What distinguishes a space as a specific typology? What segregates it? It’s the design, both inside and outside, our perception, and the response of five senses to the space. Why does a home, anywhere in the world look like home? Or an office like an office? Or a hospital like a hospital and a school like a school? Based on standard design guidelines, we design a house, office, hospital, or school, that fits into the respective typology. Our mind then begins to imagine that space that has been fitted in our minds. 

Our senses respond to those spaces right by thinking about it and begin to form adjectives for it, like – cozy house, smelly hospital, lit office, huge classrooms, etc.

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When we enter a space, all our five senses get engaged with each other and thus we respond to the space. Haptics, the sense of touch conveys the length, depth, mass, and texture through legs, feet, hands, and body mass to our brains. In this sense, we need to understand that sight is the dominant sense among all and humans define architecture through its appealing form. The space through the rest of the senses is perceived consciously or unconsciously. Despite that, our other four senses store in the memory the nature of the space and reaction to it that is seldom perceived by the eyes. This creates visual illusion within the users and so humans in most cases define the space purely based on this visual illusion, i.e. form and shape of the building. Haptics also identify poor ventilation and temperature that gives us discomfort. Consciously or subconsciously our skin reacts to this which sends signals to our brain and we tend to focus less on our respective work. Hearing as well as the sense of smell also sends similar responses to the brain which then impacts our respective work.

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The perceived form, material, texture, smell, and sound collected by our senses are stored in the form of memory and are recollected when we come in contact with similar space, especially of a particular typology again. When all our five senses are allowed to interact with each other, i.e. when architecture for the senses is designed, we tend to be more comfortable and thus we interact with the space. This communication is important for keeping the user bound to live in the ‘present’ and constantly engaged with the surrounding.

Colors and lights too are as much as important as other features in the space. They are stored in our memory in the same way as other sensual perceptions. Various studies have shown that colors affect our psychological behavior and hence many color psychologists are working in integration with architects. For example, blue is said to increase creativity, red reminds us of danger letting us give importance to the details of a respective problem, whereas white creates a peaceful atmosphere.

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Colors can even have cultural or religious significance and based on this, we even categorize the space or a place. We also respond to colors based on our past experience, whether good or bad. The more the colors in a structure, the more joyous and comfortable we tend to be. Also, lighting, if well designed can create a joyous environment, but too much illumination, e.g. in offices, after long periods causes stress and fear of revisiting the space.

Another example is of a house. The word itself induces a feeling of coziness and security and is welcoming. But if the interiors are designed according to the design of an office, we tend to hesitate to live in it because of the stored memory of an office space or residential space. On the other hand, spaces also promote physical as well as mental well-being. It is also the main factor that helps us distinguish contemplation, religious spaces, and health spas from the rest, i.e., industrial, malls and offices, houses, schools, etc.

As said in the introduction paragraph, our minds also ‘habitually’ respond to space. Given that it is designed according to the standards, our perception of the space, be it school, office, or hospital is automatic. We form a mental map of that space or a building, which is why, unless the spatial planning or design of the particular typology is designed differently, we generally tend to know the space. All our senses collect it in the form of memory and when spatial planning is different than that we are habitual to, our senses get confused and so does our behavioral pattern. We react to this new space either positively or negatively. Both these responses to the particular space or typology build a space in our memory, which is recollected the other time we visit.

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A negative response may lead to dissatisfaction and restlessness. An example of this is the hospital typology, where we already know about the space even before visiting. This can sometimes be dangerous and can cause anxiety within the patient, and as the mind too affects physical well-being, this anxiety can interrupt the process of faster recovery within him or her. Designing for the senses in this typology thus becomes important for the overall well-being of the patient. Positive response induces energy, joy, creativity, and calmness and so we tend to visit that place again and again. Contemplation centers, healthcare resorts, outdoor areas like nature, and landscaped gardens give us calmness. Certain restaurants, if well designed induce joy and creativity in us. In this case, we need to remember that humans, apart from being social, are also inclined towards nature and being holistic. This is the reason that we humans become calm when we are in nature.

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Spaces can create a sense of security, danger, calmness, comfort, frustration, fear, anxiety, depression, creativity, conspiracy, and so on within the users. Architecture can thus play a significant role in shaping our thinking, actions, performance, moods and behavior, and also our social interaction and overall health. But in the era of competitions and aesthetics, we seldom give attention to designing for humans that affect his or her psychology.

Pranjali Karnik
Author

Pranjali is a passionate artist and an architect who loves to blend her designs with nature. She designs meticulously and is always exploring the impact of architectural spaces on user's mind and body. You will find her lost in travelling, daydreams, books, and also on mountain trails.

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