Week 2: Insights From Phenomenology

Apr 08, 2021

This week, I studied the area of Philosophy known as Phenomenology, which addresses how a person perceives and interacts with their real-world surroundings. To do this, I read from Dr. Chad Engelland’s “Phenomenology” while considering how the concepts discussed could apply to liminal space.

While philosophers such as Descartes argued that it is impossible to verify whether an objective world exists (since a person can only experience it through their own consciousness), Phenomenology argues that a person directly experiences an objective reality by noticing how their own knowledge of the world becomes consistent with itself across multiple related instances of perception. For example, while a person may first see a mirror as an oval from one perspective, facing the mirror head-on reveals the mirror to circular. According to Phenomenology, these separate perceptions of the same real-world object allow a person to discern the objective characteristics of that object – in the case of the mirror, a person would realize, after changing their line of sight, that they are looking at an upright circle in 3D space. In another example from the text, imagine you see an unusually shaped rock on the beach. As you approach the rock, you see legs appear from under it and carry it away, allowing you to realize that you are looking at a turtle. Phenomenology argues that this “unfolding of experience” is the means by which the external world is revealed to someone.



One way phenomenology investigates how a person’s understanding of their environment changes over time is through the concept of a “lifeworld”. In the “lifeworld”, sensory perception and abstract thinking come together to define how an individual experiences reality; someone in a good mood might interpret the faint smell of smoke as a barbecue happening nearby, while someone in an anxious mood might suspect a fire. Over time, the details of their immediate environment are revealed – looking out the window allows this person to view the cookout happening down the street. To further illustrate this process, Engelland gives the example of making breakfast. If a person wakes up hungry, they might seek to reduce that hunger by taking bread out from a drawer, putting it in the toaster, and preparing butter. In light of their hunger, the person is focused on the broader task at hand, making breakfast. It isn’t until after the toast comes out burnt that an individual becomes aware of additional, unconsidered aspects of their surroundings, prompting investigation into why the toast was burnt (the setting was too high). Phenomenology suggests that this continuously improving understanding of the objective world is born out of distinct events, or “manifestations” where the characteristics of a person’s environment are revealed. In the case of the outdoor barbecue, the faint smell of smoke would be an example of a manifestation.

The true qualities of this pitcher plant manifested the hard way (2)


In terms of liminal space, I wonder if the anxiety a person might experience during the middle phase of travel is related to this idea that mental state influences how a person perceives their surroundings. By focusing on the overall goal of a transition space (to serve as transportation between distinct locations), a traveler might lose touch with the details of their immediate environment, contributing to an experience of “un-reality” or “non-space”. Keeping with the comparison, transportation architecture could include elements intended to serve as manifestations, allowing a person to become more aware of their surroundings, which in turn could help re-establish “sense of place”. In terms of helping users access the aforementioned “Third Space” as a means of transitioning between separate tasks, this process of manifestation might also encourage meditative engagement with the present surroundings.

Western Sydney Airport, Australia (3)


I imagine that design elements that could serve as manifestations would actively engage with the senses of viewers, encouraging light exploration of the architecture as a whole. This follows from the Phenomenological idea that a more complete understanding of a person’s environment is achieved when observed from multiple perspectives. One effective example of this might be the design plans for a new terminal at Western Sydney Airport, which incorporates undulating textures along the ceiling that encourage repeated inspection as a person moves through the terminal. Another example might be a design concept for a railway station in Germany which makes use of skylights, giving pedestrians an opportunity to catch glimpses of the the surrounding greenery.


Main Station – Stuttgart, Germany (4)


My task for next week will be to analyze art featuring liminal space while learning about 3D perspective drawing in anticipation of my first design project.

Works Cited:

  • 1) Engelland, Chad. Phenomenology. Amsterdam-Netherlands, Netherlands, Amsterdam University Press, 2020.
  • 2) Adam Fraser. “Dr Adam Fraser Explains The Third Space.” YouTube, uploaded by Adam Fraser, 10 July 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=dpk_dssZXqs&t=6s.

Images Cited:

  • 1) Frerck, Robert. “Save This Beach for Endangered Sea Turtles.” Blue Ocean, 2021, blueocean.net/save-beach-endangered-sea-turtles.
  • 2) Perrone, Jane. “A Catch-All Guide to Growing Carnivorous Plants.” Financial Times, 5 Apr. 2019, www.ft.com/content/6b71cd84-4ff5-11e9-8f44-fe4a86c48b33.
  • 3) Crook, Lizzie. “Zaha Hadid Architects and Cox Architecture Reveal Visuals of Sydney Airport.” Dezeen, 29 Oct. 2019, www.dezeen.com/2019/10/29/western-sydney-international-airport-zaha-hadid-architects-cox-architecture.
  • 4) “Main Station Stuttgart | Ingenhoven Architects.” Archello, 2021, archello.com/project/main-station-stuttgart.

3 Replies to “Week 2: Insights From Phenomenology”

  1. Brett G. says:

    Your research this week was so fascinating. I have never heard of the area of Philosophy known as Phenomenology. It is great that you use your research and tie that into your overarching question. I also enjoy how you tie your new knowledge into real-life examples such as the Western Sydney Airport.

  2. Elizabeth C. says:

    The examples and images really helped me understand the relationship between phenomenology and your project. I also liked how to linked aspects of your previous research into this analysis.

  3. Asha W. says:

    Your research on phenomenology is so interesting, and I love that you included media. You make your work easy to understand by introducing a new idea and then seamlessly connecting it to previous ideas. Great work Jacob!

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