The Culture of Architecture: 3 buildings, 3 periods, 3 ideologies

The project’s research and analysis was compiled into a book written by Valerie Mace for the Making Interior Space journal on the MA Interior Design at the University of Westminster. Below are extracts from the section on Foreground, Middleground and Background followed by the section on Grand Narratives. 

A pdf copy of the book is available from

FMB01 FMB02 FMB03 GN01 GN02 GN03

Experiencing Spaces Lecture Series – October/November 2014

This term’s Spatial and CTS Lecture Series explores the theme Experiencing Spaces, looking at designers and thinkers who address people’s experiences of spaces. These events are organised by the Spatial Communication and Contextual and Theoretical Studies Programme as a platform for key thinkers and practitioners working across boundaries and at the cutting edge of their disciplines to present their work at LCC.

Monday 27 October: Charles Holland, Ordinary Architecture and FAT architecture
4.30 to 6.00 PM Main Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 30 October: Joana Seguro, Artists and Engineers
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 6 November: Sam Hill, PAN
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 13 November: Harriet Harris, Oxford Brookes University
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

Thursday 20 November: Linda Florence, Designer
1.00 to 2.00 PM Podium Lecture Theatre
London College of Communication

More information on each speaker in the PDF Lecture Series – Experiencing Spaces

Spatial Experience talk

By Valerie Mace

I was invited by the MA Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art to give a talk on Spatial Experience – An Insight into Environmental Perceptions. MA students form different courses across the programmes were able to attend, they were a fantastic audience and I hope many of them will be able to use the talk as the basis for further research and inspiration for their own design practice.

Valerie Mace on Spatial Experience recording


Merleau-Ponty M., (2012 ed.) Phenomenology of Perception Routledge

Gibson J. J., (1986) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception Psychology Press

Pallasmaa J., (2005) The Eyes of the Skin. Architecture and the Senses. John Wiley and Sons

Malnar M. J., Vodvarka F., (2004) Sensory Design University of Minnesota Press

Van Schaik L., (2008) Spatial Intelligence. New Futures for Architecture. AD Primer. John Wiley and Sons

Lefebvre H., (1991 ed.) The Production of Space. Blackwell Publishing

Zizek S., (2006) How to read Lacan Granta Books

Freud S., (2003 ed.) The Uncanny Penguin Classics

Zumthor P., (2003) Atmospheres Birkhauser, Basel.

Perec G. (2008 ed.) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces Penguin Classics

Last lecture for this year’s Spatial Communication Programme Lecture series

The Spatial Communication Programme presents Silvia Grimaldi, on experience, surprise and narrativity

Dates: 11 March 2014


Tuesday 11 March 5.00-6.00
Main Lecture Theatre

Silvia is Course Leader on BA (Hons) Spatial Design at London College of Communication, and in the past ran the BA (Hons) Graphic Product Innovation at the same college. She works as a designer, researcher and academic and runs her own company, Nimble Critters, with which she developed the ETree, a range of interactive electroluminescent lighting in small production and exhibited worldwide. Her research focuses on product experience, narratives and emotional design, and she is now working on a PhD entitled Designing Narrative Product Interactions.

This presentation and discussion of Silvia Grimaldi’s work is part of a series of events organised by the Spatial Communication Programme Group as a platform for the discussion of future developments in the field. Key thinkers and practitioners working across boundaries and at the cutting edge of their disciplines have been invited to present their work at LCC.

Performing the Environment

Originally posted by valerie Mace on her blog Spatial Experiences, which also contains additional images and  videos of the event not included here.

Beyond situations that have been experienced, discover situations that have been dreamed” Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1958: 29)

This project investigates the creation of an embodied experience within a space, positioning the body in terms of sensing and creating through performance in the context and site specificity of the environment. It relates to the concept of synaesthetic as defined by Dr Rosie Klich from the University of Kent at the symposium on Immersive Theatre Experiences that took place at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University London, London UK in November 2013. The symposium explored some examples of immersive theatre practice and reflect on the phenomenon of the “immersive event” as it has recently manifested itself. This project transposes the potential offered by performance immersive practices into the study of an interior, revealing the uniqueness of a situation.

Spatial design projects start with a conscious investigation of the space, often achieved through site survey, using film, photography and painstakingly recorded measurements on floor plans and elevation drawings. This project approaches the investigation from a different perspective, that of the sensory immersion, the performance. It meets some of the exploratory aspirations of a project described by Ephraim Joris in his paper ‘The Interior: between research and practice’ but Joris’s students benefitted from dance training and choreographed their interpretation accordingly while the method here is much more visceral and considers a more intuitive and spontaneous approach to experiencing an environment. This approach facilitates a more perceptual appreciation of a space and engages the senses with its atmosphere, which in turns can become a catalyst for the designer.

