5 Sensory Experience with Examples in Architecture

Architecture has the unique ability to influence our emotions. Architects can create spaces that evoke specific moods and enhance overall user satisfaction. Sensory design principles aim to engage all senses, creating a holistic and more enriching architectural experience.

The 5 common sensory experiences in architecture are: 

  1. Visual Experience
  2. Tactile Experience
  3. Auditory Experience
  4. Olfactory Experience
  5. Gustatory Experience

1. Visual Experience

This refers to the sensory experience based on vision. Visual aesthetics play a crucial role in architecture, guiding our perception of spatial relationships, light, color, and materials. 

Elements used to enhance visual experience in architecture : 

  • Lighting: both natural and adaptive lighting provides a satisfactory visual ambiance.
  • Color theory: well-suited color schemes enhance mood and perception of the space or element.
  • Landscaping: using greeneries and water features provides a contrast to the building and creates a calming atmosphere.
  • Spatial layout: The arrangement of spaces according to scale and proportion is visually pleasing.
  • Material and finishes: various textures and finishes create stimulation and visual interest.
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

The shimmering titanium exterior and the curvaceous forms create a visually striking structure. In the interior, the space unfolds into a series of dramatic volumes and interconnected galleries, contributing to a dynamic and engaging environment. The museum’s large atrium with its natural light and flowing spaces offers a sensory journey that invokes awe and curiosity.

2. Tactile Experience

Enhancing tactile experience enhances user engagement and satisfaction. This involves incorporating elements that appeal to the sense of touch.

  • Some considered elements are : 
  • Materials and textures: different types of materials and textures create diverse sensory experiences and interactions with the building environment.
  • Flooring: different flooring offers different sensations and defines the purpose of the space.
  • Furnishing: furniture not only is visually appealing, but it also provides a comfortable tactile experience.
  • Adaptive installations: these are elements or materials that are temperature sensitive and provide thermal comfort enhancing the perception of warmth and cooling experience.
The Pani community, in Bangladesh
The Pani community, Bangladesh
The Pani community, in Bangladesh
The Pani community, Bangladesh

The building is nestled in nature, with its design drawing inspiration from the local Maori culture and the surrounding landscape. The use of natural materials, including timber and stone, connects visitors to the tactile and sensory qualities of the environment. The architecture incorporates traditional Maori concepts and symbolism, providing a rich cultural and sensory experience for both the users and the community.

3. Auditory Experience

This involves utilizing sound that is perceived in a space. This creates a thoughtful and engaging ambiance in the space.

Some auditory strategies are :

  • Acoustic spaces: implementing design principles to control sound reflection, absorption, and diffusion for a balanced comfortable auditory environment.
  • Natural sounds: integrating natural elements like water features, wind chimes, or bird-friendly spaces provide a calming ambiance.
  • Spatial arrangement: spaces such as musical rooms, open spaces with acoustic considerations, and adaptable spaces with sound modulation elements enable users to customize their auditory experience.
  • Cultural soundscape: spaces with cultural significance, incorporating elements reflecting local soundscape contribute to heritage auditory experience.
  • Architectural elements: features like arches, domes, and vaults create interesting acoustic effects. also implementing instrumental gardens, and quiet zones provide overall auditory comfort.
The Seattle Central Library, Seattle
The Seattle Central Library, Seattle
The Seattle Central Library, Seattle
The Seattle Central Library, Seattle

The Seattle Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas, focuses on auditory and visual sensory experiences. The library’s acoustic design ensures an optimal auditory experience, with carefully placed sound-absorbing materials and spatial arrangements reducing noise and enhancing the enjoyment of the space.

5. Olfactory Experience

This requires incorporating elements that engage the sense of smell. These contribute to an immersive and holistic experience.

Elements to create an olfactory experience in architecture are : 

  • Aromatic gardens: integrating gardens with fragrant plants, flowers, native landscaping, and herbs creates a space that offers pleasant scents resulting in refreshment of the mood.
  • Scented installations: designing custom installations that release subtle scents contributing to a sensory-rich environment.
  • Natural materials: using scented natural materials such as sandalwood, releases natural earthy scents providing warmth in the ambiance
  • Seasonal changes: designing landscapes with seasonal plants provides varying scents at different times providing a dynamic olfactory experience.
Grand Musée de Parfum, France
Grand Musée de Parfum, France
Grand Musée de Parfum, France
Grand Musée de Parfum, France

This is a conceptual museum that explores the world of scents, providing an opportunity for architects to experiment with design elements that enhance olfactory experiences.

6. Gustatory Experience

Unlike other sensories, there are indirect ways to enhance the gustatory experience within architecture. This can be noticed in culinary and dining spaces.

This can be incorporated by : 

  • Community gardens
  • Culinary spaces
  • Cafeteria design
  • Local cuisine integration
Noma Restaurant Interiors in Copenhagen
Noma Restaurant Interiors in Copenhagen
Noma Restaurant, Copenhagen
Noma Restaurant, Copenhagen

Noma is known for its emphasis on using local, seasonal, and foraged ingredients. The architecture aims to connect diners with nature, incorporating large windows to provide views of the surrounding landscape. The restaurant features on-site gardens where some of the ingredients are grown. The open kitchen design allows diners to witness the culinary creativity firsthand. It promotes transparency in the cooking process and adds an interactive element to the dining experience.

By embracing the significance of sensory design principles, we can create built environments that not only engage our various senses but also enhance our overall well-being and quality of life. 

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