Post 40 -by Gautam Shah (Blog 10 in lecture series Space and Human Behaviour)


People discern their relationship with others in terms of distances or spaces between them. In other words, for individualization, certain quality of distancing from others is required. Distancing from others define the defensive and offensive capacity, which in a way create a mechanism for survival. It delineates the accessibility and interpersonal relationships.

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People discern their relationship in terms of spatial distance (https://www.flickr.com/photos/9361986079)

Distancing or isolating from the threatening, disturbing or overwhelming elements is a notion of Privacy. Contrary to this Intimacy, is a feeling of closeness or affinity between a person and another, or an object. Privacy and Intimacy, both, rely on the distance one creates or perceives from other beings and objects. If privacy is personal as well as group-based requirement, intimacy is an intra-personal affair. One can be intimate with another person or group of persons without the apparent need for privacy. For intimacy to flourish, many need privacy.


Intimacy is also a biological need, as it relies on compatibility, sexual needs, glandular secretions, social acceptability, etc. It is an attitude, mental conditioning or mental posture. Intimacy could be one-way feeling that is without reciprocal response. Intimacy is not always a function of physical proximity. One can feel close to a person who is long dead -an illusory presence or through notional links (clothes, odours, recorded sounds, etc.).

TV show host Jon Stewart being close to the guest for expressing Intimacy > Wikipedia image

Privacy and Intimacy rely on the distance as perceived in terms of space, intervening objects, physical reach and perceptibility. A person projects privacy and intimacy in different proportions, whereas the space facilitates various levels of physical closeness, isolation and insulation. For an individual the space that permits one to ‘distance’ from others is a private space. An intimate space, a private abode, is one where everything is under exclusive command and so safe, predictable and reassuring. Here the occupants and objects have intense relevance to each other.

The Discussion > ART by Harry Watrous (1857-1940)

Territoriality or ownership is a way of achieving desired level of privacy. For groups and individuals an exclusive control over a space involves creating and maintaining the privacy and intimacy, including aggressive actions for its defence. For the individual, territorial control provides security and identity, and is communicated through the personalization and definition of the space. For the group, territorial control, is the cause of their being an entity. For groups such spaces allow easy communication and recognition (without any aids or extra strain) and so are an intimate locale. In many cultures, the acceptable or inappropriate types of intimacies derive from a complex historical process.

Territoriality > Floating boat Vendors (https://pixabay.com/en/users/terimakasih0-64267/)

Meaning of intimacy varies from relationship to relationship, and within a given relationship. Intimacy has more to do with rituals of connection. Intimacy is both the ability and the choice to be close, loving, and vulnerable. Intimacy requires identity development. Intimacy can have two main forms: emotional intimacy and physical intimacy. There could be other forms of empathy like cultural, intellectual, spiritual, social that are akin to intimacy in some conditions. Strategic relationship developed to take advantage of anyone could be very close but it is a make-believe intimacy.

A crowded stair, elevators, metro carriages do not project an intimate atmosphere. A hand shake or hug nominally has no sexual meaning in many cultures. In some cultures’ privacy achieved by a veil is considered retardant of intimacy. Intimacy could be a display or an expression with physical touch but with no apparent mental feelings.


Privacy is a personal notion and is basically achieved by obscuring own self, or by isolating from people. One can obscure own self by merging with background or by becoming less perceptible. Isolation is achieved by barricading and distancing. A person or group achieves insulation through body posturing. By posturing one can adjust the exposure, control the communication, command the expression and re-calibrate the reach of the body as well as the sensorial perception. Privacy can help overcome many inhibitions through mental isolation. Psychological motivation helps one to ignore some of the side effects of lack of privacy.


Privacy provides the isolation, whereas degree of interference by others determines the nature of intimacy. Both are important means for individualization or branding of unique personality. In a space, primarily one tries to anchor to a spot where privacy and intimacy are controllable. And whenever these are compromised, one may try to adjust the posture, reorient, and distance from others.

One requires many different types of privacy. Privacy relates to sensorial faculties, physiological and psychological situations and circumstances.

