Experience: The Sixth Sense of Architecture

October 15, 2021

After Tokyo’s nearly fully-virtual Olympic Games, audiences and athletes have gained a newfound and unconventional understanding of the stadium’s role in the global spectacle. This study considers a range of perspectives on how space is experienced, exploring how the senses are shaped by architecture and atmosphere. It approaches the Olympic Games as a spatial-temporal package propelled by mobility, one that is simultaneously idiosyncratic and common, personal and international, mythical and modern, and ephemeral and eternal.

The analysis of the Games as a mobile model of experience is conducted through a comparative examination of three Olympic cycles: Athens 2004, Tokyo 2020/2021, and Los Angeles 2024/2028. Despite Athens being a rather recent cycle within the chronology of the modern Games, applying it as an event against which to juxtapose Tokyo is telling of the current accelerated and pivotal period of mega-event development. In just the past two decades, the Games have adapted to advancements in technology and evolving scales of spectatorship, metamorphosing at the following three levels: planning, players and performance.

Exploring how the stadium and its symbolism consolidate to construct an experience of the Olympic Games, this thesis defines the experience of architecture as a holistic, full-body, participatory event, dependent upon the extent to which the spectator’s senses are engaged in the event’s stimuli. Judging from my experience as both an athletic spectator and performer, the physical stadium offers something that its technological translation, regardless of how much the virtual has become our reality, cannot evoke. Architecture is lived and sensed, thus experience is shaped by and contingent on spectators’ physical presence within the stadium and interaction with its surrounding atmosphere. It is a matter of sensing versus watching, and it is only the former which not only wholly incorporates the five senses, but also introduces the sixth: experience.

Anika Tsapatsaris CC'22
(Architecture & Special concentrator in Hellenic studies)

Faculty Advising: 
Nikolas P. Kakkoufa
Department of Classics
Columbia University

 Anika Tsapatsaris