The site of the performance is a small empty room in an abandoned public baths building Poplar Baths, in Poplar, East London. Poplar Baths was built and opened in 1852. Used as a swimming pool and baths most of the year, it was also transformed into a theatre, dance hall and exhibition hall in winter when the main pool, known as East India Hall, was floored over. It sustained substantial bomb damage during World War II and subsequently remained closed until 1947. Following extensive repairs it reopened to renewed popularity, attracting large numbers of swimmers each year. However lack of funding to carry out structural repairs and the changing nature of the area and leisure occupations meant that the facilities were closed permanently in 1985. The abandoned site slowly fell into disrepair, its original interior crumbling, obliterating the memories of its past.

The room used as the project site is on the second floor and opens up onto the street on one side and onto the main pool, now empty, on the other. Although the interior environment of the building has been neglected for many years and has suffered substantial damage, the site visit revealed a building once teeming with life and the inherent elegance and beauty of its Art Deco style hidden by layers of time. So from a perceptual perspective, the interior of the building retains a ghostly imprint of its past. It was quite a moving experience with shifting impressions of fleeting movements and fragments of sounds emanating from imagined ghosted silhouettes permeating the layers of time. It was an emotionally moving experience no doubt influenced by my own experiences and memories of such places, both real and narrated, but nonetheless unique to this situation. The high level of perceptual entropy I felt while I visited the site allowed me to be transported back in time into an imagined environment while being conscious of the present and therefore, feeling the tensions of the duality of time,a constant shift between the past and the present.

While exploring the building, I also experienced sound distortions reverberating across the darkness of the corridors and staircases. For a brief moment, I lost sight of the people I was with and could not locate their position with accuracy as the sound they were making seemed to come from different directions at once. For a brief moment when time seemed to become suspended, I felt truly lost and apprehension and anxiety took over. Then suddenly clarity came back, I was back in the present and able to follow the sound to rejoin the others.


A few days later in the studio, the stage was set for a one minute performance of four recurring sequences around the theme of ‘The Waiting Room’. One of the elevations of the room was projected onto the wall of the studio and the rest of the interior space was marked out on the floor with masking tape. Three cameras were running, one for the foreground, one for the middleground and another for the background.

The scenography is inspired by my experience within the entire building and a desire to express this unique and uncanny situation, I chose to perform the feeling of loss, duality and the anxiety emerging from the destructive layers of time felt when I visited the site and the momentary confusion that resulted from the sound of people’s voices reverberating across the building’s surfaces. The room used for the performance becomes the stage, a blank canvas onto which I can project the narrative of the situation. It explores the sensation of being physically, emotionally and psychologically aware of the space both in the present and trough the imprint of its past expressed by fragments of memory still visible amidst the decay.

The room, represented by a figure sitting on a chair (waiting), inhabits its former reality, now a world of stillness and silence. As people speak when they enter the room (in the present time), they create vibrations, which produce energy waves that alter the medium, substances and surfaces, not only across the environment but also time. The room can now hear voices and tries to locate the sounds vibrating across the environment but it can’t, and people, in their own reality can see the decay and rubble while never experiencing the environment as it was originally intended. When they leave, all is quiet again and the room goes back to its waiting position.

Movement is activated by the emission of sound, an actual recording of people talking as they enter the room taken on site.The movement through the environment is fast but hesitant because it is impossible to locate the source of the sound and also incorporates swift 360˚ turns to change direction and emphasise the feeling of confusion. When the sound stops, the movement slows down and lacks clear direction. As well as being filmed, the performance is also recorded as a series of diagrammatic analytical drawings showing the sequence of movement across the floor space and elevations bridging the gap between the emotional and the physical, between performance and design drawing.

This project highlights a practice where the insubstantial is captured through performance. The atmospheric stimulation experienced in real time leads to an encounter with a past imprinted into the fabric of the environment. The approach allows the designer to become the environment and in doing so incorporates emotions and the notion of spatial empathy. It also highlights the notions of fragility and ephemerality.

