The sense of proprioception uses various sensors, including the Ruffini corpuscle. This Ruffini corpuscle is a type of nerve ending found in the skin that is responsible for detecting the stretching of the skin. These nerve endings are deep within the skin, and they hold specialized sensory cells that respond to mechanical stimulation. When something stretches the skin, this activates the Ruffini corpuscle, and it sends a signal to the brain, which processes the information, and we perceive it as a sensation of movement or position. Thus, this is proprioception: the sense of our body’s position and movement.
Proprioception allows us to sense where our body is by determining position and orientation of our muscles. This is one of the most important senses to navigate through the world, because it governs our motions and movement through spaces. In order to use proprioception as a design tool, we must encourage or even force the user to move and articulate the body to express position and existence within a space. What is interesting about this sense is that it is internal and self referencing–most other senses require an external stimulus, but proprioception is all about the individual proceeding through space. In addition, the same stimulus cannot be shared in a space without the conscious use of mimicry.
To use proprioception in design, we could force the body to use alternative postures and movement. Architecture today is more about inclusivity, where all spaces are traversable and everyone can use the space. This is very good for the rights of the people, but it doesn’t promote individuals to explore the rotation and motion of the body through built work. As such, the space should not be exclusive, but it should allow anyone to try new orientations and positions of the body. Can we help people with their mobility and balance by introducing physical challenges in the space? A slope to the floor? A curvilinear space? A shelf that forces you to reach out?
If a design is only proprioception, then the installation is completely about the self, without any interaction with others. In theory, all of the users can exist within a space without having any need to touch or work together. By making the design about proprioception, the architect will have full control placed on the user and the design would work inside the user. This is intriguing and not typical for most other senses. Only equilibrium and the internal senses such as hunger and time are so singular and personal. The difference is that proprioception is about the action and position of the body, which is impressive and almost magical to have been evolved–if we had no proprioception, we would hit things, run over items, and very likely hit obstructions or fall.
Because architectural design usually incorporates proprioception to some extent, to not include it in an installation would seem strange or odd. Proprioception can carry the design intentions very far, because it creates a dynamic, physical reaction which can enthrall the visitor rather than a passive, low energy sense that simply comes into our presence and then goes away. If it is the intention of the designer to create an installation that can be experienced from afar or with minimal effort, then it makes sense not to include proprioception. However, if the intention is to get the user moving, proprioception is one of the best senses to use when designing a space or structure.
Can we tell a story with proprioception? Can we make the use of the sense provide the ups and downs of a plot or narrative? What does it mean to the public but also to the individual? Is there a way to make the experience of the sense the same for everyone, or are we stuck with the individual interpretation? There must be some meanings that relate to the body, especially those of body language. Can we make the user change to classic body positions to evoke or infuse certain feelings, such as having your head down could mean you are sad. What if we used the body language of emotions and told a narrative through that?
To use proprioception in an existing space, of course we will need to allow everyone to have access to the space. However, we can encourage the individual to be more adventurous and try new ways of inhabiting a space through orientation, position, and movement. If we left what was required in a space and then used the margins of this for exploring proprioception, this would be a very successful retrofit of a space. Furthermore, through physical and graphic encouragement, you can allow the individual to act out a play or story alone through position and movement.
Proprioception is the sense that promotes the individual to exist and subsist in a space without the need for other objects or people. Although, we do not want people to be completely introverted, to know yourself and be willing to learn more about the physical body and movement through space could very likely make individuals mentally healthier, if not just physically healthier. I don’t know if there have been many that have explored this fully in design.