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Architecture of Unconscious Senses

axonometric drawings in relation to the specific chapters: a classroom, a house and an art gallery space (left-right) (author: A.Jodlowska)


The fact, that architecture can stimulate and positively affect our perceptions of smell, touch, taste, sight, sound is widely known. The scent of old wooden church mixed with burning candles, the touch of cold concrete, the peculiar acoustics of certain space. How about the internal sensory and perceptual systems, what if architecture could be more attentive to them? The essay is to briefly explore the possibility and the benefits of adding stimulation of one, neglected sense in a building dominated by the other sense.

Five senses

The senses tend to interact and sensory signals can evoke emotions. The world of sensory information includes light, shade, color, contrast, scale, proportions, material textures, reflected or absorbed sounds, temperature changes. The senses, receiving stimuli from the environment, interact with it and create a sense of place in our brain, and consequently create a memory of this specific place. We experience space with all our senses at the same time, thus in architecture there is an overwhelming dominance of the sense of sight, and I believe, neglection of the other senses that are commonly known.

Vestibular sense: ability to maintain balance and body posture

By using the vestibular sense we can be aware of our body and maintain a posture, even without using a sense of sight or touch. If the system functions properly, we understand where we are in relation to the earth, and to other people.[i] It is underappreciated– when it functions well, it remains unnoticed and we are unaware of the sensory information it carries.

This sense is vital for children’s development, not only for their physical growth. Vestibular sense can make us feel secure in the world and understand our surroundings in a better way. Kids need vestibular stimulation, but schools mostly engage in vision. What if we could, apart from tables and benches, have swings, spinners, carousels, balance trainers, would children be more aware of the world?

Proprioception: perception of body position

Proprioception, in contrast with kinesthesia, is more about the awareness of bodily position, not the body movement. [i] Decreased proprioception is when the sense that body is in space, awareness of posture, weight, limb position in accordance with the environment is reduced. It could have symptoms such as uncoordinated movement, clumsiness and even avoiding certain movement activities because of the fear of falling. Proprioception also decreases with age. [ii]

House is a place where humans of all ages should feel the most aware of themselves and their position. While thinking of the house, we mostly focus on a sense of touch and vision, we want soft materials enhancing positive emotions, ambient light, and decorations. Maybe creating a house to stimulate and improve proprioception could create a place safe for all people and therefore strengthen family connections? Universal design in architecture is the idea of designing a space in a way that makes it accessible and working for a wide range of people. [iii] What if we could enhance the awareness of body position in the place we were supposed to feel the safest?

Kinesthesia: body’s movement through space

Movement is important, from a phenomenology perspective it is who we are and how we perceive the world. And the way we remember the space is by moving through it, it is universal and works also for people with less developed senses. With more advanced methods of collecting data, we can observe, register and understand movement in a better way.[i] When we consider Laban movement analysis, there are four categories of it: body, effort, shape, and space. It says, what is moving, how it is occurring, where the movement happens, and how the body changes in time and space. [ii] Is designing a building in a sense, planning a choreography in it? Movement requires paying attention to the surrounding.

If we consider an art gallery building, it is dominated by visual perception. What if we could think of an art gallery architecture based on those four categories of movement and enable not only to perceive artworks by looking at them but also by movement through space?

More than senses

All senses ought to be treated equally. In order to enhance emotional, physical, and psychical wellbeing for all ages, maybe the hope is in multisensory architecture? And to improve connections between people and to create a sense of place. Our perception, experiences, feelings and are closely linked to the place around us.

We can consider five senses, in my essay I considered seven senses. Some scientists say we have fourteen or even twenty-one senses but is that the right way to look at the answer? Perception of place is made by integrating information across all senses, time, and space. [i]

Moreover, it might be that walls, ceilings, and floors hold memories of activities that occurred in the place. Places can feel happy of unhappy, we can sense something bad happened in a place. We link the perception of a place to our senses, but we also have some pre-knowledge about a place that is not tangible and hard to explain.




Architecture student from Poland highly interested in Japanese post-war architecture. In free time animal rights activist.


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