“The hands want to see; the eyes want to caress.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The five senses were understood to form a hierarchical system from the highest sense of vision down to touch during the renaissance. The invention of perception made eyes the center point of the perceptual world as well as the concept of self. The technological culture separated the senses even more distinctly, with the hegemony of vision over the other senses.
A counter-revolutionary movement against this ocular-centric tradition is what gave rise to sensory design, aiming to combine multiple sense modalities to enrich the architectural experiences.
Here’s a list of 9 such examples of sensory design:
1) ZERO – Europe
A radical art movement that emerged in Germany and spread to other European countries in the 1950s, the ZERO group focused on multi-sensory experiences of space and light. The close-knit group of artists tried to depict vibration, fire, optical illusions, and other multi-sensory realms through their artworks.
Here’s a link for a multi-sensory online exhibition experience: http://exhibitions.guggenheim.org/zero/
2) Dream House – Manhattan, New York
Created in 1993 by modern composer La Monte Young and visual artist Marian Zazeela, the Dream House immerses the observer in an ever-changing world of sound and light.
Marian Zazeela explains that “together, the sound and light can be experienced as a new form or new media: the sound and light environment. The experience of the two mediums together as one requires a new, or at least different, mode of attention.”
The fluctuating sound waves accompanied by the neon pink reflection of light guarantees a one-of-a-kind experience.
3) Reversible Destiny Lofts – Tokyo, Japan
The Reversible Destiny Lofts were built by architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, in the memory of Helen Keller. The building, completed in 2005, consists of nine residential units and has been featured in various articles internationally. The edifice has been painted in fourteen vibrant colors (both inside and outside) and has been referred to as an “ultra-chromatic undying house.”
The building is developed on the lines of procedural architecture and aims to challenge and stimulate the senses. It encourages its visitors to discover the full potential of their body and self. Spaces are designed for different age groups and challenge the visitor’s preconceived abilities.
4) Bioscleave House- New York, USA
Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa) is the first work of procedural architecture in the USA by Madeline Gins and Shusaku Arakawa. The house is designed as a single-family dwelling, with a sunken kitchen in the center surrounded by steep and uneven floors. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a study are carved-out, demonstrating rotational symmetry. The walls, both interior, and exterior have been painted in vibrant colors and have windows at unexpected heights.
The designers insist that the house is an “inter-active laboratory of everyday life.” They deliberately used uneven floors and terrains to keep a person tentative so that they actively negotiate even the simplest tasks. They believe that heightened body awareness and challenges of the senses can allow the body to continually re-configure itself.
5) BLUR Building – Switzerland
The Blur Building is designed by New York-based firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) for the 2002 Swiss Expo. The building is primarily an architecture of atmosphere (a fog mass resulting from natural and manmade forces). The thought behind the building can be explained with the question that the co-designer Elizabeth Diller recalls asking – “Why don’t we make a building where there is nothing to see, except our own reliance on seeing?”
A smart weather system reads the shifting climatic conditions of temperature, wind speed, and humidity, and regulates the water pressure pumped at a variety of zones. This amorphous landscape necessitates the use of other senses to navigate the space.
6) The Art of Scent – New York, USA
A museum exhibition focuses primarily on the olfactory arts, The Art of Scent was commissioned by the Museum of Art and Design in New York. The museum focuses on twelve pivotal scents by eliminating all reference to the visual materials typically associated with perfume, most notably packaging and advertisements. The result is a seemingly empty white gallery, punctuated by a series of twelve sculpted wall alcoves. The visitors are invited to lean into the wall, triggering the release of a scented stream of air.
7) 80Hz pavilion – Sydney
Designed by British designer and architect Thomas Wing, the 80Hz Pavilion in Sydney is an interactive sound pavilion that turns paintings into music. To achieve this, he developed a computer program that translated visual data into sound. The images were analyzed for visual data (complexity, color, tone, etc) that formed the basis of computer-generated compositions.
When a visitor enters the structure, a central mechanism displays a selection of paintings on a reel, and visitors can crank a handle and listen to the soundscape of the images. The structure, featuring a curving black timber frame, creates an immersive multi-sensory experience.
8) The Anechoic Chamber – London
The Anechoic Chamber (anechoic meaning echo-free) is a specialist facility that has been carefully designed and built to harness total silence. Within the chamber, the external sound is not allowed to enter and sound reflections off internal room boundaries cannot occur.
The “box in a box” construction technique made of heavy concrete walls and foam wedges, helps achieve almost perfect acoustic insulation. A visitor who spends hours in the chamber begins to hear and experience all previously unperceived sounds. The walls of foam blades absorb every sound (including the movement of blood around your head, the thudding of your beating heart, etc) leaving you hyper-aware of your own body and its existence within the space.
9) Hazelwood School – Glasgow
Hazelwood is a school for children and young people with severe and highly complex needs. The school caters to 54 students, where each student has a combination of two or more of the following impairments: acute visual impairment, hearing impairment, mobility, or cognitive impairment.
For the design, the architects used long dark corridors that incorporated visual, sound, and tactile clues. To simplify navigation and orientation through the building for the pupils, the architects used the concept of trail rail. The result is a building that not only supports the senses but acts as an environment that stimulates the imagination.