Concrete Geometries – Spatial Form and Social Behaviour

Marianne Mueller, Fran Cottell

Project Period:
Type: Affiliated Research Project
Program Area(s): Critical Projections


The fact that spaces, their form and configuration affects people’s social behaviour seems an obvious statement to make - especially by an architect. But over the recent years there has been surprisingly little discourse on this subject within the discipline. Is architecture losing sight of those difficult to quantify societal implications of its production?
‘Concrete Geometries’ is a research initiative at the Architectural Association School of Architecture that explores the immediate relationship between spatial form and social processes. This ongoing project explores how geometric aspects of space such as: size, shape or relative position of form and figures might be perceived by individuals or collectives and influence their behaviour, not in an abstract sense but in ways that are real.
The title of this project is derived from the notion of ‘concrete’ as ‘existing in reality or in actual experience’ and the abbreviation ‘geometries’ acting as a surrogate for spatial form or figure. ‘Concrete Geometries’ is interested in the particular and immediate, and with actual use or practice.

‘Concrete Geometries’ is practice focused and continues to AA’s tradition of applied research or ‘research by design’. The cluster acts through open calls, exhibitions, discussions and publications but also initiates 1:1 projects such as installations that serve as a test or live experiment. By bringing together art, architecture and humanities, the cluster aims to provide a platform beyond disciplinary boundaries. The base assumption of the project is simple: spatial form has a direct impact onto people’s social behaviour such as...
... stimulating psychological or behavioural responses in a viewer/user through particular aesthetic or sensory experiences at the scale of the collective or individual, potentially developing a social dimension.
... supporting, preventing or triggering individual or collective acts of inhabitation, appropriation, use and other types of direct engagement. Spatial form can provide support or obstruction for the unfolding of social situations and the production of intersubjective encounters.
... representing specific social cultures and as such delineating or breaking down boundaries and hierarchies. A spatial form might be read as embracing or expelling,inviting or excluding, assembling, distributing or dividing.

Through this research, we are trying to link the question of spatial form to forms of appropriation, searching for the explicit relational potential of spatial form. We are searching for connections between ‘the lived and the built’ (Shonfield) or relations between ‘anthropological space’ and ‘geometrical space’ (Merleau Ponty). At the core of this enquiry is the user/viewer in (their or her) dual role: as someone who on the one hand is directly and physically engaged with the built world through acts of appropriation and use: and on the other as someone who perceives
and emotionally responds – a more removed yet equally engaged relationship. Recent art practices have managed to involve the user/viewer into their production in ways worth noting. Relational art or ‘relational aesthetics’ experiments with the lasting construction of social processes and sociabilities. Other more visual movements within the art scene are working with the sense perception of art as a collective experience with an implied social dimension. In this presentation we would like to present three working definitions of the ‘social’ backed up through a series of case studies from our archive.

  1. Sensory engagement: The social as shared experience
  2. Relational space and sociability
  3. Social contracts

We will be using a number of case studies from recent art, architecture and urbanistic practice that serve as case studies. These have been collated by the cluster through an open call and challenge social ideas in situ. We will also be presenting our exhibition ‘The Relational in Architecture’ held
at the Architectural Association in 2011; an event with a dual purpose: a space of display, contemplating the relationship between spatial form and social behavior; and an actual research space: artist Fran Cottell inserted a white platform that transformed the social environment of the exhibition.
Concrete Geometries is a research initiative based at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London since 2009.

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