Body Conscious Design: Designing for the Near Environment
Body-Conscious Design, Galen Cranz
"A sociological lens also helped me write the history of chairs in an original way—not just the artistic forms, the technology, nor the ergonomics, but also the explicit and latent social purposes. Importantly, I was able to show how society and culture control and shape the human body via the chair. I learned how our bodies are an expression of social forces when I trained mid-career as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, a system of posture and movement. That lead me to offer a seminar in 1989 Designing for the Near-Environment, which has since been renamed Body Conscious Design, probably still my most popular course 27 years later." (Galen Cranz, 2016)
Above: two designs by Galen Cranz. Left: the "Origami Living Room," in her home, in LaVie magazine; and "Plane Line, Happy Spine," featured at the SEAT Competition in Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA.
Course Information: Architecture 212, Body Conscious Design
Professor Galen Cranz
Adapted from the 2012 Course Syllabus
"This seminar prepares students to evaluate and design environments from the point of view of how they interact with the human body. Tools and clothing modify that interaction. Semi‑fixed features of the near‑environment, especially furniture, may have greater impact on physical well being and social‑psychological comfort than fixed features like walls, openings, and volume.
Scott's Architecture of Humanism roots architectural theory in proprioception, the body's sense of mass, pressure, volume and orientation in space. Kinesthetics shaped Olmsted's approach toward landscape design. Reformers and therapists from prison authorities to birthing center planners believe in communicating their ideas through and into the bodily experiences of their inmates and participants. Aspects of building science pertaining to perception of comfort ultimately rest on culturally modified ideas about the body. Today designers can help redefine and legitimize new attitudes towards supporting the human body by, for example, designing for a wide range of postural alternatives and possibly designing new kinds of furniture.
This course covers these topics with special emphasis on chair design and evaluation. The public health implications of a new attitude toward posture and back support will be explored. The course will heighten students' consciousness of their own and others' physical perceptions through weekly experiential exercises. Students will produce three design exercises: shoe, chair, and a room interior." (Galen Cranz).
Images courtesy of Galen Cranz and the Visual Resources Center, UC Berkeley, Galen Cranz collection.