Visual privacy addresses the tendency to avoid situations in which one can be watched incognito. It can be achieved through the use of furnishings, partitions or walls.

In a private space or an office, people will often orient their desk to face the door and sit with a protected backside in order to achieve a visual control. In restaurants, the first seats to be filled are usually those along the walls. In outdoor spaces, people tend to sit against or beside objects such as trees and bushes rather than in the open. In open office plans’ a person is made to sit facing a wall or partition for lesser distraction from the back side passage, however, it is the unseen and unpredictable traffic on the backside that challenges the privacy. Contrary to this in garment stitching room workers are one behind the others and passage is on the side.

Audio privacy is achieved by managing the acoustic shielding against being overheard, interference from background noise, and managing the unnecessary desire of listening someone else’s conversation. Audio privacy in a space results from shape and size of the space, quality of the barriers, partitions, furniture, objects, equipment, etc. Audio privacy significantly affects the level of communication, social interaction, and productivity.

Olfactory privacy relates to revelations of own physiological state or experiencing someone else’s such a state through hormones-odours. Other privacy parameters include the body temperature, breathing rate, heart beats, pulse rate, vibrations of the body, sweating and perspiration.

Physical privacy against someone making a close approach (touch or near approximations). These issues are generally managed by withdrawal, seclusion through distancing, part or complete occlusion, postural exposure and directional communication.

Art Gallery Crowds social distancing > Flickr Image (https://www.flickr.com/photos/burnaway/18305449185  > COOP1726.jpg

Social privacy is threatened when personal spaces and territoriality mechanisms function ineffectively. It results in excessive exposure. Social privacy is often equated to ‘crowding’ in a space. It reflects the degree of accessibility, a person or group offers to others. Crowding means heightened accessibility or reduced interaction depending on the need for expression, communication, physiological requirements. Crowding may be tolerated, if it is temporary and for a definite purpose like for fun. In ‘neighbourhood spaces’ one wants to be away from the enclosed interior space, and so here crowding of any type takes away the social privacy. The scale of a room, it’s size relative to the occupants’, also influences conversational distance.

Distancing is used for Privacy and Intimacy (Flickr Image by Tim Dorr (https:www.flickr.com/photos/timdorr/4092581313)

Distancing for privacy and intimacy

Distance also means the size of intervening space or affective extent of space. Edward T. Hall defines four distinct distances at which interpersonal transactions normally take place: Intimate, Personal, Social and Public.


Intimate distance and ranges from 0 to 450mm. Intimate area lies close to the body, within which intimate relationship occur, such as for embracing, kissing, touching or whispering. Here it is possible to have physical touch, non verbal communication and emotional interactions. To gain such an intimate position one needs to be familiar with the other person or coerce. Even in the intimate space close to the body, the nature and level of intimacy is affected by the attitudes of the persons involved. In case of objects such as tools and support systems are intimate. Here, due to the intimate relationship one senses the texture, temperature, moisture, vibrations, energy, etc. One has to be very sure that by using these no harm will occur.

Personal area > (https://pixabay.com/en/couple-date-fashion-happy-man-1845620/)

Personal Area is useful for interactions between good friends and family members and ranges 450mm to 1200mm. It is a zone of regulated and selective participation. This is an area where one can reach-out through projection (expression), channels of communication, physically (through body limbs) or stretch out with gadgets (walking sticks, stethoscopes, etc.). Here the intimacy is not a private affair, but regulated. One may need some screening barriers to achieve privacy. One can dwell in a culture or state formed of metaphysical elements (beliefs, customs, etc.), to achieve the same.

Zone of nearness > (https://www.flickr.com/photos/burnaway/15250875940/

Zone of nearness is a social field, for interactions between social acquaintances, and its range is from 1200mm to 3.5mt. The zone of nearness has variable depth, defined by the position and duration of the eye contact, sound pitch and language call, olfactory sensation and body heat perception. The time (duration) and space (distance), are used alternatively to compensate the other. This is a zone of participation without personal involvement. It is also called a non-committal area.

