Sensory Architecture: Designing for all 5 senses

Architectural practice is generally dominated by only one sense; vision/sight. The focus is always on making visually appealing buildings whereas in real, spaces impact all our senses. This stops us from using our complete potential to experience any space.

Senses help us experience the world around us and helps us create memories. It is important to include all five senses in architecture for better human interaction and experience.

Importance of sensory architecture-

Sensory architecture interacts with people making them experience the spaces around them using the five senses. It impacts how we feel, behave, think, it helps to reduce our stress levels. The sensory design evokes emotions and thus it can be a great way towards a journey of self-exploration. Being able to feel the spaces with all the senses gives us a feeling of comfort.

It is important to understand the sense of place and how we interact with it to design for the senses.

Sensory path in school hallway helps kids to stay active.

Can you imagine a building where you can experience all the five senses, touch, sight, hearing, smell, and even taste?

What does multi- sensory architecture feel like?

Imagine entering your favorite space, it can be a café, or a luxurious hotel, or a spa, etc. You are in awe of the striking beauty and already in love with the sense of place and the sound of the water cascading down hits your ears. As you walk further, the scent of the cedar wood welcomes you while you cross the lobby the textured wall invites you to sense the touch and caress your skin.

The experience you just had and the space you can already feel give you a sense of pleasure. The kind of design that engages all our senses, the impact that we cannot feel only with our eyes is what multi-sensory design is all about.

Jewel Singapore Airport triggers all our senses.

We are not really aware of how designing for senses can actually bring a change in our life. A space without multi-sensory design will still feel enough but does it has a character or depth to it?
Let’s dive deep and feel the senses in the architecture and understand how to incorporate them into our designs.

  • Sound-

Auditory experience plays a very important role in any space. It is not only about adding soothing sounds but also stopping the unnecessary ones. Uncontrolled noise makes it difficult for us to direct our focus in the right way and the right sound can bring a major change. In our environments, unnecessary noise can reduce our productivity and bring a sense of tension in our daily routines ending up affecting our wellbeing.

Some of the great examples to create a soothing soundscape are adding waterfalls, fountains in our environment, the sound of the gravel, or the pebble path. Bringing soothing sounds helps in blocking unnecessary noise like that of vehicles honking, nearby construction sites, etc. The use of window seals, double pane windows, cavity walls are some ways to reduce the noise from entering our environment.

Acoustic panels at Danish Music Museum ©

In Danish Music Museum, four practice rooms to cater to different musical instruments were designed to test the sound spectrum. Each room has a different type of wooden panel having unique acoustic properties. This makes it a great example of how to design for the best sound experience.

80Hz is an interactive sound pavilion installed in the state library of New South Wales that converts paintings into music. With the use of a computer program the visual data from paintings are converted into sound. Visitors can choose the image of their choice and listen to its soundscape and provides a unique auditory experience.
  • Touch-

Every material has a different emotion and the sense of touch gives us a feeling of softness, roughness, warmth, etc. 

Texture, weight, density, the heat gives us a sense of touch and that makes a lot of experimental possibilities for us while designing.  With the sense of touch, there must be an image in your mind feeling the textures with your hand, but it’s much more than that. The tactile interaction in any space is not only limited to hands but the entire surface of our skin. How the floor feels under our feet, or the walls touch against our skin are some of the factors that we can consider.  

Compare touching the plain wall and textured brick wall. What feels better? And imagine the comfort that the touch of soft rug caressing the skin under your feet can provide.
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay
  • Smell-

Scents trigger memory and is the first thing that we sense after entering any space. Every place has its own scent and impacts our mood. There are so many places where we enter and say “this smells like home” “this smells like a hospital” so what is the smell of home or a hospital? The aroma is not only limited to how it smells but it also has a flavor. This can be used to create a completely different experience in any building or space.

There are ways to incorporate smell in your spaces. Some trees or plants with fragrance or smell of wood like juniper, atlas cedar, etc, can be the scent of wet clay.
So, ask yourself- what does an office reception smell like? Or a hotel room?
Explore which fragrance can different materials create and how that scent can add emotion to that space and uplift the olfactory experience.

  • Sight-

We already know how the architectural world is dominated by vision and suppress the other four senses. Form, color, material, and light are the main elements that we perceive through our visionary sense. There is so much to see in a building; the form it takes, the combination of the colors and materials, how the right amount of light can shift your focus as well as affect your health.

The combination of colors, form, light, reflection on the water together creates a soothing and pleasant architectural experience.
Image by Edi Nugraha from Pixabay
  • Taste-

It must be pretty shocking that how can we sense taste in spaces. There is a great connection between the sense of tactile and taste. Sense of taste is connected to restaurants, cafes, bakeries, etc. but can we associate them with other spaces? What does saltiness, sweetness, bitterness look like? It can be a color or a material or a pattern reminding you of the taste of something.

The human experience is multi-sensory so why limit architecture to only one sense? It is not necessary to design for all the senses at once, but it is important to create interactive designs using more than one sense.

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