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Sensory architecture by creating narrative story of the space

The first source of architecture experience is an image. This is strictly related to the sense of sight and visual aspects of the design. However, architecture should involve all senses to cooperate with each other and build a complex sensation. It should create new emotions, affect all senses, and allow them to mix with each other.

The concept of sensory architecture is highly connected to narrative architecture. The way of human perception can be conditioned by various factors like previous life experience, knowledge, the impact of the author. However, every single perception is individual. Obviously, some part of sensory experience is the same but at the end, the impact of all factors is less or more different. Sensory architecture is an idea of architecture, which talks to the occupants. It tells a story, creates some kind of content, which is expressed by composition elements, location, details, or characteristics. The significant are textures, size, climate, acoustics, and function. Moreover, most places are associated with smell sensation as it is the most powerful sense which brings back images of what we have seen to our mind.

According to Nigel Coates, architecture can be perceived as binary, sequence, and biopic type. This division tries to explain the pattern, which is chosen by the architect to build [1] the narration to intensify the human experience. The binary narrative is the most flexible one in terms of perception. This type of narrative uses the element of surprise. For example, a case of the Blur Building designed by Diller Scofidio in 2002 in Switzerland is designed with the use of surrounded water to create a cloud around the structure[2]. At first glances, the structure might look like a space object, however, the interpretation is free. The participant uses imagination to think about what is covered under the cloud. Visitors disappear in vapor and then they can see a platform. Moreover, a binary narrative is especially characteristic in the postmodern style.

©Iwan Baan

Another narration is the sequence type, which is more controlled than the previous one[3]. The architect designs the space in order to guide the visitor in some imposed order to achieve a certain kind of reception of the space. The author builds the story like in the movie, scene by scene. This narration is visible in the project of The High Line in New York designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro[4]. The concept is based on the connection of nature to the industrial urban fabric. The authors created a pedestrian air path between Meatpacking District in the south part and Hudson rail yards located in Midtown Manhattan. The diversity of view is linked not only to the city, but the small architecture connected to vegetation. The perception of the occupants is conditioned by the part of the way, which is passed by. All this is emphasized by a surrounded industrial urban environment. However, a single element and symbol, which tells the story can be noticed in an individual order.

The main view on the BasketBar, Luuk Kramer,

The last is the biotopic narrative, which indicates the significance of the place[5]. Architects uses this type of narration to create some space for a dedicated group of people. The technique is based on connecting a couple of spaces together by finding their common feature. This shows that biopic is related to the function of space. The example, which illustrates this kind of space is BasektBar in the University of Utrecht in Holland designed in 2003 by NL Architects. The building connects three spaces: a basketball 6 court, which is closed by glass walls on the upper floor, a bar, located on the ground level, and a ramp in front of the building. The concept of this narrative makes visitors feel like they are a part of the student community. The small size of spaces emphasizes the cozy atmosphere. Each of them is connected by some elements like the glass circle part of the floor in the basketball court, which brings the view on the bar downstairs and the ramp as a link between both upper and down spaces.

Narrative stories in sensory architecture are valuable because they put the human in the center of perception. The architect designs not only the building but possible emotions of the visitor. Sensory architecture is this type of design, which shapes the whole experience of the space. This is, what the narrative types enable us to do.




Karolina is a Polish architecture student, who is currently studying Master Degree at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and works on research of 'Biomimetic Climate Adaptive Facade Module for Eastern European Countries'.



Coates Nigel ‘Narrative architecture’, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012

[1] Coates N. ‘Narrative architecture’, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012 p. 129-130

[2] Coates N. ‘Narrative architecture’, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012 p. 135-136

[3] Coates N. ‘Narrative architecture’, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012 p. 144-146

[4] Coates N. ‘Narrative architecture’, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012 p. 149-150

[5] Coates N. ‘Narrative architecture’, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2012 p. 158-159


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