Literal and Phenomenal Transparency

Literal transparency plays a crucial role in the design of a space. Use of glass and other materials provide us an ability to see through one plane to an entirely different area than the one in which we exist. This creates a complexity and a visual continuum that, particularly in modern architecture, is definitive to the style of the era.

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Transparency in architecture introduces light to a space. Transparency creates a showcase event, a window to the outdoors  frames the view to the world and simultaneously brings the outside into our space. Transparency can break up a static plane such as a wall or ceiling and regulate monotony by diversifying the materials that define a space.

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 Phenomenal transparency is a quality less easily defined, but equally pivotal as its literal counterpart. Phenomenal transparency capitalizes on the connection between a human and their space, specifically, our anticipatory perception of that which we have not seen. Our intuition about spatial organization facilitates this conceptual transparency and we are engaged because of its layering and penetrating effects as we make inferences and move through and observe the space. So, our perceptions of space and how we interpret our surroundings are not only based upon what register visually. A portion of this discernment is provided by our imaginational capacity which is rooted in past experience and practical judgment.

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In the interior space below, the rise of the stairs leads us to an area that we can’t see but we sense is a new space. The layering walls prohibit us from knowing exactly what lies in that area which effectively garners our curiosity and inspires us to venture up the stairs and see what’s on the other side.

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Our ability to predict what is around the corner based on what we already know might exist around the corner can be capitalized upon through the concept of phenomenal transparency. Creating a juxtaposition of these notions is an architect’s objective in order to keep the design new, unexpected, and captivating. Creating an element of surprise and illusion can be pursued in numerous ways. Through the use of glass, sheer or translucent dividers, and implied paths of vision—even when an opaque object is in the way- the space is segmented and visual pathways are formed. 

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