Expanding Interiority: Two Case Studies

Presented by: Peter Greenberg

This paper explores two case studies of domestic courtyard houses to expand the sense of interiority into exterior realms. Both houses fuse interiors, architecture and landscape into a continuous flow of space that challenges the notion of the interior as being literally bound by a weather wall - so they are helpful in exploring what we mean when we use the term “interiority.” That term can be used to characterize the inherent qualities of being interior – but it is different than the term “interior” because “interiority” suggests a self-aware comprehension of qualities that specifically describe the distinctive nature of interior space. The relationship between these terms is similar to “material” and “materiality” – material is the substance from which things are made but “materiality” is when a designer marries design intentions with the expressive properties of a material. In like ways, a designer can explore the expressive and inherent properties of interior space, independent of whether that space is literally “inside.” The theory being explored in this paper is how to understand the expansion of the sense of interiority beyond the perimeter boundary of the wall; the framework of the exploration is an examination of the literature and the illustration of the idea in two specific case study examples. The term “interiority” is commonly used in disciplines outside of design, such as psychology, philosophy and literature (Bachelard, Merleau-Ponty). In each of these fields, “interiority” refers to a retreat into self-awareness and reflection: for example, where people find a “place to hide their secrets” (Bachelard). Over the last two decades, scholarship in interior design has borrowed this understanding and expanded the discourse to explore what we mean by “interiority” past literal spatial boundaries. In her 2005 article, “Towards a Definition of Interiority,” Christine McCarthy writes: “unlike “interior,” “interiority” is grounded in circumspection, rather than relative location” (McCarthy,112). McCarthy expands the definition of “interiority” broadly, past “containment, confinement, enclosure” to include categories of control, boundary, a twin to exteriority, habitation, bodies, time, atmosphere. In the recent publication, “Unbounded: On the Interior and Interiority,” technological and cultural forces are seen to further break down the clean boundaries of where the “interior” is (Dou, Huppatz, Phuong). Other writers have explored the idea of thermodynamic flow of atmosphere and fluids or the thinness of facades to question the clear boundaries between inside and out while maintaining the inherent quality of interiority (Irigaray). The two case study houses that will be considered project a strong sense of interiority into the landscape. The first, a house that Philip Johnson built for himself in 1942, is designed as a walled precinct that enclosed a private courtyard as well as enclosed interior rooms. A thin, continuous glass plane separates the inside from the outside. The floor plane of the interior volume is at the same level as the outside room ground and the vertical walls of the interior align with the inside of the courtyard precinct walls to express the continuity of inside and out. The presence of nature is inside the house and a sense of interiority pervades the exterior court. We are outside but in a room – and that room is unified with the rooms that are protected from the weather. The second house was designed by Jose Luis Sert in 1958 and blends three patios into the rooms of the interior. Inside and outside rooms are transparently interconnected in both schemes. The conclusions of this analysis help us to understand that “interiority” refers to a sense of boundary, control, protection, enclosure, intimacy, self-reflection, secrecy, and shelter without necessarily being inside. Using these conclusions, we can now expand our sense of interiority beyond the boxy constraints of walls.


  • Bachelard, Gaston. “The Dialectics of Outside and Inside” in The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1958 (1969). Print.
  • Daou, Dolly; Huppatz, D.J.; Phuong, Dinh Quoc, eds. Unbounded: On the Interior and Interiority. Newcastle Upon Tyne (UK): Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015. Print.
  • Irigaray, Luce. Mader, Mary Beth (Trans.). The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999 (1983). Print.
  • McCarthy, Christine. “Towards a Definition of Interiority” in Space and Culture (May 2005), 8, pp112-125. Print.
  • Olkowski, Dorothea, and Morley, James, eds. Merleau-Ponty: Interiority and Exteriority, Psychic Life and the World. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. Print.
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