Sensing spaces: Emotional buildings (2023)

A foreshortened Spanish-American timber castle, its spiral stairs winding up to stretches of gilded cornicing beneath a 19th Century iron and glass roof. A Chinese maze formed by hazel twig walls, leading to dead ends and a mysterious enclosed room along paths made of white light masquerading as snow. A darkened and perfumed Japanese room strewn with a net-like structure fabricated from filigree bamboo. What seems to be a Moorish-African arch from some exotic rainforest grotto prickled, oddly, with children’s drinking straws…

These curious structures are highlights from Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined, an exhibition curated by the Royal Academy of Arts’ Kate Goodwin in the London institution’s main galleries.

The exhibition is designed by a small number of architects from around the world who share a common interest in trying to shape buildings that appeal to all our senses, and not just to the informed eye. Goodwin’s show is an attempt to break fresh ground, especially for younger audiences who have been brought up to experience architecture increasingly through images seen on computer screens, making instant judgements based first and foremost on looks.

As this is like judging a person’s qualities on the way they look – a supermodel, celebrity singer or actor must de facto be somehow superior to anyone of average height, weight and looks − Goodwin’s own instinct has surely been right. We need to experience architecture by sensing its spaces, listening to it, touching it and even sitting quietly inside buildings with our eyes closed, but our minds’ eyes wide open.

“So, Sensing Spaces is about how architecture confronts us and communicates with us on an emotional and psychological as well as visual and intellectual level”, says Goodwin, who studied architecture in her native Australia and has been with the RA since 2003. “It’s about visitors experiencing real spaces rather than staring at iconic images of famous buildings. So there are no models of buildings, no photographs or drawings, but real spaces created for these big galleries.”

Goodwin has sought her architects widely. The timber castle is by Mauricio Pezo and Sofia Von Ellrichhausen who founded their studio in Concepcion, Chile, in 2002. Since then, they have designed powerful, elemental concrete houses, like the Poli House overlooking the sea on the Coliumo Peninsula that is at once as ancient as the hills in the way it feels and sits in the landscape and as modern as you want it to be. Their own house and studio overlooking the rooftops of Concepcion resembles a tower, a miniature castle of their own.

The maze is by Li Xiaodong, a Chinese architect, whose exquisite timber and glass library veiled in a screen of the sticks local villagers collect for firewood in and around Huairou, some two hours drive from Beijing, has drawn visitors around the world since it was opened in 2011.

The perfumed room is the work of Tokyo’s Kengo Kuma. And, Diebedo Francis Kere, from Burkina Faso is the German-trained architect responsible for the grotto-like archway. Kere continues to work in West Africa; he won the 2004 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the sensitive primary school he designed in his own village, Gando.

The ideas expressed through these structures have been explored over the years in books like Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, first published in Japan in 1933 and The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture of the Senses [1996] by the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasma. They were discussed in three conferences − Sustaining Identity – sponsored by Arup Associates, a firm of architects with a global reach, and held at the V&A in recent years, in which Pallasma and some of the RA’s exhibitors took part. And, they have been investigated on celluloid, too, notably by Stanley Kubrick − 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining − and David Lynch in films like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.

Haunting houses

Film has allowed directors with an architectural eye to play with sets that can transform the way we experience buildings and the spaces within and around them. David Lynch has his characters disappearing into other rooms, corridors, uncertain spaces bathed in mysterious and sometimes disturbing light as if they are dissipating into some kind of half-lit gloaming rather than simply walking out of shot. The effect is unsettling, but very much like the sensation you can feel walking through an unlit cathedral in the evening when the door are bolted and the last candle has been blown out.

Kubrick has challenged us with a horror film − The Shining − filmed in intensely brightly lit spaces, indoors and out, turning our expectations upside down: surely all horror films are the stuff of twilight, darkness and deep shadows? And, yet, the experience of a room − especially a big public room − lit by remorseless fluorescent light can be very unsettling indeed.

