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Architecture of Perception

Architecture of Perception, ©JOSÉ L. MENDOZA

Functionality received an unreachable and unreal status in the past century, but in our contemporary context, we need to search for a better relationship between sensibility and functionality. This relationship is innate to all architecture but most of the time, if not all, is only neutralism between the two parts, when it should be mutualism, we need both of the parts to be benefited. Luckily for us, this search doesn't start out of anywhere, this relationship has been subject of study almost since the beginning of art, art goes beyond what it factually is, or at least, it should. Kandinsky commented about this lack of meaning behind any type of art in his book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” in 1910 saying; “... millions of works utterly devoid of enthusiastic warmth of heart or the slightest stirring of the soul.”

That is what differentiates between good and bad architecture. Good architecture seeks further “than just a building.” The environment in which the building is located, the specific nature of the region and the furniture chosen by the owner, these elements are also part of architecture because they modify the ambient in which the individual is observing, listening, tasting, smelling and also feeling. These elements plus the building could easily exist without the human individual, but then there would be no one to experience it, therefore, there would be no point for it to even exist. For this reason, the protagonist in architecture should be the human being, hence the importance of sensory architecture, exploring as designers the capacity of humans to perceive and understand their surrounding elements through their senses.

We are constantly receiving input in our senses, however, in architecture, the one that we desire to impress the most is the visual aspect, but is this actually the most important one? A study made by the Max Planck Institute and the Radboud University [1] about the perception of senses from around the world via the use of language concluded that in nearly all of the languages studied the most important one is, in fact, the sight. In second and third place the results vary between hearing and touch, and finally smell and taste also depending on the language. One of the reasons behind why we prefer and concentrate more on vision is because much of our brain is devoted to visual processing, therefore, dominates our sensory interpretation. This could also be simply because it's easier for us to express ourselves in regard to what we see. However, this doesn't mean that we should undermine the other senses, we could, in contrast, prioritize them. Taking advantage of knowing what we see, we understand. Allowing us to manage the other senses in a way that will create different experiences than any other building, for example, let's imagine a room that is a 5x5x5 cube, without any artificial lights and with only one small skylight. This creates a dark room in which we crave for light, maybe not to see more, but to experience more, given the fact that the sunlight might be giving us heat. If it's perfectly sealed then the only sound in there would be ours, this lack of external sound also improves our other senses, we will now think about the smell of the room will depend on the materials, it might be a recent building made out of pure concrete, which has a very specific smell, or it could also be made out of wood. This would also affect our thoughts on the building. It could be giving us a sense of tranquility and warmth if it's wood, in contrast to the one made of concrete in which we would feel trapped and cold.

By blocking or limiting some senses we can create and analyze spaces like this and conclude by ourselves if this space is really sensory architecture, thus, good architecture, or if it's just a common building. And if we manage to create a space that plays with our sensory perception, then we successfully give warmth of heart and stir the soul of the individual, through art.




I was born and raised in México City. Driven by my particular taste for arts and history I decided to study architecture in the National Autonomous University of Mexico in the Faculty of Acatlán. I'm currently cursing the 6th semester and developing more passion and curiosity for architecture through studying the diverse perspectives on what architecture is.



[1] Vision verbs dominate in conversation across cultures, but the ranking of non-visual verbs varies by Lila San Roque, et al.


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