Architecture and Human Emotion

by Catalina Contreras Rock

©Catalina Contreras Rock

The existence of architecture would be absurd if there was no-one to experience it. What purpose would a beautiful stained glass window have if no one would ever see the magical entrance of natural lighting, coloring the floors with a thousand colors? There would be no meaning in having a huge fireplace with perfectly placed wall stones if no one would ever light a fire and feel the warmth of it while sharing with loved ones. Having a huge theater, with ceilings so high that makes the sound of music resonate so amazingly that would generate goosebumps in the body, would be a waste if no one would ever perform. There is so much that can be experienced thanks to architecture, and I do believe that it has the power to heighten emotions and make moments, small or big, memorable ones. All of this because of the interaction of the human senses with spaces. Architecture serves more than just as a shelter for the bodies, I believe it's also a shelter for the soul, the place might be right, but the moment and the people it is shared with make it exceptional. In fact, I very much agree with something architect Juhani Pallasmaa said: "Architecture is the art of reconciliation between ourselves and the world, and this mediation takes place through the senses”.

I would say that architecture has the magical power of affecting human emotion, sometimes on purpose, when elements of the design are meant to make people feel some way, and sometimes it is just by coincidence, because the visitor gives it a meaning. Buildings big or small, inside or outside, I believe are capable of causing some kind of impact on humans. Playing with scale, color, textures, anything and everything that humans may perceive through their senses, will generate a response. Now, the chances for a human to ever be exactly like other, I would say are extremely rare, therefore it would impossible to design an architectural experience that would impact in the same way every person to encounter the space. The overall experience of a user would be dictated by their personal background, and their state of mind. I really liked what the architect Sou Fujimoto once said: “A wonderful spatial experience is born only after all human senses are unconsciously mobilized. Designer cannot control everything, because there is an infinite diversity of the world itself, but we should listen to the diversity beyond these designs, and we should be able to create such a space that accepts and transforms the diversity. We need a delicate sensitivity to uncertain things.” Plus, I think that architecture is ever changing, just as humans are. Every new day will bring a different light, different wind, different temperature that will change the feel of the space, making it unique. And just like a theater performance, the audience (user), the actors (the building), and the environment will change the feel of show.

Don’t you also think that emotions are the universal language of humanity? So I thought, how could architecture speak the language of emotion? Well, I would say if emotion is brought up when humans are exposed to sensorial stimuli, then architecture speaks through the use of windows and artificial lighting to either brighten or darken up a place, speaks with the texture of wood veins or the smoothness of marble flooring, it speaks with the organic or geometrical use of forms, it speaks all the time, with anything and everything it presents to the visitor. Architecture speaks with ambiance and ambiance moves the human feelings, capable of provoking excitement, joy, calmness just as much as it can bring humans to feel fear, anger and sadness.

On the other hand, it’s inside architecture and around it that life happens. The monumental book of human stories, yes, that’s what I would call architecture in an alternate world. Honestly, I would say people not only create stories and memories within the walls of a building, but they actually give architecture a meaning. From my perspective architecture has the ability of creating all kinds of memories, but more than that I believe that it portrays the human existence. It holds so many stories from so many people who have experienced the places, in many different ways. Architecture has defined multiple aspects of life for so long and humans have over time defined function and purpose for every space, every room. Historically and culturally, this discipline has evolved and it has excelled at projecting aspects of society in different periods of time. I would even dare to say that architecture is like a mirror, the reflection of humanity in it’s different time periods, and thanks to it, now a days, people are able to know aspects of the past and it has helped on the understanding of cultural and social aspects of society. Stories and events of the past that occurred in buildings also become a way of evoking emotions in people. Hearing stories moves people, but hearing a story in the place it occurred gives it so much more meaning and power.

Personally, I have been moved by architecture. I have gone speechless standing upon the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, amazed by the colors and detail of its marble facade. I have felt the hugging and warm experience of a small wooden cabin in the middle of the woods and I will always remember the feeling of walking past by the St. Ann Church and Bernadine Church in Vilnius, Lithuania and just smiling because of the amazing view I got to experience. I am thankful for architecture, interior design and all the emotion both have evoked in my life generating memorable experiences in my existence.


Catalina Contreras Rock

Catalina is a 23 year old mexican interior design student. Currently, she is in her last semester of her bachelor studies, and works part time at LGZ Taller de Arquitectura, architectural firm in Monterrey, México.

She is passionate about creating memorable experiences in the daily lives of human beings through space design, evoking emotion and stimulating the senses.