In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture and Emotion

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Phenomenology
  • Affect Theory
  • Atmospheres
  • Emotional Geography
  • History of Emotions
  • Happy Design

Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture and Emotion
Sara Honarmand Ebrahimi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0097


What is the relationship between architecture and emotions? The answer may lie in Winston Churchill’s famous 1943 statement: “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” But there is more to this relationship than this statement suggests. Researchers who seek to examine this relationship now have access to a large body of scholarship that includes phenomenology, affect theory, emotional geography, and atmospheric experience. The key contribution of this body of scholarship lies in its stress on embodiment and “lived space” of architecture, rather than the physical space. But they largely universalize the body and see the relationship between architecture and emotions through various nature/culture, culture/biology, and reason/emotion divides. They also treat emotions as just another category of (historical) analysis. Histories of emotions (and the senses) have been problematizing these reductive views and ways of analysis since the 1980s. They operate on two main claims: emotions both make history and have history. The word “emotion” itself is a product of the nineteenth century, before which there were “appetites,” “passions,” “affections,” or “sentiments.” These two claims have led to the groundbreaking observation that the relationship between architecture and emotions is not given once and for all; this relationship changes over time and the same building can evoke different emotions in diverse people depending on their gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, previous experiences, and so on. This observation has precedence in the work of feminist scholars of the city, interested in geographies of fear. As early as the 1990s, these scholars emphasized people’s diverse and changing experiences of urban environments. Historians of emotions have expanded upon this scholarship through stressing the temporal and cultural dimensions of emotions, the interrelation between emotions and the senses, and the relationship between architecture and emotions as being biocultural, rather than directional. They endeavor to make the exploration of uncertainties and “feeling differently” an important part of the research practice. It is no longer acceptable to make distinctions between good or bad architecture, between cause and effect, or to argue that we can re-experience the past. The relationship between architecture and emotions is diverse, plural, changing, and laden with feelings of otherwise. An exploration of this changing and unstable relationship should become a scholarly practice that will help us learn more about the buildings as well as the societies they were built in and lived through.

General Overview

There are a range of studies on which scholars have repeatedly drawn on to examine the relationship between architecture and emotions. Among them are Merleau-Ponty 2010, Lefebvre 1991, and Deleuze and Guattari 1994. They have been pivotal for the “affective turn” in the humanities. Alongside these studies, there exist several “guide books” and works of reappraisal. The purpose of these publications is to provide points of clarification while highlighting pitfalls. Among these publications are examinations of Lefebvre’s theory of space in Stanek 2011 and Elden 2004, analysis of Merleau-Ponty in Hale 2017, the exploration of “affect” throughout Deleuze’s work in Cross 2021, and the reappraisal of affect theory in Frichot and Jobst 2020. Since the 2010s, historians of emotions have added nuances to these studies. Pernau 2014 and Reckwitz 2012 show the changing and unstable nature of the relationship between the built environment and feelings, and Leys 2017 questions the usefulness of affect theory. Boddice 2022 emphasizes these points, adding the importance of examining this relationship through biocultural historicism. Stating that the material and the mental should be seen together—as Lefebvre did—retains their duality and binary. Boddice argues that this duality should be dissolved. The relationship between architecture and emotions is not directional; rather it is entwined in a dynamic of cause and effect.

  • Boddice, Rob. “Commentary.” Emotions: History, Culture, Society 6.1 (2022): 174–177.

    DOI: 10.1163/2208522X-02010152

    Emphasizes the importance of accounting for “change” in language, in being, and in buildings when examining the relationship between architecture and emotions. Meanwhile, it hits at how the future of research on the history of emotions and architecture might be: where the new materialism, thing theory, object-oriented ontology, the theory of atmospheres, and emotional geographies cohere, defining a specific theoretical and methodological canon.

  • Carman, Taylor. Merleau-Ponty. London: Routledge, 2005.

    Provides an overview of Merleau-Ponty’s life and work. It discusses not only his philosophy of perception and intentionality, the role of the body in perception and his contributions to the philosophy of art but also his legacy and relevance today, which makes it particularly useful. The second edition of the book published in 2019 includes annotated further reading.

