduction”

  1. Elizabeth C. says:

    Jacob, you’ve crafted a really interesting project! Your use of examples and images was helpful in understanding the subject of liminal spaces. Was there a particular inspiration for your exploration of this field?

    1. Jacob H. says:

      Thank you and yes! I went to see James Turrell’s “Into the Light” at Mass MoCA last summer, an art installation which makes use of this phenomenon called the “Ganzfeld effect”. It’s a kind of sensory deprivation where all you can see is reduced to a wash of solid color, causing the brain to “fill in the blanks” through hallucination. This got me thinking about how environmental perception can influence mental state, which eventually led me to liminal space.

  2. Asha W. says:

    Wow, I never would’ve considered that the decor or lack of decor of a hallway or waiting room could have an effect on the mind. I loved that you’ve combined psychology and architecture. I think this is so creative! Good luck Jacob!

    1. Jacob H. says:

      Thank you so much Asha!

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