Design Through Performance: Physical Thinking in Making Architecture

If there is one thing we have not ustilised enough in architecture, it is the human body. Not as a passive inhabitant of space, but as an active place-maker and database that would further inform a design process.

Occupying Momentum explores design as a process of reading, representing and making architectural spaces through a ‘thinking body’s movement data’ – regarding the human body as a cognitive, drawing, sculpting and measuring tool, observed simultaneously by three different cameras.

Occupying Momentum raises questions regarding ‘who’ actually is the ‘body’: the performer, the maker, the audience, the camera, or all at the same time?

Can we speak about the Architectural Drawing as an Inhabitable Notational Space, where lines stop being 2D bodiless forms but acquire body, matter and substance?

If we change the way that objects are inhabited,  can we perhaps challenge or even change their typology? How would a door look like if it was ‘performed’ rather than drawn on paper? How would a building look like?

Borrowing key techniques from the world of performance, such as Physical Thinking, Occupying Momentum attempts to analyse a process for making a design that is analogous to the process of creating a piece of choreography, bridging the world of architecture with the world of performance.



Architecture is seen as a process and series of translations. It starts with a text related to an architectural plan, describing the site’s experiential and geometrical qualities. The text is then narrated to a performer who translates it into movement while ‘marking’ in space, with traces of his thoughts and observations describing the site in its absence. The data of the movement is captured by three cameras and analysed into a Notational Drawing that describes architecture in terms of movement rather than form, using the body as a tool of cognition, drawing and sculpting. Notational Drawing is further translated into an 1:1 notational and sculptural outcome: Notational Space.


The project’s site is Asylum, an arts organisation based in Peckham, London. The aim of the investigation is to understand how this site would look like if it was ‘danced’. The space is 3D scanned in order to be explored both virtually and physically. Using three cameras, including a front view camera, a moving camera and a virtual camera, the site is seen as a series of experiential observations, from steps 1 to 20, focusing on the site’s geometry, existing patterns and cracks, expressed on a drawing consisting only of words, that the performer translates into movement.



In Occupying Momentum drawing is used as a cognitive map of observed and designed spatial data and as a set of instructions of how to design or inhabit the Notational Space. This is a form of drawing that is derived from the ‘thinking body’, as captured by the three cameras. Notational drawing describes space as a repeated sequence of actions and observations and as a form of ‘place-telling’. It describes both a spatial composition and a body composition heading towards an architecture that cannot exist without the human body and a human body that cannot exist without the architectonic body. This drawing is called Place-Script.



The objects, as outcomes of the Notational Drawing, are regarded more as spaces rather than forms, as they are results of exhaustive data acquisition from the performer in motion. While the body performs, it both draws and sculpts space. Thus the outcome of the projection of these movements are the lines of the Notational Drawing in their three dimensional condition. The Line as Object and the Drawing without Paper, ideas firstly introduced by the architect Gego, are fundamental characteristics that inspire a process for drawing in a tactile three dimensional way.



Occupying Momentum, puts forward the body as an instrument of cognition. Being a thinking entity and an open force field, it endlessly negotiates its position and condition in space formulating ways of perceiving and communicating its understandings bodily. It perceives space through a form of conscious dialogue, while ‘thinking’ in a way that is integral to a manner of physical performance. The body is an extension of space and space the extension of the body.


But why all that? The reason is simple:

“How can I know what I’m thinking, unless I see what I say” (E.M. Forster)

“How can I know what a phrase really is until I see what I do”? (Kirsh, 2010:2868)

“How can I know what I design until I see how I move?” (Design Through Performance, Kyveli Anastasiadi)

By Kyveli Anastasiadi


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