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Tactile Perception

Written & photographic study

A study into our perception of tactility relative to changing viewpoints, informed by Alvar Aalto’s brickwork fields and Agnes Martin’s grid paintings.

This study explores an interest in the perception of surfaces as ‘tactile’. Primarily, this incorporates an investigation into first hand experiences of recognisable tactile surfaces, gaining an understanding of the definitive characteristics and facets of tactile perception. The dissertation topic was founded with a curiosity in surface materiality and the creation of buildings that are characterful, stimulating and engaging.

The work of architect Alvar Aalto provides the focus of this study, sourcing case studies with surfaces that are stimulating, engaging and, above all, tactile. A research trip to Finland in September 2013 provided an inspiring and fulfilling journey, visiting numerous works by the architect, spending time in the unique Finnish landscape, and gaining some insight into the Finnish way of life.

In developing an objective definition to the perception of a surface as being ‘tactile’, the first hand experience of three Aalto case studies is presented in depth, namely Säynätsalo Town Hall, Muuratsalo Experimental House and the House of Culture in Helsinki. The experiences of Aalto’s brickwork fields and the work of painter Agnes Martin, alongside theories of perception from scholars such as Alois Riegl, combine to define a relationship between the viewer’s tactile perception of a surface, and their respective proximity to the surface. This series of viewpoints is presented as two extremes, the far and the close, and the most interesting and stimulating: the middle range.

The study concludes with a delineation of the various and often cumulative facets of tactile perception, including the recognition of relief and texture, compositional subdivision, proportional viewpoint, and the balance of both optic and haptic sensations, in viewing the surface simultaneously as a two dimensional plane whilst having three-dimensional depth.