Traditionally, the eye/sight has dominated architectural practice. However, in recent decades, architects and designers have begun to incorporate other senses into their work, such as sound, touch (including proprioception, kinesthesis, and the vestibular sense), smell, and, on rare occasions, taste. As of yet, there has been little acknowledgment of the field of cognitive neuroscience research’s growing understanding of the multisensory nature of the human mind. As a result, this review provides a summary of the role of the human senses in architectural design practice, both individually and, more importantly, collectively.
Several cross modal environmental or atmospheric interactions, such as those between color and comfort or sound and perceived safety, must be explained by acknowledging the multisensory nature of perception. At the same time, the current emphasis on the synesthetic design must be reframed in terms of cross modal correspondences and multisensory integration, if most of the multisensory interactions and synergies discovered in recent years are to be maximized. In the future, it is hoped that architectural design practice will incorporate our growing understanding of the human senses and how they interact with one another. Such a multisensory approach will hopefully result in the creation of buildings and urban spaces that promote rather than hinder our social, cognitive, and emotional development, as has too often been the case in the past.
To create a meaningful experience for people in a space, you must design an environment that engages both the mind (perception and cognition) and the body (the “physical” senses). Consider the following simple equation:
Experience = Mind + Body + Environment
This is where neuroscience, psychology, and design come together; research is now starting to validate what we as designers already know about how people interact with their surroundings. People are influenced by what they see, hear, touch, smell, and taste, to name a few things. These multi-sensory experiences elicit more powerful and memorable reactions.
It all comes down to human-centered design. People are more likely to interact with their surroundings in the workplace through sight, sound, and touch. Consider the shape of a room, the color of a wall, the light from a window, the feel of a fabric, and the sound of a floor. Each of these instances is an important opportunity to consider the sensory signals of space and the experience you want people to have. Is it supposed to be interactive and collaborative? Calm and quiet? This will have an impact on the materials used in the workplace to create meaning and mood—the foundation for elements such as brand, culture, and employee well-being.
In this regard, some contemporary architects, designers, and artists emphasize the importance of spatial experience in their projects by addressing materiality, the body, senses, emotion, and environments. Their projects are presented in a variety of formats, such as architectural space, pavilion, and installation.
For example, Peter Zumthor‘s Thermal valves provides a phenomenological experience in which various sensory elements are transmitted to the body; it allows people to touch water and stones, see light and darkness, hear flowing water sounds, and smell water mist. Diller + Scofidio’s Blur Building focused on the awareness of bodily experiences and sensations to generate an emotional connection. Because the view was obscured by mist, this pavilion provided an immersive experience that stimulated all of the senses. (Department of Interior Architecture, Gachon University, Seongnam-si 13120, Korea)
What people perceive, experience and feel manifests itself in the interior space. It also reflects how people use, occupy, transform, and adapt to space. This spatial experience has the potential to transform the space into a place, emphasizing the sense of belonging within the home. It demonstrates that interior space is inextricably linked to a lived body within the material world, thereby reflecting spatial identity and culture. Physical factors, space, and the body are all present in the interior space. In other words, the body can define interior space, which becomes a reflection of identity, subjective experience, and personal responses. Thus, interior spaces can be understood and explained not only through architectural forms, but also through their relationship to the body, environmental stimuli, and culture, which shapes space’s meaning through experience.
Sound in architecture is about more than just soundproofing and noise reduction. Different sounds can add different sensations to an environment; for example, mindfulness meditation music can provide a sense of tranquility, while upbeat tunes can cause euphoria, and with a little more imagination, we can make architecture produce music. The Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia, is made up of a network of polyethylene tubes and resonating cavities that sing as the waves and wind lap against the shore. It is the world’s largest aero-phone, with thirty-five individual pipes spanning a total length of seventy meters.
Everyone has experienced the sensation of smelling something and being instantly transported to a setting from their childhood. Smells can evoke memories while also assisting us in navigating our surroundings. Incorporating scents into the design creates emotional memories and allows people to remember the space in ways other than visually. Landscape design with various fragrant flowers, the smell of the earth, rooms with artificial aromas, or even an open kitchen that allows the aroma of fresh food to permeate the environment are all examples.
Sensory design collides with the world’s living thingness. A room is more than just a cube with windows and doors. It is a perceptive being with deep pockets and velvet shadows. It has the shape of an eyeball and bends like an elbow. A blanket’s wool canyons trap heat. Light and sound are captured by the folds of a curtain. A rug inhales a sound, and the floorboards weep. Our skin, bones, and muscles are all altered by sensory design. It pinches, tickles, and pops. It’s a rough game. It touches us, and we return the favor.