Creating Moments: The Role of Time in Interior Environments

Presented by: Jennifer Webb

Concepts of time frame pragmatic characteristics of the built environment such as seasonal tendencies, daylighting, and programmatic needs, all varying across days, months, and years. Time can be a more provocative element in the design of interior space. Rion Willard states ‘Architecture is an event or series of events in time much like a performance complete with characters and protagonists both human and architectural.’ The purpose of this paper is to explore time as a protagonist in interior space through the writings of scientists, philosophers, and designers with the goal of understanding its critical impact on design. Specific objectives include: 1) introducing scientific and philosophical constructs of time, 2) describing how designers understand and use time across space and its inhabitants, and 3) revealing the moments constructed by the users as they fill a space with meaning, memory and experience. 

Great thinkers pursued scientific and philosophical inquiry on time. Newton developed objective concepts of relative time and relative space, based in human measurement and aspects of change. Kant approached time and space philosophically, emphasizing sensation and intuition. Einstein merges time and space into spacetime, allowing any point in space to be located with three physical points [e.g., latitude, longitude, and feet above sea level] and a fourth measurement of time. These diverse constructs establish the idea that if time and space have perceptible, measurable, and experiential characteristics, they are critical in the creation and assessment of interior design. 

Kant, Merleau-Ponty, and Palassma explored the phenomenological, subjective, and lived experience of time and space and this is central to the interior design discipline. Individuals alter their lifespan by reflecting on events and people, cherishing stories, and caring for places and objects from the past. They imagine other generations and events, sharing the possessions and stories of the day to be carried forward. Understanding world events and trends that influence generational cohorts, drive values, set priorities, and create belonging is critical to every design endeavor. The zeitgeist – the prevailing school of thought characterizing an era’s cultural and design values – codifies decision making. The inhabitants are directly influenced through environment-behavior relationships, lifespan development, and aspects of the lived experience inherent aspects of a successful solution.
Poldma and Wesolkowska explore frameworks established in geography and anthropology. They propose that digital technologies and travel speed transform the spaces we inhabit physically and virtually; experiencing other places in real time shrinks the spaces in between. Poldma and Wesolkowska further claim “that flexibility and media will drive spatial experiences.” When spaces become temporal and media becomes the driver of experience, what will the interior designer’s role be and how will we create, anticipate, and control the spatial experiences with which we are tasked? 

The work of scholars suggests that experiences of interior space occur moment by moment. The first impression of a space, before inhabitants begin using the space, changing it, and creating their own meaning, is perhaps the only moment designers are able to control. Subsequent moments differ from those preceding and following as the inhabitant is changed through engagement with the space, evolving with each passing moment. We cannot prototype expectations, memory, or meaning. Programming cannot account for the lived experience of today, tomorrow, or some point in the future. As an effect of technology and societal values, the design community must consider that they are no longer creating spaces and places intended to last centuries or even decades. From pop up shops to taco trucks located by Twitter, the spaces we know and plan today are increasingly ephemeral, bound and freed by concepts of time.


  • Poldma, T. and Wesolkowska, M. (2005). Globalisation and changing conceptions of time-space: A paradigm shift for interior design? In.Form, 5, 54 – 61.
  • Rynasiewicz, R. (Winter 2012). Newton's views on space, time, and motion in  E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from
  • Warburton, N. (2011). A Little History of Philosophy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Willard, R. (February, 2011). Architecture as time-based art. Mat.zine #07. Retrieved from
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