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An attempt to find Sensory Architecture through the Senses

The pandemic has painstakingly made us stay enclosed within four walls of our homes for a long time already. And in these times, it might be safe to say that almost everyone, if not all, has shifted to a virtual world for everything. You can even visit the Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal in a span of one minute, but then why don’t we? That question is what I strive to find the answer to. Architecture has traditionally focused on satisfying one primary sense of humans, Sight. However, the virtual world through the screen satisfies the sense completely. The eyes can see what the Eiffel Tower or any other site looks like, yet people are ready to fly miles to visit the place.

Architecture can unarguably be defined as an experience for the users that goes beyond the space and the mere spatial arrangement. Sensory architecture is all about this experience. It is about breaking free from the tyranny of sight and indulging in other senses as well. What always has been sub-consciously a part of human, sensory architecture is about acknowledging it in the design and built form. Out of the five senses – Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste, and Touch, the intent is never to start a debate about which should be given more importance but to start a dialogue about how can each be included.

A Glimpse (The Sight)

Never forgotten by anyone, it is needless to say that there has been a monopoly of this specific sense. From judging a book by its cover to perceiving a space it all breaks down to what our eyes see. Different scales, shapes colors, everything is used in design to make it more interesting and pleasing to the eyes. The play of light and shadows has been a major principle in architecture throughout history. From intricately detailed jaali work in Indian architecture to the oculus in Pantheon, irrespective of the place and the time, it was the play of light for the eyes that was included in the design.

A Sniff (The Smell)

A bad odor from a nearby stagnant water source can particularly upset the users but why is it the bad experience that helps in the realization of the importance of smell in a space? It is not to say that people don’t really know the importance of the sense, the sales of scented candles to the patients of aromatherapy say otherwise. Yet, it is still to be included in designing a space. A space with a properly modulated scented environment can easily soothe a person’s nerves and make the experience blissful, if not heavenly.

An Echo (The Sound)

Humming to our favorite artists while trying to find the grocery product down the aisle or getting irritated at the honks of cars in a traffic jam, are not an alien experience for anyone. From supermarkets to airports, it is common to listen to songs and soundtracks, an experience exclusively for our ears to indulge in. The Anechoic Chamber designed at South Bank University, London was designed for the user to experience complete silence but that is what makes one realize all the sounds we generally ignored. It is easy to use speakers and devices to create sound but much harder yet more beautiful to include it in a space, as a part of it not just merely an addition.

A Relish (The Taste)

Most people have never tasted a red brick or soil but that does not mean that the little particles in the air cannot entice the taste buds. The taste is a sense so subtly weaved into every experience that it might be difficult to point it out in the midst of other overpowering senses. The Chocolate Room in Venice, had Nestlé chocolate sheets as wallpaper, using it very differently from its stereotypical form of food. Even while staying on the walls, it managed to be an euphoric moment for the visitors. Even without tasting it physically, the taste was weaved into the experience to enhance it in its own way.

A Caress (The Touch)

“The hands want to see; the eyes want to caress.” the relation between what we see and how it feels to touch was rightly put by Goethe. Texture and its materiality have never skipped any designer's mind while designing. Many architects have unapologetically played and even experimented with textures not only in facades and interiors but as well as in product designs. The surface can be rough, fuzzy, smooth, ragged, wet, etc. yet it would be powerful enough to influence the perception of a space taken solely by our sight.

Even when we do not lack in realizing the importance of every sense in our life, it still is a long way to appreciating each one of them through designs. The five senses are used everywhere in our daily life yet are not included together in our space.




Currently an architecture student with a passion for writing. Trying to explore architecture and design with words and a fresh perspective. Always curious to learn new things in life while living it to the fullest.


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