As per the protocol, leaders of the two nations never share a seat, but rather occupy separate seats distanced with a small table or flower vase. Similarly deputies accompanying their leaders, are made to sit at some distance, from where they get a sense of participation but have no chance of intervention. On public platforms one intentionally uses lower sound pitch to draw attention. On very large dining table one can effectively hold conversation with members sitting on the two sides, but not across the table. In gatherings one uses differing sound pitch to reach desired distance.


Reach Zones: These are not over the anthropometric ambit (above 3.5mt.), but if required one can ‘reach’ out. In reach zones, intimacy or privacy of personal nature are not available, yet one can announce it through metaphoric presentations. Reach zones usually have one consistent environment. Such zones are unitary spaces and so there is a sense of belonging, safety, security and personalized identity.

Extended zones: These are spaces like a street, neighbourhood, and such public areas. Here the ‘privacy’ is afforded by the familiarity of the surroundings and security of nearness. These areas have intimacy of the distance such as within the visible range, reach of shout or call, and the odour. These are part of the ‘home setting’. Such public areas foster non-intimate group behaviour. Mothers allow children to play in these spaces, as these are under surveillance.

Domain edge zones: It is a place for a sporadic encounter, which however could persist as a remembrance or experience. Frequent occurrences belie the consistency or permanency. It functions like a networked zone (web) where something relevant is always available. So no matter where a person arrives, it begins to manifest familiarity or is pregnant with possibilities.

Space forms and behaviour

Enclosing space forms (corners, cones, concave) force individuals to be closely spaced and be intimate enough to form a group. Some environmental and other effects are highly focussed (illuminated spots, under the fan area, sunny patch, breezy path), force a group to share the same zone and so breed intimacy. Virtual proximity Intimacy is also achieved by entering into some one’s private domain like home, a bedroom, toilet, study area. Homes and work places of great persons provide illusion of physical intimacy. Crowded spaces force intimacy of coexistence. The coexistence may force an individual to mentally barricade own-self or open-up. Eye contact could be both intimate and non-intimate. A direct eye contact allows better nonverbal communication (empathy), but a direct eye contact also subdues the other person and thus is less-intimate. Persons meeting in one to one setting are more intimate, than their encounter in public presence or a gaze.

Two persons or members of a group can talk in whispers and give out an impression of intimacy in spite of the apparent distance between them. Conversely talk-discussions in high pitch could be used to present bonhomie and thereby a close-knit entity. Politicians and celebrities talk in whispers to state things that need to be made public and talk loudly things that need not be public, both ways they draw the attention. A public orator changes the pitch from normal to very low or high to draw the attention of the audience and thereby register a point.

Hailing Call > ART by Daniel Ridgway Knight (1839-1924)

Hall (1959), has stipulated that spatial separation also serves an expansive function. He made a study of the spatial relations that seem appropriate to various kinds of interactions. These vary with intimacy, and depend on the possibility of eye contact. They vary with the culture. Distances through virtual communication technology mediated interactions are likely to be different.

One can easily distinguish strangers from friends in an airport lounge. Strangers will keep a distance, taking alternate seats wherever possible. Friends tend to form clots, and families even pile one on the top of another. Total strangers will comfortably seat themselves only inches apart if the seats are back to back, but friends and the members of the family never arrange themselves in this way. Eye contact invites interaction and so is sought to the degree that intimacy already exists. (Hall E. T. 1959, The silent language).

Very close distance (75 to 150mm) required for Soft whispers, top secret talks. Close distance (200 to 300mm) is used for Audible whispers, and very confidential talks. Near distance (300 to 500mm) if for Soft voice talks and show of confidential interactions. Neutral distance (500 to 900mm) Low volume voice and for non intimate but personal discussion. Impersonal distance (1300 to 1500mm) is for full voice, impersonal information. Public distance (1700 to 2500mm) is for gatherings, slightly over-loud voice and for information for others to hear. Across room (2500 to 6000mm) Loud voice, talking to a group. Hailing privately (6000 to 7500 mm) is an indoor activity like loud voice for departure areas. Hailing public (30.00 mts) is used for outdoors, loud voice shouting, departures and calls.


