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Place making through sensory memory

©Khairunnisa Rahmaditia Adita

As we know, in this 21st century, with the large variety of designs that have been experienced in everyday life, designers need to make sure their designs are memorable. When it’s not memorable, the likelihood of people coming back to use the design is decreasing. Creativity has developed broadly that the era has turned into one where purpose and comfort does not the only priority for the designers, but as well its impression on its users to be recalled. The designs being discussed include architecture, interior, landscape, and even urban design. The heritage sites, the modernist buildings, the neighborhood with advanced technologies, these all places leave different kinds of memories to different people. Everyone certainly has a different impression and experience of a design. Several factors can influence a person's recall of a design, one of which is the senses. Therefore, the senses held an important role in making a memory of a place.

Having an emotional attachment to a place often happens when a repeated sensory perception in one’s life was experienced in that place. In 1981, Proust wrote that places become filled with the sedimentation of memory, from the intimate layering of memory over memory. That’s why it’s easy for one to remember the interior of one’s first car or one’s childhood bedroom. These memories are created from the varied data received from what our senses like sight, smell, and hearings are perceived. Spatial quality in architecture can only be fully interpreted through senses to be marked in one’s memory. Sensory memory holds much information that connects the physical qualities and the emotional values one experiences when entering a space. This sense perception of a place doesn’t always need to be a pleasant one to be memorable. For example, the dark, damp hallway of a school can remind one of memory as much as the plaza with good airflow and daylight. This proves comfort isn’t the main factor in making a memory of a place, but senses are.

When seeing, hearing, or feeling the texture of similar spatial quality, one will feel a sensory familiarity to space and turning it into a place. In identifying a place, it can be detected from a similar sensory perception to a similar place that can be attached and recalled to space. The emotional values one experiences in the past are influenced by the amount of sensory memory information that the senses perceive. So when a piece of similar sensory memory information is being perceived, the emotional values are being triggered to access a certain memory one has. In simple terms, seeing the same door, wallpaper, or floorings in a different room, house, or apartment can bring back the memories one experiences in the past. By experiencing a similar sensory memory, a familiarity with space is happening and an attachment to the place is in the making.

The more senses actively collecting data of space, the more that particular space being experienced left an impression in one’s memory. The number of senses perceiving pieces of information of spatial quality influence the quality of the information itself. Visual information of a room, a building, a landscape can be supported by how it smells in those spaces. The texture of the objects and the surfaces in a closed and even open space can also be the supporting factor to how space is being remembered. The sounds one hears or produces in a closed or open space can also influence the spatial quality information the senses need to recall and record a memory of a place. Let’s say one decided to visit their high school building. When visiting, the condition of the classrooms, auditorium, and library have similar sensory values to the way one used to study. By feeling the texture on the desks, seeing the whiteboards, hearing the faint noise of the wind, and the smell of the fresh paint of the walls, a memory is recalled from the days one studied, and a new memory of revisiting the school is created. Perceiving architecture by remembering old memories and making new memories is more simple when all the available sensory perception is fully collected. When the information is missed by one of the available senses, the memory may be misremembered to a different place and the memory won’t be up to its potential in having the smallest detail of a place.

View, sounds, smell, and texture are the spatial qualities to look for in a closed space interior, open space, and exterior architectural design to make a space as a place. Putting comfort as the priority goal in a spatial design has become the standard. But the conception of a space for maximum spatial qualities to be perceived by anyone entering the open and closed space should be the priority in designing a spatial design. Creating memories and recalling memories in a place is pleasing for the mind as one will practice their mental strength in remembering the details on spatial qualities of the place. If architects, interior designers, and landscape designers prioritize designing a multisensory space correctly, the place will leave the users with happy memories and a good impression. Just like how the amount of sensory perception of space triggers the memory-making of a place, remembering an event of life can trigger the level of detail on spatial qualities of space being recalled.




Khai Rahma was born and raised in Indonesia, then when she moved to Australia to pursue her Bachelor of Design there. She studied Architecture at the Queensland University of Technology. She began writing her academic essays after an assignment of a landscape design class. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through architecture books or studying BTS journey to success. Currently, Khai is working toward her dream to create a memorable landscape design for neighborhoods for Indonesia.


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