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The Sense in Sensory Architecture

Looking back at one of my summer trips in my childhood, I feel nostalgic about this one particular village in India, surrounded by green fields and a lake. In my memories, as I look towards the lake, cool winds caress my face. Crops of wheat sway easily in the wind, as though in tune with the music of the wind. Their earthy smell teases me. My eyes surely settle on the only building on the premises, a temple. The temple looks unassuming at first, but beckoning both the faithful and the curious inside, without bias. The entry of the temple is low, expecting me to duck down to enter. Once inside, the immediate darkness becomes apparent, as well as the years of incense steeped in the walls of the ancient temple. My hands run through the walls, feeling the chiseled textures, marveling at the amount of craftsmanship that must have gone into making them. There is a light shaft that lets in slits of bright light into the Garba Griha (inner sanctum), as though focusing on my prime reason being there, only God. There are no worries here, all forgotten appointments and silent phones. Time seems to slow down as everyone looks expectantly at the priest. The deafening silence is broken by the tintinnabulation of the bells, accompanied by the loud, clear chanting of the Sanskrit chants. The prayer is complete with the symbolic touching of the lamp's flame to gain the deity’s blessings and apply a bindi of vermilion and ash on our foreheads. Lastly, as submission of gratitude, the devotee prostrates with his body touching the ground, in front of the deity, thus completing the ritual. This piece of a multi-sensory experience, is just one of many memories scattered in my life, years lived and those yet to be.

Such experiences are significant in our lives, as it reinforces the definition of the self in the cosmic world. As Finnish Architect Juhani Pallasmaa eloquently puts it in The Eyes of the skin, "The eye collaborates with the body and the other senses. One's sense of reality is strengthened and articulated by this constant interaction.[1]" As humans, we require our senses to be stimulated to ensure we are grounded in the space surrounding us. Architecture being a huge part of our civilizations, thus plays an immense role in fulfilling this need. If we look back at our childhood's most vivid memories, they most probably include us indulging in any of our senses, hence reminding us how we felt at that time. Thus, as a principle, sensory design shapes the behavior of the users depending on the stimuli.

Sensory Architecture can be used in designing impactful spaces that can be more meaningful than just plain aesthetics. For starters, our world is mostly visual, thus alienating a lot of people with disabilities. This hegemony results in under stimulation of other senses, leaving us without an anchor to the space surrounding us. This in turn leads to several disorders ranging from depression to anxiety, which is arguably one of the biggest silent pandemics of these past few years. For an ocular reason, shapes and forms play an important role. Sharp edges and angular bodies intimidate users who in turn avoid the place. Whereas rounded shapes and open slight lines are much more welcoming. The interaction of these cross-modal functions can also influence human behavior. For instance, soothing nature sounds when used in waiting areas, make people more patient. Conversely, the combination of these senses can also result in unintended effects. For example, retail spaces with slow-paced music can cause discomfort to users because of their contradictory effects.

In conclusion, for a space to work cohesively, the effects of various sensory factors and their interactions should be carefully considered. Furthermore, the dependence on just visual stimuli should be done away with to ensure a more balanced approach to Architecture and design.




A young Architect based in Bangalore, India. Loves trekking and reading books. Striving to become an Architectural Engineer and a mountaineering guide in the near future.


Reference: [1]Pallasmaa, J. (1996). The eyes of the skin: Architecture and the senses (Polemics). London: Academy Editions.


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