We are delighted that Laurie Chetwood’s essay Experiencing Architecture: The Tingle Factor has been selected as one of the winners of the Archiol Sensory Architecture 2023 Essay Competition.
“I was inspired to participate in this essay competition by my belief that successful architectural design should deliver a positive physical, sensory and emotional human experience. At Chetwoods we are researching and measuring emotional responses to buildings, aiming to capture wellbeing and identify how different elements of places and spaces can be designed to induce happiness and enjoyment.” Laurie Chetwood.
Read Laurie’s award-winning essay below:
Experiencing Architecture: The Tingle Factor
“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, can no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.” Albert Einstein
Architecture stimulates emotion – it can inspire and thrill you, leave you wanting more, leave you craving a deeper understanding, desiring a longer, more deeply reflective experience. Such buildings and spaces feel like they are feeding your soul.
Too often we behave as if lines, arcs, solids, voids and planes are the objects of architecture; but these are merely the tools of our trade, tools that should be employed to engender an intensity of experience for the occupants of our buildings.
Getting the five human senses right in architecture, interpreting them cleverly and applying them with imagination, can create a Sixth Sense, the stimulating and thrilling ‘tingle factor’ of experiencing both physical and emotional wellbeing within a space or place, where we can see texture, feel sound, smell stone, and taste the air.
The design of the places and spaces we inhabit and experience has a profound effect on our health and wellbeing. Our emotional response to buildings is inextricably linked to our sensory relationships with them. Every building type is an assembly of a vast matrix of sensory triggers that can be configured in a slightly different way, resulting in a different sensory and emotional response. Even subtle changes to each trigger can have a profound effect on the whole: one configuration results in a cathedral, another an aircraft hangar, another a gymnasium; make enough changes and you end up with a French cafe, or a potting shed.
But why is it that when we enter certain spaces we feel a sense of wellbeing and in others we just don’t?
Art and design over the past 50 years or so has tended to reject colour, decoration, variety, and a more organic approach to design. These elements have often been relegated and replaced with a minimal, more simplistic theme. This is unfortunate, as those relegated parts appeal more naturally to the human spirit, linked, as they are, to human nature, rather than to something more formulaic which often relies on man-made ideology.
As designers we seem to have forgotten how to appeal to human nature and to the human psyche. It might be economically convenient to build predictable, repetitive, prefabricated structures that march down the high street with regular monotony, sometimes with blank facades and certainly in monochrome, but human beings need something more — variety, something that changes, something that is colourful and decorative. We need to be aroused, intrigued, and delighted by something that is unpredictable.
In recent years, a greater understanding of the multi-sensory nature of the human mind has emerged from the field of cognitive neuroscience research. A growing body of psychological research outlines the profound impact that having all five of our traditional senses catered for has on our wellbeing, with the awareness, scientific analysis, and empirical measurement of the impact of acoustics, light, air and temperature.
Sensory design prioritises the creation of physical living, working and community places that cater to all facets of human life, resulting in spaces that improve sleep, lower stress and anxiety, enhance mood and cognitive function, and lower the risk of chronic disease.
Much of the research into sensory wellbeing refers to nature – biophilia, colour, variety, organic forms. Nature does everything so effortlessly. As human beings we have been associated with nature for longer than anything man-made, and we should take it more seriously, and not just for good environmental reasons. We are instinctively turned on by nature – it is our genes, it is in our heritage, and this goes back thousands of years. We recognise the smell of wood smoke; we are drawn to more organic shapes; we like to be among biophilia. Yet for most of us, we are surrounded in our daily lives by man-made objects, often created in a simplistic, minimal way, which suits the economics of our culture but does not necessarily suit our natural instincts and inclinations.
The positive contributions of biophilic design to health and wellbeing are no secret (Zhong et al., 2022). Biophilia stimulates subliminal reminiscent thoughts based on evolutionary memory of the more nature-centred lives of humans in the past: it is a central characteristic of sensory architectural design that reliably creates feelings of relaxation and ease.
Exposure to nature and biophilia reduces stress and anxiety, while exposure to light and colour improves mood, sleep, and cognitive function (Zhu et al., 2019). Buildings that embrace natural elements, such as plants or views of nature are generally agreed to promote feelings of relaxation and reduce stress. By incorporating natural light and high ceilings, they become spaces that promote feelings of openness and freedom.
In striving to achieve sensory design the transience and seasonal nature of nature and climate are sometimes ignored by installing permanent green roofs and design features in a misplaced understanding of the subtle relationship between humans and nature. Only by engaging with the seasonality of nature to inform the design process can we reach a true biophilic relationship.
Rather than treating landscape and artistic elements as ‘add-ons’ or self-contained parts within the overall design of a built scheme, we should explore ways of ensuring that each component of a design approach is not only integrated but also complementary.
Art, architecture and landscape
Over the past few hundred years, with acceleration in recent decades, the sprawling urbanisation of human existence has created increasingly confining human-centric spaces, stifling the possibilities for us to connect with nature and with our own senses. Life satisfaction has been found to increase in those who are given increased access to nature, even if they live in the built environment (McCarthy and Habib, 2018). In turn better life satisfaction has been linked to job performance (Jones, 2006).
Logistically, it is impossible now to discard our urban environments but it is tantalising to consider merging the two to create a more sympathetic environment for those of us who live in the city-a symbiotic, productive relationship of nature and urban life working in harmony in an attempt to improve our feelings of wellbeing.
So the city, with all its efficient, functional but impersonal surfaces, would benefit from a more natural, organic addition that softens the outlook and appeals more to human nature – we want variety, and we want shapes that aren’t predictable – and from an environmental perspective, it tells us a good story too.
A ‘holistic’ approach which uses art architecture and landscape to link building and landscape designs will make users feel positive towards – and comfortable with – the environment they occupy. The best-designed projects are invariably those which have successfully integrated their buildings into the spaces between and around them from the outset
Sensory architecture and technology
So far data centricity has focused solely on building performance metrics while almost entirely overlooking human responses to the way the buildings are designed.
The development of smart buildings is allowing the use of sensors, automation, and other technologies to monitor and manage aspects of the built environment including the physical comfort of users. Using real-time monitors allows a space to breath in harmony with the people in it. For example, at times of peak stress the building may choose to increase airflow and natural lighting to promote relaxation. Likewise, the building can better manage its energy consumption, for example if it knows a room is empty, it can turn off the relevant heating and lighting appliances.
In its attempts to become more data centric, architectural design has often overlooked its potential for nudging human experiences in physical spaces. Now light is being shed on a new application of this sensory architecture: sensorily responsive design.
The relationship between sensory architecture and technology is a complex one, with each shaping the other in a myriad of ways. On the one hand technology has allowed architecture to re-create human experience, and on the other sensory design considerations have inspired new technologies that seek to facilitate this.
Measuring emotional response to design
Although the impact of architectural design on human emotions is widely recognized, until now emotional responses have been subjective experiences that are challenging to measure and quantify objectively.
It is, however, now possible to analyse, scientifically, the ingredients for that feeling of wellbeing, the tingle factor one gets when all is good. There are many new techniques to assess how a human being will react to such things as colour, form, shapes and spaces. Analysing how the senses are served by perfume, a car, or a building is now possible.
Today’s technology makes it possible both to incrementally tweak and improve human experience and response to architecture, and to measure and quantify it, in ways that would have been impossible even a few years ago. Rapid technological and scientific advancement has facilitated the operationalisation of well-being using wearable sensors, with the ability to observe the minutiae of reactive expression, leading us to question how compatible the way we currently live is with a traditional approach to the impact of architecture on us.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures changes in blood flow to specific regions of the brain, allows researchers to observe which areas of the brain are activated in response to different architectural designs. A study conducted by the University of Sussex found that looking at pictures of buildings which are considered beautiful causes a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. This suggests that the experience of beauty in architecture has a profound impact on human emotions. A study conducted by the University of Bath found that people who view images of nature-inspired designs experience significantly lower levels of stress than those who view images of urban designs.
