Immateriality in architecture: the users’ spatial experience in the context of Bahrain

  • Hawra Jaafar Shaikh Mansoor Mohamed Salman

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Architecture is a creative process that relies on representational tools (drawings, physical scale models, digital models etc.), which describe what is being designed. Such tools are useful in showing the position of the solid elements that make up a building, their shape and size, as well as the physical boundaries of the space. Even though these tools are “immaterial” representations, they are different to the immateriality that is associated with space when experienced by users. This research is interested in theoretical debates relating to immateriality as part of the users’ spatial experience and how these can inform the design process. Firstly, this study discusses the relationship between architecture as a creative process, and the lived experience of people as a way of consuming space. Space is seen as a product of the design process and the context in which architecture exists. The particular context that this research is interested in is that of Bahrain, as a typical example of a geo-cultural part of the world, whose economic conditions and cultural values are changing fast. Given that Bahrain is part of the Islamic world, the discussion of the context is extended to Islamic architecture. The thesis will delve into how Islamic architecture, which is informed by religious and cultural values, combines both material functions and immaterial aspects. However, the economic and social transformation that the Gulf region has seen over the last few decades has impacted on people and their relationship with the everyday space, the city, its design and the way it is experienced. Using both the place of dwelling, as a private space, and public spaces in the city, this thesis looks at the spatial experience of city dwellers to consider how that experience relates to the context in which those spaces exist. This thesis is particularly interested in the immaterial aspects of the users’ spatial experience, which is often overlooked or naively assumed to be part of the design brief. This study uses qualitative research approaches, as it aims to explore people’s lives and to identify and clarify its underlying meanings. Firstly, case studies from the literature were referred to in order to gain a sufficient understanding of architecture, culture, context and their impact on people’s lived experience. Subsequently, fieldwork-based primary research was undertaken using a variety of methods including semi-structured interviews, focus group discussion, organised walks with participants and observations. It is anticipated that the discussion would lead to a better understanding of some of the issues around immateriality in architecture that could inform architecture as a practice and a discipline. Such a practice would reflect the social, cultural and environmental conditions of this particular context. In this respect, the design process will be informed by both material and immaterial consideration of the users and their context.
Date of AwardDec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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