In 450 B.C, the Greek philosopher Protagoras stated, “Man is nothing but a bundle of sensations.” As architects, we design for these humans, and hence, appealing to all the senses is a necessary yet most ignored aspect while designing

“The hands want to see and the eyes want to caress.”

This quote by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe talks about how every sense can be enticed and can provide new experiences and explorations to the users. 

Below are a few facts about the sensory design that need to be understood by every designer. 

1. History of Multisensory Design | Sensory Design

The ideas behind Multi sensory design first emerged in the 1950s, in the works of Zero in Europe and Gutai in Japan. They were radical, post-war artists. These artists realized that sight alone is not enough to understand art, and started working with the five senses. Zero worked using not only light, sound and optical illusions but also incorporated live events and occurrences such as slicing and burning in their works. They believed that art should involve full human participation. 

Gutai’s works were more theatrical. Gu means tools, tai means body. Their concept was using their body as tools to create and experience art. They combined performance, art and interactive environments and provided a connection between the body and art.

By the 1970s, this new form and expression of art started spreading its roots. Light artists and sound artists came together and manipulated light and sound to create new experiences, performance artists broke out from the four-walled auditoriums, Silence was recorded instead of music, images controlled language and three-dimensional spaces became the new art canvas. 

Slowly, this was used to increase the playful nature of space and create an interaction between the people and the spaces they occupy. The multi-sensory approach was soon adapted by architects who realised its potential to make spaces more user-friendly. 

Inside The Dream House (1993), a project by Marian Zazeela, a neon pink glitter synchronised to music followed visitors as they moved through the house. This is one of the historical projects based on Multisensory design. 

10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet1
Artwork by Zero ©
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet2
Kazuo Shiraga, hanging from a rope and painting with his feet; Challenge mud performance; Saburo Murakami breaking his way through canvases.© 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet3
The dream house by Mariam Zazeela © 

2. Principles of Multisensory Design

While Aristotle declared the pentamerous proposition, today, experts have suggested that there are about 9 – 33 different senses. 

There are four sensory receptors and four stimuli in the human body. The stimuli produce a sensation, also called the sense modalities (vision, auditory, tactile, etc.). 

There is said to be 9 sense modalities:

  • Vision – the sensation of sight through the eyes
  • Hearing – the sensation by which sounds are perceived through the ears
  • Smell – the sensation by which odours and scents are perceived through the nose
  • Taste – the sensation by which a flavour is recognised by the tongue
  • Touch – the sensation of tangible feeling through the skin
  • Pain – the sensation of physical discomfort due to any external or internal stimuli in the body
  • Mechanoreception – the sensation caused by vibration or any other mechanical process
  • Temperature – the sensation of heat and cold through the skin
  • Interoception – the sensation of stimuli within the body.
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet4
The Sequence of Multisensory processing © 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet5
Proposes Multisensory roadmap ©Ligia Pamela Godoy CortésIzaias Quadros de FrançaRomulo Lins Gonçalves, Luciana Pereira  
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet6
Senses act as major building materials. ©Hara, K. Designing Design. P. 156. (2015)

3. The Five Senses Theory by Jinsop Lee | Sensory Design

Jinsop Lee, an industrial designer developed the five senses theory. He proposed the idea of grading any object or experience in terms of the five senses and creating a graph. This graph can help understand how user effective the product or experience is. The broader the area covered, the better the experience. 

The theory has its drawbacks:

  • Every human’s senses do not work the same way and some people might have an absence of some senses, like some disabled people.
  • For some products, some senses might not be relevant. 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet7
Graph comparing two video games by Jinsop Lee © 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet8
Jinsop Lee points out a drawback in his graph method that some aspects like human imagination do not come under the five senses, so it might not always be correct. © 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet9
The Ideal perfect experience © 

4. Multisensory Design and memory

All memorable experiences of a person are thanks to the multi-sensorial aspect of it. For example, visiting a beach can become a memorable experience because of the sprinkles of water on your face, the taste of the saltiness in the air, the smell of water, the sound of the crashing waves with the fast blowing wind and the transition from dry sand to wet sand under your feet. 

