In our series Architectural means we’re trying to find answers to the questions: Which architectural means do we have to create specific atmospheres that can elicit specific emotions? In this post we’ll talk about the aspect Mass or void as one of the architectural mean we have to create specific architectural atmospheres.

Mass or void

Architects can work with convex or concave forms. “[…] markedly convex forms give an impression of mass while concave ones lead to an impression of space, “ (1) as stated by Rasmussen.

Rubin vase

Rubin Vase

Also known as the face-vase. It represents two different shapes, but both shapes can never be seen at the same time. Rubin wrote on this: “One can then state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as figure and the other as ground, the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.” (2)

“We do not perceive everything as either mass or void.”
– RASMUSSEN, S. E. (1962) Experiencing architecture (3)

Architects mostly work with structural forms – the solids, but they can also work with the empty space – the cavity – between the solids, and consider the forming of that space as the real meaning of architecture. An example of designing the cavity is the St. George church in Lalibela, Ethiopia (fig. 2), where they started with the solid and excavated the site, which resulted in a cavity – the church.

St. George church, Lalibela, Ethiopia


  1. RASMUSSEN, S. E. (1962) Experiencing Architecture, 2nd Edition – affiliate link
  2. RUBIN, E. (1915) Synsoplevede Figurer
  3. RASMUSSEN, S. E. Idem

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