Designing environmental relations: perception, form and experience

Mike Anusas

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper argues that modern physical design formations, which are based upon an object-based way of perceiving the world, have the effect of inhibiting rich and engaged relationships between people and their surrounding environments. Through drawing on critical perspectives in philosophy, anthropology, design, architecture and landscape architecture, the paper links anthropological critiques on the dualism of society and nature, with distinctions between human-made and natural objects, built and natural environments, physical surfaces and infrastructures and cartesian divisions between mind and body. These conceptions are shown to influence design thinking, and consequently, the material form of everyday products, architectures and spaces. With this, modern design demarcates physical boundaries within everyday environments and limits the human experience of physical formations to shallow interactions, simplified material contact and reduced structures of skill and practice. The result of this is a modern material culture which affords little opportunity for an environmental ‘education of attention’ (Gibson 1979: 254) which might draw human experience into the sensorial depths and complexities of environments around them; and consequently encourage inhabitants to become aware of how daily life is continually sustained by flows of matter, energy and life. In response to this critical argument, the paper concludes through discussing an alternative perspective on environmental perception put forward by Ingold (2011) and extends this line of thinking to consider its implications for design practice. Presented here are examples of emergent and conceptual design practice in product, architectural and spatial design, which have the potential to disrupt conventional structures of perception and form, and draw people into intricate and layered environmental experience. The ideas in this paper emerge from current research work by the author and they are also informed by a recent international interdisciplinary research project between designers, artists, anthropologists and environmental researchers entitled ‘Designing Environments for Life’ (Ingold et al 2010). Elements of this paper were recently presented to the Scottish Government as part of a research and policy knowledge exchange activity. However, the ideas within the paper are not limited to a Scottish context, and their presentation at IAPS 2012 is to explore their relevance to a wider international audience in environment research and policy making.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2012
EventIAPS 2012 Human Experience in the Natural and Built Environment: Implications for Research Policy and Practice - Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Jun 201229 Jun 2012


ConferenceIAPS 2012 Human Experience in the Natural and Built Environment: Implications for Research Policy and Practice
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • design
  • anthropology
  • environment
  • objects
  • material culture
  • perception


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