A phenomenological study of contemplative experiences : implications for interior design

Shah, Rinkle (2009) A phenomenological study of contemplative experiences : implications for interior design. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This research reports on a project concerned with the relationship between the person and the environment in the context of achieving a contemplative or existential state – a state which can be experienced either consciously or subconsciously. The need for such a study originated with the desire to contribute to the design of multicultural spaces which could be used for a range of activities within the public and the personal arena, activities including contemplation, meditation and prayer. The concept of ‘sacred’ is explored in the literature review and in primary interviews with the participants of this study. Given that the word ‘sacred’ is highly value-laden and potentially alienating for some people, it was decided to use the more accessible term ‘contemplative’. The outcomes of the study inform the practice of interior design and architecture which tends currently to neglect the potential for all spaces to be existentially meaningful. Informed by phenomenological methodology, data were collected from a diverse group of people, using photo-elicitation and interviews. The technique of photo-elicitation proved to be highly effective in helping people reveal their everyday lived experience of contemplative spaces. Reflective analysis (Van Manen 2000) was used to explore the data collected. The initial stage of analysis produced three categories of data: varying conceptions of contemplation, aspects of the person involved in the contemplation, and aspects of environment involved in contemplation. From this, it was found that achieving a state of contemplation involves both the person and the environment in a dialectic process of unfolding. The unfolding has various physical, psycho-social, and existential dimensions or qualities which operate sequentially and simultaneously. Two concepts emerged as being central to unfolding: ‘Cleansing’ and ‘Nothingness’. Unfolding is found to comprise the Core; Distinction; Manifestation; Cleansing; Creation; and Sharing. This has a parallel with Mircea Eliade’s (1959) definition of sacred as something that manifests itself as different from the profane. The power of design, re-contextualization through utility and purpose, and the existential engagements between the person and environment are used as a basis for establishing the potential contribution of the study to interior design. In this way, the study makes a contribution to our understanding of how space and its elements inspire, support and sustain person environment interaction – particularly at the existential level – as well as to our understanding of the multi-dimensional and holistic nature of this interaction. In addition, it points to the need for a phenomenological re-conceptualisation of the design/client relationship. In summary, the contributions of this research are: the exploration of contemplative experience as sacred experience; an understanding of the design of space as creating engagement between person and environment; a rationale for the introduction of a phenomenological approach to the relationship between designer and clients; and raising awareness of the spiritual in a holistic approach to design.

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ID Code: 30132
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Franz, Jill
Keywords: contemplative experience, phenomenology, existential experience, sacredness, sacred space experience, the unfolding, core, distinction, manifestation, creation, sharing, person-environment relationships, interior design
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Past > Schools > School of Design
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 29 Jan 2010 05:14
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2011 13:52

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