Experiencing Architecture

Design for experience typically means eliciting the senses while facilitating interaction with a built environment. The physical senses can emotionally engage us with the architecture, thereby leaving a lasting impression of that space in our memories. The success of an experiential environment is achieved when the occupiers of the space can perceive the concept and metaphor of the design. One case in point is the timbre-clad building in Japan’s “Art Island”. Ideated by James Turrell, “Backside of the Moon” is a pitch-dark space that evokes a sense of loss of vision until the eyes adjust to the grey light installation. The structure portrays how experimenting with light can render powerful narrative spaces.

“Feelings are real and offer a tool to measure the success of architecture” – Gary Koerner, AIA, president of Dallas-based architectural firm Three.

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Backside of the Moon Installation_ ©James Turrell

Importance of Creating Experience Through Architecture | Design for experience

Architect Juhani Pallasma, champion of experiential design, has observed that modern contemporary architecture is cold and devoid of any emotion. This is attributed to rapid industrialization when the emphasis was laid on the mass production of buildings and their functionality. Architects tend to ignore the emphatic aspect of the design while focusing on saving time. They are inclined towards the connotation of “form follows function”, so much so that they ignore the user’s needs. This ideology was adopted in the modern era to prioritize function over decoration and elaborate craftsmanship. Architect Niveditha in her article’ Architecture as Human Experience’ (Venkatakrishnan, 2021), has said that user needs and experience are essentially a function.

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Form Follows Experience_ ©Niveditha Venkatakrishnan

It is important to establish deeper connections between buildings and occupants to give context to their experiences. Imagine walking for treatment into a hospital with pungent-smelling air, dull walls, dimly lit areas and noise coming from all corners. It would lower your hopes of healing even before the treatment begins. Whereas hospitals with a non-clinical atmosphere and efficient soundproofing are more effective in achieving the well-being of the patient. This illustrates the power of architecture in evoking emotions and the healing process. Hence it is important to consider the kind of feeling you are trying to achieve through your design.

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Hospitals with dim lighting would cause drowsiness_ ©Etactics

How To Design for Experience?

Now that what and why experiential design is covered, the question is “how to design for experience?” Some steps that can be incorporated for the same in the design approach are:

Start with words, not images

Engage with the client by helping them to create a vocabulary for their intended design expectations and the feelings associated with upcoming space. For example, a luxury resort spa experience can be something where the visitors want to stay for an entire day rather than just a few hours.

Conduct rigorous research

Exploration into domains beyond design is necessary to create the desired ambience in the environment. Therefore subjects like environmental studies, psychology, and multi-sensory studies are beneficial to understand the mechanism of human interaction with different environments.

Employ a participatory design process | Design for experience

When designing for an intended set of occupants, it is crucial to consider their opinions and thoughts throughout the process. Continuous end-user consultation was employed during the planning stage of Trillium Creek Primary School in Oregon, USA, to provide a wholesome education experience. The final design consisted of connected trees and play areas which facilitated learning throughout the building.

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Trillium Creek Primary School incorporates experiential architecture elements that were suggested by the school and community_ ©Parallel Photography

Use Empathic Modelling for Inclusive Design

Empathic modelling means getting in the shoes of the end user with or without any impairments and assessing the issues that need to be resolved through design. For example, one can get into a wheelchair to physically experience the challenge faced by a physically impaired occupant when he tries to enter a space with no ramps or try navigating a space with limited textural stimuli with a blindfold on the eyes. This process results in the development of innovative ideas to allow the inclusion of othered occupants.

VR simulation of Mecanoo’s Tainan Public Library using HTC Vive_©Johan Hanergraaf Architectural Technology

Experiential Design is More Than a Trend 

Post Covid, more designers are inclined towards creating an immersive experience through a human-centric approach. The need for a quality experience and human connection is of utmost importance while designing any space.  It is more about designing ‘for’ the people than just copy-pasting the current trends. A good experience can result in increased brand loyalties, well-being, quality educational experience and a plenitude of well-designed spaces. Thus, experiential design is set to become a permanent aspect of architectural practices.


Civil+ Structural Engineer Media, 2019. How Architects Create Emotional Connections: Experiential Designs by three Raise the Bar. [Online]
Available at: https://csengineermag.com/how-architects-create-emotional-connections-experiential-designs-by-three-raise-the-bar/
[Accessed 31 October 2022].

Maria Lorena Lehman, 2022. How Architectural Environments Evoke Emotion in Occupants. [Online]
Available at: https://www.marialorenalehman.com/blog/how-architectural-environments-evoke-emotion-in-occupants
[Accessed 31 October 2022].

Morello, E. & Piga, B. E. A., 2015. Experiential simulation in architecture and urban space. Ambiances, 7 September.

Patria, A. & Lukito, Y. N., 2018. The Importance of Human Experience in Architectural design. International Journal of Built Environment and Scientific Research, June, Volume 2, pp. 47-54.

Pei, W., Guo, X. & Lo, T., 2022. Pre-Evaluation method of the experiential architecture based on multidimensional physiological perception. Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering.

Terramai, 2022. Experiential Design and Interior Spaces: The New Movement That is Shaping the Way We Create. [Online]
Available at: https://www.terramai.com/blog/experiential-design-interior-spaces/
[Accessed 31 October 2022].

Venkatakrishnan, N., 2021. Architecture as Human Experience. [Online]
Available at: https://bootcamp.uxdesign.cc/architecture-as-human-experience-part-1-ec0c9e9e8b32
[Accessed 31 October 2022].


Shreya is an enthusiastic interior designer. Bringing a positive change in the society through meticulous research and design is her ultimate goal. She is always on the lookout for broadening her design perspective through experiencing and reading with a keen interest in sustainable design methods.