A plate of food becomes memorable because it incorporates sight with its colours, smell and taste, touch with its textures and sound with the sipping and munching. This is also the reason why a plate of food is something that can easily take people down a memory lane. 

Therefore, to stand out and to create a memorable experience in people’s mind, it is important to design not just for sight, but for all the five senses. The design should either create a new experience for the user or instil a sense of nostalgia.

10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet10
A plate of food can easily remind you of Daadi’s home, because of the Multisensory aspect of it. © 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet11
The use of elements like light, sound, colours, air and metamorphic walls and floors to create an experience through time can be seen in the Singapore Bicentennial office by designers of MET studio. © 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet12
The Vienna lines make use of perfumed carriages that create a relaxing and memorable experience, away from human odours, for the day to day commuters © 

5. The Role of Taste in Multi-Sensory Design | Sensory Design

Not every building can be a Gingerbread house. Incorporating taste directly and expecting people to go around licking spaces is not a very feasible idea. But this is not necessary either while incorporating the sense of taste into buildings. It is important to understand that senses can be associated. Visual sense and taste can go hand in hand. This means that paints, textures, shapes and images can be tasted. A chocolate brown coloured wall , pictures of food on a wall and grape wine coloured furniture with a shiny finish are some examples. 

Taste can also be induced by natural elements like water, trees and sand. Ever felt the taste of a rainy evening or the saltiness of the beach without really putting it in your mouth?

Smell plays an important role in awakening the taste receptors. This is why the smell of food is enough to start you drooling. The smell of strong perfume induces a bitter taste in your throat, the pungent odours in chemistry labs induce a pungent taste and the smell of stagnant water also induces some kind of taste. 

Therefore, Taste is not something that has to be ignored in design just because a particular space does not demand the direct use of the tongue. The Beyond taste collection by Teresa Berger showcases 8 pieces of crockery that act as proof of Synesthesia – a phenomenon that lets people hear colours and taste shapes. 

10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet13
The Beyond taste collection by Teresa Berger showcases 8 pieces of crockery that acts as a proof of Synesthesia  a phenomenon that lets people hear colours and taste shapes ©Teresa Berger
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet14
Taste and smell ©
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet15
Chocolate room, American Pavillion, Venice – Direct incorporation of taste in design. © 

6. Sustainability and Multi-Sensory Design

Peter Zumthor tried his best to make the Therme Vals, a bath located in the thermal springs of Switzerland, Multisensory. With materials, maximum usage of site conditions, restricted use of visual elements and temperature and humidity differences, he appeals to all the senses.

The Loyola Chapel by Laurie Baker, incorporates massive jali walls, the interplay of textures, brick walls with creepers growing on them, steel wire grid reinforced glass doors, wooden frames, change in scales and exposed surfaces rendering excellent acoustic properties. 

BV Doshi’s IIM building, incorporates the vision by using linear corridors, creates a play with temperatures by creating a play with light and shadows, creates a sense of transition in the floor plate by using stone in some places, gravel in some, and just grass in some. 

The smart use of sustainable materials and subtle changes can create an excellent multi-sensory design. 

10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet16
Therme Vals, Peter Zumthor ©chris schroeer-heiermann
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet17
Loyola Chapel by Laurie Baker ©Doctor Casino, 
10 Things you did not know about Sensory Design - Sheet18
IIMB campus by BV Doshi © 

7. Technology and Multisensory Design 

In the current digital age, why not use technology to our benefit and create artificial effects for a Multisensory experience?

Kinaesthetics can create various sensory experiences – the transition of tactile senses as spaces transition, the constant movement of the eyeball, and the play of light with kinetic facades. 

The manipulation of lights also helps elevate this kind of experience. Architects no longer have to depend on the sunlight available on site, but can induce any kind of effects they want. Artificial sound can also serve this purpose. Materials like thermochromic paint and interactive installations evoke the tactile senses. 

Overhead canopy of lights that react to movement in an installation by Jason Bruges in IFA, 2016, Berlin © 
Virtual reality evoking senses ©
Kinetic Facades © 

8. Multi-Sensory Design for Autistic Patients | Sensory Design

Autism patients, along with difficulties with social interaction, social communication and social behaviour, also exhibit hyper or hyposensitivity to their environments.

