The Urban Yoga: Melting into architecture

Copenhagen Architecture Festival is the largest architecture festival in Denmark. It opened its doors for the fourth time on April 26th for an eleven day festival filled with more than 150 events in three cities: Aarhus, Aalborg and Copenhagen. 

by Miriam Thiel-Alberts, feature photo by Maja Flink

Aarhus Architecture Festival took a variety of approaches to architecture with events including talks, films, tours around the city and exhibitions, all focused on this years theme of ‘Architecture as Identity’.

One of the events that took place during the festival was Anja Humljan’s project: ‘The Urban Yoga’. Humljan, a Slovenian dancer and architect, presented her project consisting of amazing shots of herself in, on and around interesting architectural structures and buildings. The outcome of these pictures shows a connection between the human body and architecture.

Can you ‘feel’ architecture?
While Humljan was working in New York as a designer and yoga teacher in 2013, she was inspired to explore the space around her with all of her senses, not only her sight. Whilst studying architecture she had become increasingly bored with having to view buildings and space only from an analytical perspective. Having experienced her body through yoga and dance, she wanted to find out: Can you ‘feel’ architecture too?

Most architectural photos don’t include humans, even though architecture is supposed to be built for and with the human in mind. And so Humljan went out to the busy streets of Manhattan to find interesting spots to integrate her body into the picture. Her first series was shown at Paris Fashion Week, and people from all over the world became interested in her unusual and charming photos. Photo series in Paris, Madrid, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Slovenia and Denmark followed.

When the artist creates her pictures, she is present on three different levels: as an architect, a performer and an element of the existing architecture. She chooses architecture that speaks to her and tells a story. Once at a building she lets her body feel the space and moves intuitively into a pose that she feels expresses that space. That’s what makes the pictures so enchanting; Humljan seems to melt into the architecture, no longer a human posing in front of a building, she becomes one together with it.

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Feeling the architecture with all the senses during the workshop at Aarhus (photo: Anja Humjlan)

The Urban Yoga method boosts your creative ideas
However, the project is more than just alluring pictures. It is about raising awareness and waking up to use all of our senses to experience space through our body, which is capable of so much more than its mere daily use.

‘The Urban Yoga’ also provides sensory workshops in which architecture students and interested audiences are encouraged to feel space without sight. In Aarhus, Humljan offered a workshop at the Åpark, where three architects and myself  attended to experience her unusual approach to architecture.

We started with a calming meditation in an unfinished space between a building site and the park. Without our sight, our other senses quickly took over and provided information to our body. I could feel the wind blowing on my skin, hear the steps on the gravel much more clearly, and then a sense of space started like a faint whisper. After the meditation we paired up and one person was guided to feel different materials. We were asked to communicate what association we had while feeling the material. It was interesting what colours, tastes, sounds and pictures came up when touching surfaces we couldn’t see. When I was touching soil, it reminded me of coffee. I saw a brown colour and instantly had an uplifting sound in my mind that could have been the song for a coffee commercial. The cool glass surface made me think of peppermint sweets and the colour blue.

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Feeling the ground at the workshop (photo: Anja Humljan)

A discreet experience of time and space
Humljan wants to encourage architects to include all their senses in the process of creating architecture, to ensure a building is made not only by man but also, and most importantly, for man. She witnessed big creative bursts by the participants at her sensory workshops and is convinced that, by using all of your senses, you can find those great ideas hidden deep inside you.

The meditation and sensory exercises made me think. What if our body was not designed to live in boxes? We live in a soft round shell for nine months in our mother’s body, and as soon as we come into the world everything is in rectangular boxes. How would we feel if we designed our environment without hard edges and straight lines?

Walking home I felt inspired. I experienced something that is hard to put into words, but it somehow lingered on in my body, and I started dreaming of living in a round yurte rather than a square space.


Visit Anja Humljan’s website to see more of her work.

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