‘Sense’ is the ability of the body to think or act to a situation in a sensible way. The senses first absorb the external stimuli and further generate signals which are collected by the brain and processed and finally the body responses to the stimuli. An infant observes any new object in its external environment by all the 5 senses. This generates a signal which is then stored in the mind as the memory of the infant. Thus, things observed or learnt in the childhood are always retained throughout the life.
‘Architecture’ is the art and science of designing spaces. These spaces form the basis for the external stimuli which would have an impact on the users occupying the space. Architecture, as an art has the ability to create perceptions in the minds of the user. The user perception of any design or space should be a journey of self-exploration. Any work of architecture or design tries to harmonize with the perceiver. To appreciate this to the fullest, all five senses are indispensable. But are we actually experiencing architecture in the similar way? Are we retaining memories of the places we visit?
As famously quoted by Hanna Rion, ‘The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.’ Sensory architecture is a design that interacts with the people. It impacts the way one feels, things and behaves. Architecture can have the ability to generate certain stimuli on all the five senses which further response to the mood of the individual.
Firstly, the importance of Optical Narrative. What you see is what you believe. The Indian Art Tradition talks about Navarasas (the nine emotions) and how sizes, colors and textures have the ability to generate certain signals which affect the mood(emotions) of the people. Apart from these the weight, order, structure, and details in the craft are all looked through the lens of the visual paradigm. The best stories can indeed be sketched through optical narratives. Moving further to the ‘Aural Realm- The ability of Sound.’ The symphonies of design are understood yet integrated by very few professionals. The ability of sound waves to resonate, echo, or reverberate is a blessing in disguise. The auditory realm of Architecture is a wonderful transcendence of geometries placed to evoke our emotive dimension. One can use sound to build a connection with the perceiver on a spiritual level. The symphony of sounds of nature are used as a prime method of meditation to detoxify the body. Weaving this understanding in our design can proliferate an immersive aural journey to an otherwise regular design. ‘Touch’ is another easy way to generate interests of the subjects and create experiences for them. The rhythmic alterations of mutually defining aspects such as solid and void are an interesting part of Architecture. It prompts the user to stop and pay attention. All materials have a texture and it is easy to cover this aspect in our designs while we model them on our computers as we place textures on surfaces. But as Finnish Architect Juhani Pallasmaa says, ‘the Hegemonic Eye suppresses this sense as well.’ In actuality, a texture’s impact is felt without touching it. For example, a glass-clad building would run down cold shudders through the body; a soft drapery gives us a feeling of comfort; a tessellated 3D wallpaper may make our minds uneasy with excitement.
As an architect, it is easy to incorporate the sense of vision, sound and touch in a design. However, the challenges arise to introduce smell and taste as a key aspect of the design. Smell generally refers to the odours of the design and generally architects address the stinky problematic aspect of this sense; however, they fail to acknowledge its opportunity in lifting a design to a higher level. Odours have the power to reconnect the audience to the memories of the past and giving an environment of warmth and safety within the spaces. A fragranced atmosphere also helps in engaging the user and coupled with other senses helps in creating a well-crafted environment. ‘Taste’ is one ability which is often overlooked. Qualities of the taste can be addressed as a part of the design. For example, a green color might remind people of a tang of bitterness and a zesty lemon-colored surface might make your mouth sour. Colors are thus used to form associations to certain kinds of tastes and make our mouth’s water through architecture.
Conscious or unconscious, humans engage in this journey of multi-sensory architecture. That is why your design needs to speak to all the senses. Most benefitted by this design approach are those who have lost one of their senses. They can embrace architecture by feeling it through their active senses.
HARSHIL MANISH JAIN
Harshil Jain is a student studying the Fourth Year of the B.Arch course. As a child, Nature and Books have been my best friend and the inspiration for my work. I am Hard-working, Passionate and always looking for exploring new challenges in my life. Through this article I have tried to explain the journey, I experience with my senses being one with nature and I strongly feel that Senses and Architecture need to be connected to make Buildings one with Nature.