Sensory Design

Architecture is not something you visualise, or just what surrounds you. You experience architecture through at least seven senses, beginning with: sight, hearing, smell, touch, movement, bodily awareness and even taste. This means that we don’t just look at the environment around us: we live in it, and move through it, and experience it in ways we are not even consciously aware of. When we share our opinions of space we may not realise that we are responding to our associations about different materials, colours, shapes and the space in between each of these. The way we might respond to a material could be through a powerful feeling of what that material means. Spaces interact with us through communicating with who we are, and what we have experienced previously. Zumthor says: ‘material is stronger than an idea, it’s stronger than an image because it’s really there, and it’s there in its own right.’ This means that the material also interacts with its environment – with the light at a certain time of day, with the trees and plants around it at a certain time of year, with the weather, with the other materials reflected around it. This means we have to think about design as part of the space around it and part of the people and cultures who experience it.


Sensory design is three dimensional. Its power is in that it goes beyond an image on one surface like a painting. It is something which exists in time, can be touched, seen at different angles, we can move through it, we can see the landscape around it change. We can even build up and change our impressions of three-dimensional design because we and the design both exist in time, and are influenced by time in different ways. We need to ‘be present’ to understand this properly. Our bodily awareness is an interesting part of this. We are fragile, small and made of ageing and soft materials. We experience buildings as large and alien to us, and need their protection. We may not think about this, but it is all part of the experience.


Arch Daily (2014) “Building Atmosphere” with Peter Zumthor and Juhani Pallasmaa Available at:   Accessed January 2015

Pallasma, J. (2012) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses Chichester: Wiley

Mace, V. (2015) Spatial Experiences: Inhabiting the Transition Space Available at: Accessed February 2016

Robinson, S. and Pallasma, J. ed. (2015) Mind in Architecture: Neuroscience, Embodiment, and the Future of Design Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press

Totten, C. W. (2014) Approach to Level Design Virginia: CRC Press


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