An Anatomy of Space and Body

The ‘Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation’ (EWMN) in the Context of Postwar Architectural Culture

Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation (EWMN) – an inter-disciplinary model of spatial mapping through movement, is the subject of this research.
EWMN was formed both in London (1948-1950) and Tel-Aviv (1951-1958) between the disciplines of architecture and dance. It proficiently treated the human body as a methodological apparatus with respect to system approach and technology. This research contextualizes this phenomenon within postwar architectural culture, an intellectual climate that aimed to bring spatial perfection to its extreme logic. I argue that EWMN’s focus on movement and the human body as a mechanism, created a middle ground, and therefore mitigates between concepts and theories, architectural education and practice.

The EW notation was formed in a period of transition from a rational way of thinking with its pretensions to revolutionize reality, to a scientific search for things ‘As Found’ – for the qualities, conditions and relationships as they occur in society and nature. Within this mid 20th Century search for modern principia; ’Cybernetics’ was particularly influential. It researched the flow and exchange of information between human beings and their surroundings in order to reach a dynamic equilibrium that efficiently adjust to changing environments. Simultaneously scholars looked for a new ‘language of vision’ based on organic forms and developed an interdisciplinary study of all kinds of natural and manmade structures. The role of architecture, according to this view, was to find a modernist idiom based on the forms that structure the human place, identity and communal ties.

In this milieu, Noa Eshkol, a choreographer, and Avraham Wachman, then a student of theatre and architecture and later the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Technion, developed notation system that turns spatial mapping into a scientific procedure. They based their work on a careful analysis and documentation of every component of the human body’s movement, as it is perceived in space. In the context of other contemporary movement and dance notations, the EWMN was unique in venturing beyond recording and writing dance compositions (that till the 30’s didn’t have a proper visual representation and documentation). Its main contribution was in offering a methodological tool based on observation, analysis and process of reconstructing space. It therefore offered a scientific method that constitute and organize space according to human motion and activity.

In this sense, EWMN was frequently applied in a wide variety of fields, local and international, because the means of communications it offered enabled an efficient translation of ideas and concepts between disciplines. In so doing, it served as a fruitful platform for some of the most experimental and ‘cutting edge’ projects and collaborations of the time. This notion is well demonstrated by research undertaken in the 1970’s by NASA; as part of the Apollo Project. In their search for a lexicon to formulate the spatial behavior of an astronaut’s body in a spacesuit, spaceship and outer space, scientists and engineers found the art of dance, and the EW notation in particular, the most appropriate to define human motion within a sphere.

The research examines the importance of the EWMN to the architectural discipline through the local lens. The notation was initiated in Israel when the project of ‘progress & development’ was of primary national importance. As such, Israel and its technical institute was a fertile ground to the unique agenda of ‘Morphologic Architecture’ that Alfred Neumann led as professor and later head of the architecture school and as Wachman’s mentor and closest friend. The research at the Technion eventually turned into an international role model for design teaching. In his manifesto, Neumann suggested an analogical parallel with biological phenomena that might contribute to the evolution of such a mechanism. His theoretical project aimed to undermine intuitive and subjective know-how of any creative activity. Instead, he opened a new modernist frontier: architecture as a form of research.

Morphology, the sub-discipline with which Wachman was identified, was hitherto viewed as a homogeneous and consistent field of knowledge. This research aims to peel this façade and reveal a significant division into two main approaches: while one focused on forms and corresponded with the traditional body of architectural knowledge, the other -scientific and radical- sought objective principles and focused on procedures and programs that were drawn from other fields of knowledge. It latter was radical in undermining the conventional limits, procedures, routines and praxis of the architectural discipline.

The reason d’etre of Wachman’s morphology, as opposed to other morphologists who drew attention on covers of glossy magazines, was based on the dynamic and changing relations uses and movement in space and time. This architecture is preoccupied with human activity rather than with shapes, forms, light, or the physical objects. His particular contribution among other scholars, who shared those notions, was methodological: he offered a system of representation within which modes of operations and activities could take form.

What are the potential applications of EWMN in architecture? Does it enable the production and assembly of physical products, or remains instead in the form of a paper script based on facts and figures? In the light of these questions, the research discusses the possibilities of translating abstract terms and expressions into actual form. The use of the notation as an empiric tool as well as a variable element of movement, suggests the possibility of giving form to the ephemeral, the temporary and the unexpected. In so doing, the EWMN shifts the architectural focus from the reliable, solid and familiar dimensions of the discipline and the aesthetic codes it produces, to a focus on its changing dimensions.

The research concludes by comparing the EW notation to dynamic mathematical models that architects apply today. Scholars and architects are currently basing new structures, physical systems and optional scenarios to constantly changing reality that is defined by users and actors. In this light the study of the EW notation movement acquires dimensions larger than historical documentation. A close examination of its guiding principles and the concepts it challenges suggests a fruitful ground for understanding the conception and development of researching experimental architecture, new and constantly renewed, the methodologies it used and its physical manifestations.

  • For MSc THESIS
  • Date Dec. 2010

curved movement (Eshkol Wachman Movement Notation, 1958)

plane movement (Eshkol Wachman Movement Notation, 1958)

Space, Orbits and the Apollo Program: Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation and the systemization of human motion \ essay in: Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol, edited by Daniela Zyman and Eva Wilson, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Sternberg Press, November 2012.