Minimal interior palettes with limited patterns, textures and colours ; organic curvilinear forms with no Sharp edges, use of flexible LED lighting and minimum glazed surfaces as it tends to distract the patients. 

Usually, noises that abled people cannot notice like the buzz of artificial lighting and hum of air conditioning, can trigger and distract autistic patients. Creating a gradual transition from silent spaces to louder spaces and incorporating air absorbers and baffles into the design to absorb the sound from HVAC and mechanical controls are some strategies. The sound of low background noise like a water fountain and wind chimes can prove to be comforting.

People with autism also find the touch of another person or the brush of fabric on their skins extremely painful. This can be solved by increasing areas of personal contact by widening corridors or providing a secure external courtyard. Textured and slippery surfaces must be minimized.

Autism patients seek out smells, because of which they sense the slightest change in smells. Therefore, it is necessary to design for maximum air movements to reduce odours and introduce naturally scented flowers in the space.

Ara, a kid diagnosed with ASD interacting with social sensory architecture Pavillion ©Sean Ahlquist, University of Michigan.
New Struan centre for autism in Alia, Scotland by Aitken Turnbull features an atrium that brings in sunlight to the space ©Wardell Armstrong
Introduction of water channels on the floor, before immersing into the pool. This acts like a pre-activity building up to the final activity. © 

9. Therapeutic Spaces

Spaces can push the mind and body during self-healing. Multisensory design is proven to reduce stress and anxiety levels and decrease the time required for self-healing. One such example is the Paimio Sanatorium in Finland by Alvar Aalto. The way the body interacts with matter and space is what can create a therapeutic experience. One example of this is the Ira Keller fountain, Portland.

Hazelwood School , The City of Glasgow by Alan Dunlop – School For Deaf and Blind. © 
Colours, attention to details, original textured materials and a surplus of light are some features of the Paimio Sanatorium by Alvar Aalto. © 
Rehabilitation Centre Groot Klimmendaal by Koen van Velsen © 

10. Use of Multisensory in Urban Design | Sensory Design

A Multisensory approach towards urban design can help the locals and visitors experience a peaceful and energetic life. Use of smellscapes, sound maps, colour maps and texture maps must be encouraged in the urban design process. Every city or place has unique, hidden characteristics that can be explored only with the help of all the five senses. These characteristics make up the experience of the place. It can affect the physical as well as mental well-being of humans.

Smell Map of Amsterdam ©Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments, Book by Victoria Henshaw
Smell Walk © 
Sound Map of Washington Square Park © 
Emotional Map of Washington Square Park © 


  • metropolis. (2018). architecture you can smell? A brief history of multisensory design. [online] available at:
  • Toptal Design Blog. (n.d.). A Guide to the Principles of Sensory Design. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2021]
  • RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2020). Multi-Sensory Architecture- Less Vision, More Senses – Rethinking The Future. [online] Available at:
  • Journal. (2020). Sensory Spaces: An Architect’s Guide to Designing for Children With Autism. [online] Available at:
  • Anon, (n.d.). The 5 senses showdown: Designer Jinsop Lee grades 6 great experiences | TED Blog. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2021].
  • Parth Garg (2019). How multi-sensory design can help you create memorable experiences. [online] Medium. Available at:
  • Re:public. (2019). Multi-sensory design – building for all senses. [online] Available at:
  • Journal. (2020). Sensory Spaces: An Architect’s Guide to Designing for Children With Autism. [online] Available at:
  • RTF | Rethinking The Future. (2021). Sensory Design: Therapeutic Architecture. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2021].
  • Akna Marquez. (n.d.). The Smell of the City. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Apr. 2021].

Inspired by architecture and filled with a passion for writing, MeghaSubodh is an Architecture student pursuing her studies in RV college of Architecture, Bangalore. Influence of people, culture and climate on Architecture is an area that evinces much interest in her. She is desirous of giving voice to Architecture through her writings and is consistently striving to improvise herself in this field.