Designs for Dance: Using Spatial Patterns and Structures of Dance as a Teaching Device in the Beginning Architecture Design Studio

By Karen Cordes-Spence.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

As the dancers move, their bodies begin to delineate their place within the room. Their quick diagonal steps across the floor tell the audience where the dancer’s space ends and the boundary of the onlookers begins. Their arms hold the air around their bodies, reshaping the negative space with each changing pose. As the movements unfold, a form emerges and fluctuates for the duration of the dance.

Both dance and architecture share a common language through design. As the dancer’s gestures and movements hold the space they move through, so architecture contains and molds space within it. As the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said, “It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful. We make doors and windows for a room. But it is those empty spaces that make the room habitable.” Both architecture and dance are concerned with shaping space around the human body.

In addition to creating space scaled to the human form, it is also possible to identify pattern or rhythm – an underlying structure – within dance and architecture. By learning, analyzing, and documenting various dances, students can begin to understand – with their own bodies – two issues fundamental to design: scale and structure.

Using beginning design studio work as a basis, this paper will discuss how dance can be used as a tool for students to begin thinking about the interrelationship between scale and the human body. The discussion of the student work will also reveal structures and patterns inherent to dance and how those systems can be implemented in the beginning student’s design process.

Keywords: Multidisciplinary Approach to Design, Dance and Architecture, Beginning Architecture Design Studio, Student Design Work, Design Process

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.183-192. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.489MB).

Dr. Karen Cordes-Spence

Assistant Professor, Hammons School of Architecture, Drury University, Springfield, Missouri, USA

Karen Cordes Spence is an Assistant Professor in the Hammons School of Architecture at Drury University, teaching a course in architecture theory and coordinating beginning studios. She received her B.Arch. from the University of Arkansas, her M.S. in Arch. from the University of Cincinnati and her doctorate from Texas A&M University. Dr. Spence is licensed in Maryland and Missouri and has practiced in Washington DC, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.


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