Proxemics Revisited: Social Distance, the rule of thumb in Design

Design Literacy Forum VIII

Currently, the urgency of the Covid 19 pandemic is causing a kind of knee-jerk responses in every area especially when government bodies attempt to resume the economy amidst this new founded fear. The so-called social distancing regulations are inevitable prescriptions that interfere with physical, emotional, and social well-being of the people–something that has long been the main objective of architecture and design profession and discipline. Before we allow this pandemic to spin us out of our orbit, we need to take the time to think critically in order to react rationally.

The concept of social distancing is not new. More than 50 years ago, the American anthropologist Edward T. Hall observed how typical Americans use space and proposed the theory: Proxemics. Proxemics explains why people use different distance in their interactions. In his famous book, the Hidden Dimension, Hall pointed to the basic territorial instincts inherited in human as the reason for different distancing. For instance, intimate distancing is 10-12 inches, personal distancing is at least 3 feet, and social distancing is 9 feet (or the famous 2 meter “Social Distancing”).

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These distances, however, are not to keep organism apart but instead are means for survival. For example, social distancing is an important tool organism use in spacing and to avoid crowding. Hall pointed out through his reviews of researches and experiments done by scientists that in social animals, especially mammals, crowding can cause stress and changes in physiology such as enlarged adrenal glands resulting in hyperactivity and aggression. The 2-meter social distance also allows visibility necessary for courtship and endocrine communication such as pheromones, which regulate normal bodily functions. Viewed as significant and coherent among architects and designers, the theory became the basis or “rule of thumb” in space planning and design. Most built environment in the modern time respected this distance especially in public area. Today, when businesses struggle to reopen, many look to designers to come up with practical solutions to battle this situation.

To explore this notion, Design Literacy Forum VIII invites architecture and design academics to revisit the long standing theory “Proxemics” and submit their creative works that offer a discourse in how “Proxemics” is applied in design in order to find reasonable solution to the Covid 19 new normal that is influencing our way of life.

Submission Opens: July 1, 2020- May 1, 2021


Creative Work Exhibition 2020


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