  • Cross, D. J. S. Deleuze and the Problem of Affect. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021.

    DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474485548.001.0001

    Explores “affect” throughout Deleuze’s work and discusses how he remains ambivalent toward affect and embodiment. It reappraises Deleuze’s philosophy pivotal role for the “affective turn” in philosophy and humanities at large. Studies and researchers across various disciplines would find this book useful.

  • Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. What Is Philosophy? Translated by Graham Burchell. New York: Colombia University Press, 1994.

    An English translation of Deleuze and Guattari’s 1991 book Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? They conceptualize affect in this book. Their conceptualization separates affect from sensation and perception. It also separates it from both subject and object.

  • Elden, Stuart. Understanding Henri Lefebvre. London and New York: Continuum, 2004.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781472547798

    Places Henry Lefebvre in his historical and intellectual contexts. What the analysis offers is wide-ranging, covering Lefebvre’s works across politics, philosophy, history, literature, and culture. As such, it is of interest to scholars in diverse fields. For those interested in the history of the relationship between architecture and emotions, it is of interest for its emphasis on understanding Lefebvre’s work on the production of space and everyday life in its specific historical context.

  • Frichot, Hélène, and Marko Jobst. Architectural Affects after Deleuze and Guattari. London: Routledge, 2020.

    An edited collection that surveys ways of theorizing affect in architecture, reflects on legacy and influence of Deleuze and Guattari, and stresses the importance of the political. It is also imagined as an antidote to the enduring fixation on architectural phenomenology. The diversity of approaches and themes covered in this book makes it useful to students and researchers alike across disciplines.

  • Hale, Jonathan. Merleau-Ponty for Architects. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

    Summarizes what Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy has to offer to architects. The reader learns how to locate architectural thinking in the context of his work while being introduced to key texts and further readings. It is a useful resource for both students and researchers and can be read alongside Merleau-Ponty’s work.

  • Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 1991.

    An English translation of Lefebvre 1974’s book Production de l’espace. Lefebvre incorporated insights of several thinkers in this book to develop the following concept: the critique of everyday life. In doing so, he endeavors to fill the gap between the material and the mental.

  • Leys, Ruth. The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226488738.001.0001

    Surveys emotion research from Tomkins to Zajonc and Ekman while paying specific attention to controversies in and critiques of their work. It shows how these controversies and critiques have been selectively ignored. A result is the whole edifice of affect theory, which would not have been held true had these critiques been considered. It is a work of intellectual history not to be missed by students and researchers alike.

  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Donald A. Landes. London: Routledge, 2010.

    A new English translation of Merleau-Ponty 1945’s book Phénoménologie de la perception. The book foregrounds the body, sketching out how it structures our experiences within the world. It shows how our embodied experiences are neither irreducible to sensations nor to thoughts or judgments.

  • Pernau, Margrit. “Space and Emotion: Building to Feel.” History Compass 12.7 (2014): 541–549.

    DOI: 10.1111/hic3.12170

    Suggests “temporalization” as the central category in examining the relationship between materiality and emotions. This category recognizes this relationship as cultural, temporal, and unstable. It shows how researchers can use this category by drawing on the built environment of Delhi as a case study.

  • Reckwitz, Andreas. “Affective Spaces: A Praxeological Outlook.” Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 16.2 (2012): 241–258.

    DOI: 10.1080/13642529.2012.681193

    Outlines “praxeological perspective” as an alternative conceptual framework for analyzing emotions and affects by paying attention to artifacts and space. It sees the examination of the interconnection between emotions and spaces as indispensable to explaining “cultural change of affective structures in history” (p. 243).

  • Stanek, Łukasz. Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816666164.001.0001

    Demonstrates how Lefebvre’s theory of space was formulated within an engagement with sociology, architecture, and urbanism that was unfolding in 1960s and early-1970s France. In so doing, it argues that Lefebvre’s intellectual contribution went beyond purely philosophical theorizing; it was both embedded in and influenced urbanism and architectural projects and debates of the day that continue to stake out the tendencies of global urban conditions to this day.

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