Vitruvian Man Leonardo Da VinciArchitecture and Embodiment

My main theoretical interest – and the theme that underlies all the work I have done in teaching, publishing and practice-led research – is the relationship between architecture and the body. I am concerned with the implications for architectural theory of the fact that, as human beings, we are – fundamentally – embodied entities. As research in the disciplines of psychology, sociology, philosophy and anthropology has shown us, this bodily condition has far-reaching consequences for how we think and act in relation to our built environment. I have therefore tried to explore some of these issues in my own research work across four key areas of architectural activity:

  • Representation: how we design our buildings and the nature of the tools we use to help us imagine and explore them.
  • Construction: how we fabricate and assemble buildings, and how – when complete – they reveal or conceal these processes.
  • Occupation: how we engage with and transform our buildings in the act of inhabiting them.
  • Interpretation: how we make sense of them linguistically and conceptually, and how we discuss, debate and decide about them.

The following text picks out what I consider to be the key research outputs from within my full list of publications and projects, and situates them in relation to the four strands set out above. Most of my work has been focussed in what I consider to be the intersecting areas of construction, occupation and interpretation, although I have also been involved in some collaborative research related to architectural representation. My ultimate aim is to understand the sequence above not as a linear but rather a circular process – and to show how the knowledge that emerges from the embodied activities of occupying and interpreting architecture feeds back into the processes of design and construction.


The question of embodiment in relation to the tools and techniques of architectural representation is becoming more and more significant with each new advance in digital drawing and modelling capability. The recent dramatic shift away from traditional manual techniques has led many to question the impact of the new software interfaces on the cognitive processes involved in the act of design. Just as the keyboard, mouse and screen seemed to be pushing us away from bodily reality – interposing further layers of mediation between our bodies and the spaces and materials we are trying to manipulate – so recent advances in CAD-CAM and digital fabrication technologies are promising to bring the two worlds back together – reuniting the processes of design and construction towards what some have even called a ‘new middle-ages’ – a time when architects were still ‘master-builders’ tracing out their designs at full-scale on site.

In 2004, working with my then colleagues at Nottingham, Bradley Starkey, Nick Temple and Nader El-Bizri, who were all engaged in research on different aspects of architectural representation – historical, theoretical and practical – we were awarded funding from the Leverhulme Trust to bring Professor Marco Frascari from North America to spend a semester working with us at Nottingham. As well as a 2-day international conference in November 2005 this collaboration also resulted in a Routledge book in the ‘AHRA Critiques’ series entitled From Models to Drawings [1]. As well as hearing from invited speakers such as the philosopher Don Ihde,  Alberto Perez-Gomez, and Jonathan Hill, the book also allowed us to bring together work that addressed directly the theme of embodiment in representation – most notably in the chapters by Paul Emmons (in relation to scale), Sam Ridgeway (in relation to construction) and Katie Lloyd-Thomas (on the language of building specifications).

Partly as a result of this project, as well as other work on technology and embodiment, in 2009 I was invited to contribute a chapter to the Sage Handbook of Architectural Theory [2] which, while being a broad survey of current thinking on the relations between ‘architecture, technology and the body’ also briefly addressed some of the issues raised by the AHRA book.


This section is quite literally ‘Under Construction’..

  • [3] Hale, J. A., Signs of Resistance: Re-membering Technology, Journal of Architecture, 5(1), 2000, 91-97.
  • [4] Hale, J., Gottfried Semper’s Primitive Hut as an Act of Self-creation, arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 9(1), 2005, 45-49.
  • [5] Hale, J., Ends Middles Beginnings: Edward Cullinan Architects, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2005. pp. 288.
  • [6] Braham, W.W., Hale, J.A., (eds) Rethinking Technology: a Reader in Architectural Theory, Abingdon: Routledge, 2007. pp. 466.



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Housing and the City book cover
Borsi, Ekici, Hale & Haynes, eds. Housing and the City (AHRA2020) Abingdon: Routledge, 2022

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CAA Campus, Phase II, Hangzhou, 2003–2007, designed by Amateur Architecture Studio.
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