Bachelard, G. (1958) (1994 ed.) The Poetics of Space Beacon Press: Boston, Massachusetts

This term’s lecture series

This term’s Spatial Communication Programme’s lecture series:

January 14th    Yukie Nagasawa    Eclective
January 21st    Roger Whiteman    Beside Design
January 28th    Regner Ramos    Embodiment, technology and the built environment

February 4th    Peter Emrys-Roberts    ERA Studio
February 18th    Victoria Kelley    Street Markets
February 25th    Guy Julier    The challenges of social design’    Monika Parrinder

March 4th    Tony Roche    Surface design (film & television)
March 11th    Silvia Grimaldi    Surprise, product experience, emotional design, narrative

All talks will take place on Tuesdays between 5 and 6 PM in the Main Lecture Theatre at LCC and are open to all UAL students and staff.

This series of events is organised by the Spatial Communication Programme Group as a platform for the discussion of future developments in the field. Key thinkers and practitioners working across boundaries and at the cutting edge of their disciplines have been invited to present their work at LCC.

Silvia speaking at Narrative in Practice 2013: Creative Symposium

Silvia Grimaldi wioll be Speaking at

Narrative in Practice 2013: Creative Symposium
2 November – 9.00 to 5.30
St Luke’s Community Centre, 90 Central Street, London, EC1V 8AJ

Narrative quote:

“Narrative plays a central role in the way we interpret and communicate our experience of the world and our interactions with it. Narratives help us organise events and make sense of time, empathise with others and move us on an emotional level. Because of this, using an object is not only an experience, it is an interaction and it is narrative in nature.”


About the talk:

I met Narrative through Surprise. I was working on a project for my master’s thesis, looking at how surprise could be used within product design on a level that went deeper than novelty, to create interesting or meaningful experiences through the objects. While working on the project and writing about it after I realised that creating surprises within the user’s experience of the object inherently creates a temporal aspect, a before and after. There is a state of expectation before the surprise, and by definition the surprise needs to change this state to a different one.

This led me to be more interested in ideas around interpretation of objects over time, and designing the experience of an object as opposed to the object itself. Narrative seemed like a useful tool in order to help organise these experiences over time as well as give meaning and richness to these object experiences.

My PhD Designing Narrative Product Interactions looks at how narratives can be used to enhance both the design process and the user experience of object. In particular it takes films as a starting point and analyses which elements from the film, such as characters, structure, meaning, emotional reactions, etc., could be used by designers within product experiences.

The final aim of my PhD is to come up with a series of guidelines to help designers think of the product experience in a narrative way and to design tools for designers to use within the design process which can help to create highly tellable objects. Highly tellable objects should lead to user experiences with high narrativity, which will be more prone to being experienced, interpreted, remembered and retold with gusto.

Invitation downloadable here Invitation Narrative in Practice 2013  and more information on the website


Silvia Grimaldi presents paper at DPPI 2013

Silvia spent the last year working on a collaborative paper with Steven Fokkinga of Technical University Delft (The Netherlands) and Ioana Ocnarescu of Bell Labs/Strate College Paris (France), entitled Narraties in Design: a study of the types, applications and functions of narratives in design practice. The paper surveys different uses of narrative within the (broadly product) design process and the user experience of objects, to explore a different way of looking at the user experience of objects as a narrative experience.

This resulted in a conference paper for DPPI 2013, Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces. The conference was co-located with Research Through Design, contained within a meta/conference entitled Praxis and Poetics. This was at the Baltic in Newcastle at the begining of September, and there were some great speakers and exhibition materials.

The conference website is here and you can also download the full paper from here

Valerie Mace at EVA conference

I presented a paper called ‘Re-imaging the environment’ the 2013 London EVA conference. Some of my more recent work explores the potential of digital visualisation tools to investigate and communicate less tangible aspects of our environment such as emotions. The paper covers a range of projects around the theme of spatial exploration as a journey through mental space, the exploration of experiential and sensory stimulations in our environment  or even what I call spatial empathy, expressed through performance and film.



This paper represents a study of selected visualisation and investigative methods that facilitate the exploration and expression of human emotions and perceptions within real world environments during the design development stages of a project, repositioning exploration and visualisation in spatial design education. It puts forward an outline for an iterative enquiry around human experiences in order to assess the value of alternative cognitive tools for spatial design students in higher education.

Established tools such as orthographic drawings, axonometric projections or scale models equip spatial designers with the consistency they need to investigate and represent physical attributes of space but don’t always constitute the best methods to explore the perceived environment, even though it is a key contributing factor to the way we experience our surroundings. It is therefore in the interest of design educators to investigate complementary interpretations that enable students to consciously explore less tangible aspects of design such as emotions and multi-sensorial modalities. Projects developed using tools and techniques ranging from digital 2D and 3D image making, photography, film, animation and performance provide an insight into the possibilities offered by existing visual technologies as dynamic study devices of human experiences and contribute to the generation of alternative processes in spatial design education.

Full paper