The RA’s, then, is a spirited attempt to engage visitors with the idea that architecture is truly an all-embracing art: even cinematic and purposelessly theatrical. Perhaps, though − having won its audience’s interest, it could guide those hungry to experience more to buildings and spaces around the world where sensory experiences can be exquisite, and even overwhelming: to Bramante’s domed tempietto shoehorned into a courtyard of Rome’s San Pietro in Montorio; the underside of Guarino Guarini’s dome of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, Turin; the ‘access tube’ corridors of Eero Saarinen’s recently closed TWA Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport… the list is as endless as the story of architecture is long.

Mind over matter

I mention these particular buildings and spaces, because they demonstrate the power of architecture to affect our emotions in remarkable ways. You do not expect to find one of the most influential, and serene, of all Italian Renaissance buildings squeezed into a Roman courtyard as if it has been packed into a box. And walking into that courtyard is like undoing a box − a present − and uncovering a pleasant if somehow unsettling surprise.

Guarini’s Chapel of the Holy Shroud in Turin seems so modest from the outside, and yet within its stone wrappings is not just one the Catholic church’s most precious and mysterious relics – the cloths that Jesus was supposedly wrapped in after his crucifixion – but one of the most awe-inspiring structures ever built: a dome of intoxicating geometry and intense beauty that is architecture’s equivalent, perhaps, of Bernini’s highly charged baroque sculpture, the Ecstasy of St Theresa.

As for Saarinen’s airport corridors, here is proof – if this was ever needed – that modern architects have been able to shape spaces, to reimagine spaces, that, while working on a functional level, heighten our experience of a given building. Here, the architect created a feeling − much admired by Stanley Kubrick − that took 1950s air travel into the Space Age even before a rocket had ever lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

Lifting off from the floor of the great central space of the Mole Atonelliana a sensationally huge 19th Century synagogue in Turin, and since 2000 the Museo Nazionale de Cinema − must surely be one of the most dramatic of all spatial experiences to be enjoyed, and even feared, within a building of architectural distinction. The elevator is pulled up through this voluminous space, with those riding it feeling a sense of agoraphobia. As it rises uncomfortably high, it enters the space of the vast dome above.

Now the curved walls of the dome appear to close in on the tiny elevator. But, just before those trembling inside – with a mix of fear and delight – feel they are to be crushed by these coffered walls as they meet at the top of the underside of the dome, the elevator vanishes through an aperture at its very centre, and disappears into Lynchian darkness. Seconds later, it disgorges those who have dared to ride it onto the balustrades of this theatrical building, and to commanding views of a great Baroque city.

Sensing Spaces cannot offer experiences quite like these, yet it will have succeeded if it offers a hint of a world of architecture that might excite the senses of anyone adventurous enough to look afresh at buildings around them, to reimagine architecture for themselves.

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What are the 5 senses in architecture? ›

While architectural practice has traditionally been dominated by the eye/sight, a growing number of architects and designers have, in recent decades, started to consider the role played by the other senses, namely sound, touch (including proprioception, kinesthesis, and the vestibular sense), smell, and, on rare ...

How does senses of place affect architecture? ›

A sense of place is certainly created by the architectural design of the building, but it also includes the adjacent surroundings. Landscaping sets the initial tone of a site and designing those surroundings to complement the built environment is crucial.

What is emotion in architecture space? ›

Emotion in architecture can often be linked to how well an architecture exudes a “sense of place” — where the emotion experienced of a particular architecture can be shaped by its “sense of place”.

What is sense of place in buildings? ›

Sense of place in architecture is about context as well as the identity or unique characteristics of a building or space that create meaning for an occupant.

What is a sensory architecture? ›

Sensory Design: Architecture for a Full Spectrum of Senses

A space is much more than just its appearance. Textures, smells, and sounds can strongly affect the user's experience. Based on this, sensory architecture can transform the interaction between people and the built environment into something even deeper.

