The Familiarity of Strangeness




Quotes gathered by Daniel Cotton for his Master’s thesis “Wates House”:


“The fake door on the first floor. One of the few times I’ve ever felt nausea from looking at something… when I came across it and almost swooning: ‘the world is not right’ and a kind of vertigo.”

Most activities in our daily routine rely on our familiarity with specific, or similarly functioning objects and environments. An unfamiliar face will appear to be a familiar object; most new buildings will appear to be familiar frameworks of spaces. Bertrand Russel claimed familiarity as a continuous and constant feeling when encountering familiar objects. Wittgenstien believed it to be the absence of astonishment or doubt, familiarity as a non-feeling.

When something looks or behaves not as we expect, we are struck by the feeling of strangeness, or unfamiliarity. These moments serve as catalysts for suspicion; less assumptive behaviour; and a heightened sensitivity to surroundings. It follows that inevitably there are changes to our familiar environment that we do not perceive because we have prematurely assumed that our expectation have been gratified.

What are the stimuli that bring us out of familiarity? At what point do we resume our routine? How can this state influence our experience of space and is there scope for an architecture which exploits the implications?

This short project carried out at The Bartlett School of Architecture involved a number of experimental interventions.


Intervention: The Familiarity of Frequented Space




“One of the most brilliant bits of intervention in the building… it was really convincing, and disturbing. You thought you knew where you were and then, there’s another room…”

A door is transplanted overnight into a Bartlett school corridor. Staff and students familiar with the space arrive one day to find a door that looks as if it has always been there, yet have never noticed before.




“My very favourite thing that anyone did to this building? The fake door. It was amazing to walk into work as usual, half awake, and then there was suddenly this perfect replica of a door. It just seemed to me so funny, and so surreal and so many people have been confused by that door, I love it. It blends in so well.”





A film featuring the door in an unrelated student project called “Unit 13”