The user perception of any design or space should be a journey of self-exploration. Any work of architecture or design tries to harmonize with the perceiver. To appreciate this to the fullest, all five senses are indispensable. Let’s try to understand this by looking at our mute designs as if they are imbued with hundreds of emotions that are open for interpretation. To decode these feelings, a stimulation process is necessary. Through the course of this article, you will not only understand what is the multi-sensory Architecture, but also gain an insight into how you can incorporate this into your designs.

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Image Sources:  The web of multi-sensory design ©

1. The Ocular Scape

What you see is what you believe. Your eyes will help you decipher the obvious. If you look close enough, it is much more than just sizes or colors. Through times immemorial, architects have used this sensory perception to build a rapport with the user by playing with the intricacies of the designs. The weight, order, structure, and details in the craft are all looked through the lens of the visual paradigm. Principle design theories such as the Rule of Thirds are all based on this paramount sense. Sometimes, this link is also used to enhance uncertainty in our minds by placing delusional visual frames and creating a variety of illusions. The best stories can indeed be sketched through optical narratives.

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Image Sources: Perspective as a Tool for Design ©

Students in their design projects focus all of their energies in building visually pleasing spaces. But they often ignore the complexities that prevail due to the other senses which are as important as our set of eyes. To establish a deeper connection with space, all senses need to be integrated into the design process.

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Image Sources: Integration of Natural Light and Colors in enhancing Interiors ©

2. The Aural Realm

The symphonies of design are understood yet integrated by very few professionals. The ability of sound waves to resonate, echo, or reverberate is a blessing in disguise. The auditory realm of Architecture is a wonderful transcendence of geometries placed to evoke our emotive dimension. Of course, the acoustics are binding in spaces such as theatres, studios, or stages but in everyday designs, one can use sound to build a connection with the perceiver on a spiritual level. This may be done by integrating the sounds of nature such as gushing of water or the rustling of leaves. Interiors can also be elevated by understanding which texture dampens or amplifies sounds. Weaving this understanding in our design can proliferate an immersive aural journey to an otherwise regular design.

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Image Sources: Acoustics at the Danish Music Museum ©
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Image Sources: 80Hz Architectural Pavilion and Sound Installation in Sydney ©

3. Odors of Design

The sensations triggered by the olfactory sense can be whisked into our designs. The key to this sensorial perception is not in what smells but in how it circulates about the building. Architects address the stinky problematic aspect of this sense; however, they fail to acknowledge its opportunity in lifting a design to a higher level. The olfaction realm has the power to bring back memories by establishing associations with the past. A fragranced atmosphere also helps in engaging the user and coupled with other senses helps in creating a well-crafted environment.

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Image Sources: Smelling station exhibits at “How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine, 1976 to Now” ©
Image Sources: Scents of horticulture exhibits at Shanghai Garden integrated in its Architecture ©

4. Haptic Architecture

The rhythmic alterations of mutually defining aspects such as solid and void are an interesting part of Architecture. It prompts the user to stop and pay attention. All materials have a texture and it is easy to cover this aspect in our designs while we model them on our computers as we place textures on surfaces. But as Finnish Architect Juhani Pallasmaa says, the hegemonic eye suppresses this sense as well. In actuality, a texture’s impact is felt without touching it. For example, a glass-clad building would run down cold shudders through the body; a soft drapery gives us a feeling of comfort; a tessellated 3D wallpaper may make our minds uneasy with excitement. Here, Pallasmaa also argues that modern-day architects do not choose materials that encourage touching. It is important to note that all mundane furniture catalogs feature the texture to imply the binding nature that tactile sense has on our interiors and designs.

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Image Sources: Palm Fiber used to give Hairy texture to Unique House in Sao Paulo ©Pinterest

5. Gustatory Edifice

To create the most authentic experience, this usually overlooked sensorial perception is needed. Alas! We aren’t living in Hansel and Gretel’s House of Gingerbread so we cannot expect our walls to taste exuberant. But the feelings which arise from palatal satisfaction can be translated into our designs by juxtaposing their qualities. A green color might remind you of a tang of bitterness and a zesty lemon-colored surface might make your mouth sour. Colors are thus used to form associations to certain kinds of tastes and make our mouth’s water through architecture.

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Image Sources: Contrast between Warm and Cool Materials ©

In today’s technology-driven world, designers are creating multi-sensory experiences through Virtual Reality to give the most realistic experience. However, augmented versions of spaces are only targeting two or three of our five senses. Although aimed at enhancing our experience, this is only limiting our sensorial engagement.

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Image Sources: Virtual Reality playing with our senses ©

Conscious or unconscious, humans engage in this journey of multi-sensory architecture. That is why your design needs to speak to all the senses. Most benefitted by this design approach are those who have lost one of their senses. They can embrace architecture by feeling it through their active senses.

So, the next time you design, put yourself in the shoes of the user. Move beyond the ocular centric designing ideology and try to design a wholesome project, catering to all the senses.

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Image Sources:  Vortex at Jewel Singapore Airport: Art triggering all our Senses ©

Radhika Jhamaria, an Architecture undergrad at NIT Jaipur, loves to travel and explore the world as a design enthusiast. She believes that one should always follow their heart and she pours hers into literary escapades. You may occasionally find her strumming her beloved guitar.

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