Sensory Architecture: A Seamless Experience

During the Middle Ages, cathedrals such as Yorkminster (above) were designed by master builders. These architects understood everything about the site–the terrain, the climate, the materials, the culture. These buildings seem to arise organically out of the landscape, as though they grew out of the native stone.

Today, most buildings are designed in pieces, by specialists who rarely talk to one another. Architect, engineer, electrician, plumber, contractor, interior designer: each designer’s expertise is abstracted from the specific environment, and from the rest of the design.

This results in generic buildings which, for the most part, are not attuned to the context they serve. They may be plagued with chaotic acoustics, unsustainable energy systems, toxic odors, and other unintended consequences which make their occupants sick and miserable.

Sensory architecture, by contrast, aligns with its location, people and purpose in intentional ways. Every element of the design works to invoke specific physical and emotional experiences in the building’s occupants.

Take that medieval cathedral. Its design invokes a sense of order, inspiration and awe, using proportion, light, color, acoustics and aroma. You don’t need a tour guide to experience a shift in consciousness within this space; you just need to walk through the door.

When buildings are designed without this kind of holistic intention, they can have the opposite effect–draining people’s energy, attention and focus, even affecting their health. Particularly for the highly sensitive, spaces which generate a high level of sensory chaos can be functionally inaccessible.

For example, restaurants with mostly flat, hard surfaces and no acoustic baffling can be so noisy that diners cannot easily track a conversation. Hospitals with harsh lighting and perpetually beeping monitors can impede healing, by heaping additional stress onto patients’ immune systems. Open-plan offices create distraction rather than allowing workers to focus.

For a building to be sensory accessible, it must align with its natural surroundings, the needs of its occupants, and the purpose it serves. This requires attention to the tactile qualities of materials, acoustics, air quality, visual and auditory privacy, light quality, and integration with nature.

Above all, sensory architecture requires an intimate understanding of WHO will be using the building, and why. Architectural space does not function separately from the human nervous system. Sensory design elevates its inhabitants; non-sensory space depresses them.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

More to Read

Eccentric Genius Habitat Intervention

Are you an eccentric genius?

You’re in the right place, darling.

In this free e-course, you will discover:

The ONE design mistake that NEARLY ALL HUMANS make in their habitats, and how to fix it in 15 minutes. (You will roll your eyes. And cry.)

Three senses your kindergarten teacher didn’t mention. (And how they make you a NINJA.)

The design trend which created an epidemic of shut-ins. (NOT COVID-19. Some of us now know the meaning of schadenfreude.)

Why Febreze is EVIL. (There should be a warning label.)

What kinds of light fixtures will be BANNED when the establishment comes to its senses.

What color has to do with hormones. (And how to leverage it–St. John’s Wort, piffle!)

What NEVER to do, ever ever, if you do not wish to induce psychosis, extreme depression, vertigo, or actual regurgitation in guests and members of your own family. (We all love those Bad Examples.)

Practical Sanctuary, Sensory Interior Design

Practical Sanctuary, sensory interior design, specializes in interior design for highly sensitive people.
We help you create spaces which are: