It would seem that for a building or space to be memorable, beyond plastic and aesthetic elements of sophisticated argumentative complexity, our associations stand out for how we experience spaces and what they offer us in an intangible way through time.
What are those physical environments that we remember despite the passage of time? The answers could be completely varied from the way the light came through the window during the mornings and warmed the room or the color of that wall that we always hate to see.
Human… It is a word that in the tenor of repetition we are already accustomed to reading and listening to. But what does it mean to be human? If we reduce our understanding of the species as a biological entity limited to its purely physical characteristics, we would probably be faced with the reality that our capabilities are insignificant in the face of any other species of our same scale.
Fortunately for us, this reductionist understanding of humanity lacks a key element- the intellect. Thanks to it, the phenomena of the physical environment that we perceive and experience through the senses generate a response in our psyche which processes these stimuli and converts them into experiences.
Architecture as a Mediator between the Human and its Environment
A question that would seem an obvious formulation at first, but that probably triggers more questions is: Who are we designing for? This question of such simple characteristics allows us to do a bit of introspection to lead us to the conclusion that beyond understanding space as an environment that is limited only to physical experience, it also has repercussions on the ethereal as it can become the human intellect.
One of the basic functions of architecture is to become a refuge from the physical environment, which could sometimes be hostile to our nature, and in a certain way, the experience we have with it leads us to seek answers on how to adapt; that is where the role of architecture comes in as a mediator between the environment and our intrinsic but elegant fragility.
Through the adaptation process, we could begin to propose design solutions based exclusively on the use of the building. This might not be a clear approach since we are determining that the premises and design criteria will be exclusively limited to what we want to avoid and not to what we want to provoke in others.
The experience translated through the senses is of vital importance if we want to replicate these results in other spaces, but so that these memorable responses can be lived and experienced at will, we must understand what their triggers are.
The Senses as Catalysts of Experiences
Based on the basic dictionary conception of what a catalyst is, we can understand that this is a substance that causes a chemical reaction to take place faster. Virtually, we could understand the senses as the elements that receive stimuli from the outside, something similar to what Juhani Pallasmaa calls learning by corporeal absorption.
It is an inescapable fact that the artificial environment influences our conception of space through colors, texture, smells, interior temperature, and even the amount of light that enters through the façade. All these elements make up the experiential architecture.
What Strategies Exist to Achieve It?
There are various tools as strategies to develop experiential architecture, some in a much more obvious way than others.
The arrangement of the furniture plays a crucial role since it can encourage the people who use it to develop their social activities according to the layout in which it is placed, allowing socialization to be triggered, or, on the contrary, promoting an environment of high concentration and individual performance.
Color is a subject that has been extensively studied by scientists, psychologists, and even designers and architects. Starting with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Theory of Color until reaching Eva Heller’s theory on the psychology of color. Based on this extremely interesting theory, we can determine the effects that color has on people, taking into account that it is subject to an interpretation where the context plays an elemental role, as stated by Scott Wyatt, who, in his TED Talk “Cubicles don’t Work. How Architectural Design Affects Your Brain”, expresses through his experience how the request for a “pink room” during the design process of a police station meant a milestone in his way of seeing architecture.
Other strategies that are based on our sense of sight and are triggered through our spatial perception is the effect of elements such as the balance in natural and artificial lighting and the scale of spaces, thanks to good natural lighting or the absence of this we can obtain a full state of relaxation or otherwise lose the notion of the passage of time.
The next time we are facing a design process, it will be good to remember those moments that left a positive impact on our lives and carry out an introspection process of what were the elements that generated said stimulus in us; that learning through corporeal absorption, as Pallasmaa called it, combined with scientific and medical research, could lead us to much more conscious and dignified design processes, which we could call sensitive anthropocentrism in the future.
- Heller, E. (2007) Psicología del Color. Barcelona. Editorial Gustavo Gili.
- Pallasmaa, J. (2018) Esencias. Barcelona. Editorial Gustavo Gili.
- TEDx Talks (2017) Cubicles don’t work. How architectural design affects your brain | Scott Wyatt | TEDxSeattle [YouTube video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFkJCpD0_V0&t=334s