Another technique used for measuring emotional responses to architectural design is galvanic skin response (GSR) which measures changes in skin conductance response, which is an indicator of emotional arousal allowing researchers to observe how people respond emotionally to different architectural designs.
While university studies are being undertaken, however, these studies are not being conducted by the architects who are currently designing buildings and will share the urban and regional environments we are creating in the immediate future.,
There is a disconnect between academic research and practical application that we are addressing as architects at Chetwoods where we are measuring emotional response to design.
We are working in collaboration with the University of Wolverhampton, and with research advice from the University of Cambridge, on a research project to understand, record and analyse human emotional responses to the design of buildings and spaces. Our research team is trialling cutting-edge data-centric technologies to measure and analyse how the design of a space can evoke happiness and sensory delight.
The recent intersection between architectural design and immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented realities (VR and AR) has allowed us to measure responses in immersive digital environments where design elements in a building can be altered ‘live’ while user reactions are monitored and measured to achieve the most positive sensory response. We are obtaining empirical data that can inform our future design work and enable us to design happiness into our schemes.
The ability to measure emotional responses to architectural design scientifically, is a big opportunity for the future that will enable architects and designers to create buildings and spaces that proactively promote human mental wellbeing.
The Sixth Sense
At its core, sensory architecture prioritises the creation of spaces that consider and cater for all aspects of human life including emotional and psychological wellbeing. It is the way forward for a more sustainable, healthy, and human-centred built environment.
Today we have all the tools and evidence to allow us to create sustainable and commercially viable buildings that regard humans as super-sensitive animals and ultimately deliver the Tingle Factor.
We need to design buildings that are clever, beautiful and enjoyable. If we get the five human senses right, interpreting and using the latest technology with imagination, we will create a Sixth Sense of overall wellbeing, delivering spaces and places that people will love, and in which they can flourish at work, rest or play.
Gupta, G., Gupta, A., Jaiswal, V., & Ansari, M. D. (2018, December). A review and analysis of mobile health applications for Alzheimer patients and caregivers. In 2018 Fifth International Conference on Parallel, Distributed and Grid Computing (PDGC) (pp. 171-175). IEEE.
Jones, M. D. (2006). Which is a better predictor of job performance: Job satisfaction or life satisfaction?. Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, 8(1), 20-42.
Kabisch, N., Qureshi, S., & Haase, D. (2015). Human–environment interactions in urban green spaces—A systematic review of contemporary issues and prospects for future research. Environmental Impact assessment review, 50, 25-34.
Lane, A. E., Young, R. L., Baker, A. E., & Angley, M. T. (2010). Sensory processing subtypes in autism: Association with adaptive behavior. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 40, 112-122.
McCarthy, S., & Habib, M. A. (2018). Investigation of life satisfaction, travel, built environment and attitudes. Journal of Transport & Health, 11, 15-24.
Pierrette, M., Marquis-Favre, C., Morel, J., Rioux, L., Vallet, M., Viollon, S., & Moch, A. (2012). Noise annoyance from industrial and road traffic combined noises: A survey and a total annoyance model comparison. Journal of environmental psychology, 32(2), 178-186.
Zhong, W., Schröder, T., & Bekkering, J. (2022). Biophilic design in architecture and its contributions to health, well-being, and sustainability: A critical review. Frontiers of Architectural Research, 11(1), 114-141.
Zhu, Y., Yang, M., Yao, Y., Xiong, X., Li, X., Zhou, G., & Ma, N. (2019). Effects of illuminance and correlated color temperature on daytime cognitive performance, subjective mood, and alertness in healthy adults. Environment and Behavior, 51(2), 199-230.
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