What we see, hear and become aware of is perception. It is sensing something through our physical body. Although being as simple as that, the phenomenon or the process of perception is multilayered and involves much more than just seeing or hearing.

Seeing and Perceiving | Light and colour

Perception involves taking input data from our senses, eyes and ears, picking it up, organising it, then understanding the said information. Perception is partially a sensory and partly a cognitive process. It is not just seeing but also figuring out what you are seeing.

The light we see and the colours we perceive are merely wavelengths reflected from the surface of what we look at. Yet they are much more than that because they are the only information that makes up the whole visual world for us.

The information of wavelength and texture translated to our consciousness through our optic nerve exclusively creates our experience of the image of the world. That allows us to interact with our environment.

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Perceiving the World_©veracloud.com

Perception is a layered and stepped process and the cognitive process involved is as important as the sensory one. What we see is the same for everyone, but what we make out of it is not.

This is because the perception depends on our past experiences and memories, which may vary from one person to another. The sensory part of the process is the objective side while the cognitive part is the subjective one.

Architecture, Space and Perception

Our fundamental understanding of the space encompassing us comes from light and colour. Thus as we design it, mould it in a certain way we create a different and sometimes completely new environment for ourselves. Of course, different people may interpret this designed environment in different ways personal to them. Yet, there are some universally accepted interpretations.

Images Form Architecture

The architecture of a built environment engages all our senses. Touch through tactile material; hearing through the sounds it captures sometimes through the use of running water sometimes through something else. But the most important sense architecture attempts to engage with is the sense of visual perception.

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The Hyder Ali Center (Zaha Hadid)- Form and Visual Image_©wallpaperaccess.com

The function and the form are the two broad elements that make up and guide the design of the space. The function is the purpose of the building and depends on its use. And though the form is sometimes guided by the function and other constraints, the form of architecture can be freely and to an almost absolute extent be associated with the visual imagery.

There are many ways through which a designer can create varied experiences for their users. There are many examples where one can very evidently see how the element of light and colour is used to create a designed and specific experience by the architect.

Design of Space | Light and colour

The holocaust museum in the United States of America is a good example where the choice of colour, light and material, along with the conscious design decisions create a very specific user experience. The dark colours and minimum lighting create a sense of confinement in a space, that resonates with the idea of the holocaust.

The architect has deliberately designed the passages and corridor such that the movement is restricted beyond necessary, and there is a sense of enclosed feeling. The use of many colours and small textures also create a facade that is to an extent overwhelming in nature. Perfectly capturing and translating the sense of anxiety associated with the idea and act.

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The Interiors of the Holocaust Museum_©mjnyc.org

Another example of using light and colour in architecture to tailor an experience is the Church of Light by Tadao Ando.

The architect has created a sense of enclosure through the thick concrete walls, while the void in the shape of a cross allows the only light to come inside the chapel. Tadao Ando has successfully attempted to create a strong statement through the use of light and darkness. He has portrayed the duality of life, solid and void, stark and sense, coexisting in the same place.

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The Church of Light- Chapel Iteriors_©archdaily.com

The use of neutral grey, white and black also aids in the designing of the user experience according to the designer’s concept.

The environment we perceive is built of some basic elements. These elements alter and make each experience different for us. At the same time, perception involves cognitive processes, thus the complete experience or perception of something is to an extent subjective. That is it depends and varies from one person to another, based on their past experiences.

The visual language is dictated by the design of space, the light and the colour, through materials. And a designer or an architect with their knowledge of the same can alter the same, through design tools to create a distinct effect. The design of the space can speak to a person directly and make them know of a feeling without having to explicitly say it out loud.


  • Architectuul.com. 2021. Church of the Light. [online] Available at: <http://architectuul.com/architecture/church-of-the-light> [Accessed 13 April 2021].
  • 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336103150_New_materialities_of_light_and_colour_in_spatial_allegories> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

Currently, in the fourth year of B.Arch course at IIT Roorkee, Mansi Dengre is a young and passionate writer. Her area of interest lies in the softer aspects of design, the society, culture and narratives, and green architecture. Sometimes you might find her lost in books and music.