What is an example of sensory design in architecture? ›

For example, landscape design with different fragrant flowers, the smell of the earth, rooms with artificial aromas, or even an open kitchen, that allows the smell of fresh food to permeate the environment.

What is the psychology of architecture buildings? ›

Architecture is a 'built environment' and Psychology is an 'individual experience of the physical environment'. Hence, architectural psychology is a study based on the interaction of people with the spaces and interrelationship between humans and their surroundings.

What are the 4 types of space in architecture? ›

Physical, Perceptual, Directional, and Interwoven Space

Let's briefly define four types of architectural space.

What is a sense of place most affected by? ›

Sense of place is determined by personal experiences, social interactions, and identities. Understanding sense of place in the urban context would be incomplete without a critical consideration of cities as socially constructed places both inherited and created by those who live there.

How do buildings affect emotions? ›

Sensory environments: From tactile touch, visual lighting, and shapes to the sounds of your surroundings and the smell of the building, architecture can calm or excite its guests. Social connections: Feeling socially connected has a monumental impact on emotion.

How spaces can impact our emotional well-being? ›

Cluttered spaces make our minds cluttered too. Research states that clutter has an effect on your mood and can make you feel more anxious and stressed. Keeping your interior space clean and organized supports well-being and emotional balance.

How can architecture express emotions? ›

Facades. The outside of a building also plays a part in affecting emotional responses. How a building looks can have a psychological impact even at the most basic level; if something looks good, it will likely make us happy. Conversely, a poorly-designed building will have the opposite effect.

What is the psychology of sense of place? ›

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, three components emotionally connect people to a place: attachment (mutual caretaking between the place and the person); familiarity (detailed knowledge of the place); and identity (having a sense of self in the place).

What are the benefits of sense of place? ›

Places carry meaning, memories, cultures, and people. Integrating Sense of Place in development transforms a simple place into a home, a neighborhood, a community. People from various walks of life can feel welcomed, whether they're visiting or starting a new chapter in their lives.

What is the significance of sense of place? ›

Sense of place describes the wide range of connections between people and places that develops based on the place meanings and attachment a person has for a particular setting (Lewicka, 2011; Relph, 1976; Trentelman, 2009; Tuan, 1977).

What are the four special sensory structures? ›

In medicine and anatomy, the special senses are the senses that have specialized organs devoted to them:
  • vision (the eye)
  • hearing and balance (the ear, which includes the auditory system and vestibular system)
  • smell (the nose)
  • taste (the tongue)

What are the key features of a sensory room? ›

A sensory room is a specially designed room which combines a range of stimuli to help individuals develop and engage their senses. These can include lights, colours, sounds, sensory soft play resources and aromas, all used within a safe environment that allows the person using it to explore and interact without risk.

What is emotional design in architecture? ›

What is emotional design? More than a style, emotional design is a way of understanding interior designs that rejects spaces that, though impeccably designed and decorated, do not make us feel comfortable.

What is empathic design in architecture? ›

“Empathic architecture” is when an architect decides the best solution for a design problem by making the desi- gner and the user practically the same person. In some ca- ses, users may have difficulty to envision their desire toward modernity whilst also compromising with the issue of su- stainability.

What are the 5 senses of interior design? ›

Ultimately, the goal of an interior environment is to move forward the intention of a space and engage the user in meaningful ways. One way to do that is by designing spaces to activate the five basic senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

How can architecture affect mental health? ›

The sameness of spaces – spaces that lack tactile stimulation, with unchanging light, and the same noises in the background throughout the day – creates sensory deprivation that leads to a whole host of psychological issues ranging from depression to depersonalization, where some people begin to lose touch with reality ...

How does architecture affect human behavior? ›

Architecture can have negative effects on human behaviour, such as monotonous design features can lead to boredom or eventually depression; similarly, a complex design can create happiness. No one wants to live in a dead zone or where there is no vibe of joyfulness.

