Phenomenon of Homelessness

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Virginia Tech


In architecture, phenomenology refers to an approach that focuses on the lived experience of built spaces rather than purely on their functional or aesthetic qualities. It is rooted in the philosophical tradition of 'Phenomenology' which investigates the structure of human experiences and consciousness or the idea of awareness of the self, regarding one's physical environment.

Awareness of the self occurs as a result of the subjective experience of individuals within a space, including how they perceive, interact with, and feel about their surroundings. Design considerations of a space like the quality of light, materiality, scale, proportion, texture, sound, and movement, as well as the cultural, social, and historical context, all contribute to the making of this space, as suggested by Juhani Pallasma "My body remembers who I am and how I am located in the world. My body is truly the navel of my world, not in the sense of the viewing point of the central perspective, but as the very locus of reference, memory, imagination, and integration." Phenomenology comes from the Greek word 'Phainomenon' meaning "that which appears" and "logos" meaning study. The thesis studies 'homelessness', a social phenomenon characterized by a physical condition wherein individuals or families lack safe, stable, and adequate housing. Homelessness can affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and circumstances and leads to challenges such as poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, social isolation, and unemployment. It is observed that most of the above consequences arise due to a lack of safe and affordable living conditions that affect homeless people psychologically and physiologically. Homeless individuals face harsh and challenging living conditions in their physical environment. Most people live on streets or in makeshift shelters exposed to extreme weather conditions such as heat, cold, snow, and rain. Lack of shelter forces many to sleep in public spaces like parks, sidewalks, alleys, under bridges, or in abandoned buildings. Dwelling in such habitats exposes them to crime and assault and makes them vulnerable to health issues due to the unsanitary environmental conditions.

The thesis delves into addressing the physical environments experienced by homeless people. It aims to formulate and propose urban design, and architectural interventions and strategies that prioritize the safety, dignity, and well-being of homeless individuals. The design of the housing project is based on the principles of phenomenology. It uses architectural elements as a medium to craft spaces that foster a sense of hope in its inhabitants and promote healing because of the physical space generated. The thesis also explores the idea of 'place-making through design' and uses it to enhance social connection and bring a sense of being one with nature and beyond.



Phenomenology, homelessness, sensory environment, physicality of space, materiality, place-making