The need to be alone or be part of a group arises from factors like personal (psychological and physiological), intra-personal (communication, exchanges) and group behaviour mechanisms (sense of belonging, sharing, participation, confirmation). Being alone, could be a need, but Loneliness is an anxious feeling about a lack connectedness. It is experienced in absence or presence of people, and in known as well as unknown surroundings. The causes of loneliness are many, such as social, mental, emotional, physiological and spiritual.


Causes for Loneliness are: Loss of a relationship due to breakup, travel, death of a person, dejection or withdrawal from a social circle, enforced isolation like jail or punishment like over stay at school or workplace, unfamiliar lifestyle, food and community leading to home sickness, a dysfunction of communication channels at places with low population densities, during periods of harsh climates and fewer people to communicate with due to language, sex, social or other barriers.

Loneliness can be attributed to personal need, period, place and people. A person when isolated may feel lonely but to feeling of loneliness is not always due to isolation. Solitude could be by choice, and so loneliness is a subjective experience. People can be lonely in a crowded or public place, because a person may be desiring more intensive social interaction than what is currently available, or the surroundings are not suitable for such opportunities. A person can be in the middle of a party and feel lonely due to inability to participate in it. Contrary to this one can be alone and yet not feel lonely if there is no need or desire for social interaction.

Loneliness tends to depress some but improves the cognition and improves capacity to concentration. Study rooms, prayer or meditation zones, contemplation areas, private consultation rooms, lovers’ corners in restaurants, back seats in assembly halls are designed to be less participatory. Such places of solitude or temporary loneliness lead to enhanced and creative expression. Solitude is also associated with spiritual and religious quests.


For solitude, other then isolation from people, some control over cognition may be necessary. Complete absence of cognition or by totally filtering an aspect of it (such as sound, light, touch, smell, etc.) in a space creates an uncomfortable situation. Even in jails and study rooms some illumination, background noise, distant odours are desirable to maintain mental health. Loneliness should be considered as an alert that it is time to seek social connections. Connections of this nature, may not occur with presence of people, but rather by necessary adaptation of the living space.

piqsels.com-id-fkstd 1

Single people keep themselves occupied through intensive work regimen, audio and video intervention, mobile or other means of communication, by seating near a street view window, keeping a pet as company, frequent relocation of amenities, irregular work cycles including physical workouts, dancing, and cooking.


Russian space psychologists analyze the body language and tone of voice to ensure compatibility of crew members. Members of a group must have a strategy of a good working relationship. One may not be very friendly with a companion, but a clear understanding as to how much you are ready to share and not share, creates a healthy relationship. The Shuttle-Mir missions of the 1990s Russian and American crew had problems of language and other communications, leading to isolation.

Loneliness is going to be a major issue for long duration space travel with few crew members. For some persons the problem will not be loneliness but too much of the same company. The privacy of space may not be feasible, but of few exclusive moments will be appreciated. Direct communication will not be possible for space flights. A radio signal can take up to 22 minutes to travel to or from the Earth. Two-way instant conversations will be completely impossible, so email and social media communication is likely to become inevitable. Both of these allow a degree of selectivity that it is not always necessary to respond, and your behaviour is not being visually exposed. With (as of now) poor condition of communication channels, most voice messages are truncated in bandwidths creating a phantom like effect, but belying the emotions.

It is extremely important to maintain the emotional ties to the ground (or enliven the past). NASA on ground station involves fellow astronauts who understand what the space travellers are going through. Loneliness is now being tackled by counselors available on telephone and social media 24×7.

Loneliness is also an issue with elderly people, staying in Old-age homes, hospitals and alone. They need someone to talk and respond, visually see the company, and touch. A robot seal is designed to improve all such sensorial functions. Space travelers will perhaps have such robots.

This is the TENTH lecture in the series Space and Human Behaviour for Winter semester, 2017, at Faculty of Design, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India.


Published by

Gautam Shah

Former adjunct faculty, Faculty of Design CEPT University, Ahmedabad and Consultant Designer

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