Why does architecture affect human behavior? ›

Inside Buildings And Human Behavior

Buildings tell us about the people behind them, about what's in them, and influence how we behave. The interior of a building plays a major role in this. An open office space encourages teamwork and communication, while offices with doors ask for more privacy.

What are the 5 types of space? ›

Space can be divided into different types, thus having slightly different definitions, as follows:
  • Two-Dimensional Space. ...
  • Three-Dimensional Space. ...
  • Four-Dimensional Space. ...
  • Positive and Negative Shapes. ...
  • Direction and Linear Perspective. ...
  • Proportion / Scale. ...
  • Overlapping Shapes.

What is perception of space in architecture? ›

Spatial perception has a noticeable contribution in deciding the 'aura' and 'energy' of a space. The bare simplicity/level of complexity in which space/series of spaces can be accessed and navigated helps trigger respective desired emotions.

What are spatial elements in architecture? ›

Space, such as line, colour, point, volume, is among the design elements in architecture. Of these elements, the point marks a position in space. It is organizing surrounding elements about itself and dominating its field in the space.

Can a sense of place be negative? ›

Sense of place is greater than its environmental parts and can evoke both positive and negative qualities.

What is an example of sense place? ›

Sense of Place Examples

People develop their sense of place and add to their mental maps when they experience new places. An example of this would be when a person moves to an unfamiliar city for a new job. Before the move, the new office is just a location they have been notified about.

What affects our perception of place? ›

Ideology, race, ethnicity, language, gender, age, religion, history, politics, social class, and economic status influence how we perceive the place where we live and other parts of the world.

Why do we build emotional walls? ›

The brain develops emotional walls in order to protect us from anxious thoughts or feelings, from the possible rejection, hurt, and abandonment coming from someone else.

How does building emotional intelligence help? ›

But what is EI and why is it so important? Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and regulate one's emotions and understand the emotions the others. A high EQ helps you to build relationships, reduce team stress, defuse conflict and improve job satisfaction.

Why is emotion important in architecture? ›

Human emotion is an important factor while designing architecture because when architecture connects emotionally with the occupants then the message that an architect wants to give through his piece of work and the message that he wants to convey is felt more deeply and leaves an enduring impression.

What are the psychological effects of living in a small space? ›

Living in cramped spaces can pose health risks. If your perception of your home is that it's a busy or lonely, negative, dark, and cramped space, you might feel increased stress and anxiety. Living alone in a small space can elicit feelings of confinement or that you are trapped.

Does your living space reflect your mental state? ›

A cluttered room reflects a cluttered mind. A discordant home environment can increase your stress levels. Women who live in a cluttered home produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

What is good emotional space? ›

Space within a relationship means you both have the freedom to do your own thing when you want to. You feel supported but know you can make your own choices. It also means you still enjoy some privacy. This privacy can mean separate spaces to work or relax at home, but it also means emotional privacy.

How does architecture stimulate the senses? ›

Sensory cues induce emotive characteristics in a space. These can be visual, auditory, olfactory, environmental or haptic cues of any nature. An architecture which reacts to this often neglected sensory palette is capable of restoring an experience ground in existence, an affect.

How building architecture and layout affect mood? ›

Space and Layout

Arguably one of the largest impacts architecture can have on mood is whether or not there is adequate space offered in a structure and if the layout is well-designed. Even with the best of designs, a crowded space can make a person feel burdened.

What is emotional intelligence in design? ›

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. As designers, we have to deal with emotions in most of our choices, and unless we live as hermits, we have to deal with other humans.

How do you get a sense of place? ›

Five things: creating a sense of place
  1. Immerse yourself.
  2. Use the senses. Consider all the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. ...
  3. Be specific. Choose the specific details of place rather than general descriptors. ...
  4. Pay attention to dialogue. ...
  5. Look up!
May 21, 2021

What is a lack of sense of place? ›

Places that lack a "sense of place" are sometimes referred to as "placeless" or "inauthentic". Edward Relph, a cultural geographer, investigates the "placelessness" of these locations. Anthropologist Marc Augé calls these locations "non-places".

Why do people alter their environments? ›

People often modify, or change, their environments in order to grow food. In slashandburn agriculture, people burn down forests and grow crops in the ashes. In hilly or mountainous areas, people use terraced farming, cutting the hillsides into stairstep shapes in order to have flat places to plant seeds.

What does the power of place mean? ›

The notion of the power of place suggests that place somehow has the potential to influence behaviour, attitudes, and beliefs.

What is sense of place and identity? ›

As broadly acknowledged, place identity was initially introduced by Proshansky (1978), who defined place identity as “those dimensions of self that define the individual's personal identity in relation to the physical environment by means of a complex pattern of conscious and unconscious ideas, feelings, values, goals, ...

What is the relationship between senses and architecture? ›

Sensory cues induce emotive characteristics in a space. These can be visual, auditory, olfactory, environmental or haptic cues of any nature. An architecture which reacts to this often neglected sensory palette is capable of restoring an experience ground in existence, an affect.

What factors affect the architecture of a particular place? ›

Top 5 Factors That Influence Architectural Design
  • Geography, Climate, and Commercial Stair Design.
  • Religion, Technology, and Culture.
  • Imagination and Style.
Aug 20, 2021

Why is place important in architecture? ›

Places tell stories, fortify memories, and help to better navigate the intricacies of the world around us.

How does architecture affect human emotions? ›

Sensory environments: From tactile touch, visual lighting, and shapes to the sounds of your surroundings and the smell of the building, architecture can calm or excite its guests. Social connections: Feeling socially connected has a monumental impact on emotion.

How engaging the senses creates meaningful design? ›

People experience sound by feeling vibrations and seeing movements as well as hearing by ear.” The more senses we engage, the more strongly we are tied to a moment, an object, a space. As a result, design is evolving to incorporate sensory experience into the places where we live and work.

How does architecture affect us psychologically? ›

As a result, spaces can influence our thinking, action patterns and, thus for example, promote motivation, our readiness to act, and strengthen our performance or concentration. If we feel uncomfortable in spaces, this can lead to restlessness or discomfort, hypersensitivity, lethargy or even anxiety.

What are the three key issues in architecture? ›

So, let's take a closer look at them.
  • Keeping Track of the Team. ...
  • Language Barriers Between Architects and Clients. ...
  • Overall Client Communication. ...
  • Dealing with Deadlines and Staying on Budget. ...
  • Bringing the Project to Life. ...
  • Ensuring Good Design and Good Construction. ...
  • Dealing with Possible Problems Proactively.

What are three things that impact architecture? ›

Get in touch with us for a free quote today!
  • Geography & Climate. Geography and climate of a location have a big impact on the architectural design process. ...
  • Religion & Culture. For architectural design, religion may play a role in case some religions have requirements. ...
  • Budget. ...
  • Building Codes & Any Regulations.

What are the six influences in architecture? ›

Among the philosophies that have influenced modern architects and their approach to building design are Rationalism, Empiricism, Structuralism, Poststructuralism, Deconstruction and Phenomenology.

What is the concept of place and sense of place? ›

Location is the position of a particular point on the surface of Earth. Locale is the physical setting for relationships between people, such as the South of France or the Smoky Mountains. Finally, a sense of place is the emotions someone attaches to an area based on their experiences.

What is the spirit of a place called? ›

Genius loci is the Latin for the spirit or guardian deity of a place and is a phrase that has been adopted in English and into other languages and achieved a broad degree of popularity.

What is the most important element of architecture? ›

Throughout all phases of society the hearth formed that sacred focus around which took order and shape. It is the first and most important element of architecture.

What are the indicators of sense of place? ›

Seven indicators are extracted from the literature, namely 'place identity', 'place dependence', 'nature bonding', 'social bonding', 'sense of belonging', 'familiarity' and 'social interaction'.

What are the factors that affect the sense of place? ›

Factors affecting sense of place include placemaking, changes in technology, and placelessness.


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