Following the selection of his essay Experiencing Architecture: The Tingle Factor as one of the winners of the Archiol Sensory Architecture 2023 Essay Competition, Laurie Chetwood was interviewed by Archiol.
Can you please introduce yourself and share a bit about your background in architecture and/or writing? What inspired you to participate in the Sensory Architecture 2023 Essay Competition?
I founded Chetwoods Architects in 1988, and continue to lead the practice as Chairman and head of its creative Studio. Over the past thirty-five years we have achieved a reputation as an award-winning international practice, as we push the boundaries in designing places and spaces that benefit people and the environment. We have been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize and designed the world’s first net-zero carbon for construction verified building.
As an artist and designer, I have been awarded Best Architectural Drawing at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and have won three Gold Medals for ground-breaking show gardens at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show.
I was inspired to participate in the Sensory Architecture 2023 Essay Competition because of my belief that successful architectural design should deliver a positive physical, sensory and emotional human experience.
Could you provide a brief summary of your winning essay? What were the key concepts or arguments you explored? What motivated you to choose this particular topic for your essay?
For many years I have written and spoken about the ‘Tingle Factor’. This is when getting the five human senses right in architecture, interpreting them cleverly and then 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.
In this essay I considered the ingredients of human sensory wellbeing and how architectural design has often overlooked its potential for nudging human experiences in physical spaces. I explored the disconnect between academic research and practical application that we are addressing as architects at Chetwoods where we are measuring emotional response to design. I also discussed the way in which new smart technologies are allowing us to move beyond building performance metrics to analyse human responses to the way the buildings are designed, and summarised how it is now possible for emotional response to design to be measured, shedding new light on sensorily responsive design by the architects who are designing our buildings.
How do you define sensory architecture, and why do you believe it is an important aspect of the built environment? How did you incorporate the sensory experience into your essay and highlight its significance in architectural design?
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. My essay looks at the tools and research that are available to enable us to design buildings that are clever, beautiful, and enjoyable.
What research methods did you employ to gather information and support your arguments? Were there any significant challenges or interesting discoveries you encountered during your research process?
At Chetwoods we have been working with research associates from the University of Cambridge on a research project to understand, record and analyse human emotional responses to the design of buildings and spaces.
New smart technologies are allowing us to move beyond building performance metrics to analysing human responses to the way the buildings are designed. The rapid technological and scientific advancement that has facilitated the operationalisation of well-being using wearable sensors, is enabling our research team to trial cutting-edge data-centric technologies to measure and analyse how the design of a space can evoke happiness and sensory delight.
Using immersive technologies – such as virtual and augmented realities (VR and AR) – with the ability to observe the minutiae of reactive expression – 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.
In your opinion, how can a focus on sensory architecture positively impact individuals and communities?
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. I believe that 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.
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. It delivers spaces and places that people will love, and in which they can flourish at work, rest, or play.
Based on your research and insights, what do you envision as the future of sensory architecture? Are there any emerging trends or developments you find particularly exciting? How can architects and designers incorporate sensory considerations into their projects to create more immersive and meaningful experiences?
The future of sensory architecture has huge potential now that it is possible to analyse scientifically the ingredients for that ‘tingle factor’ feeling of wellbeing. There are many new techniques to allow us to assess how a human being will react to such things as colour, form, shapes and spaces.
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.
As architects we need to take the scientific research on board and design buildings that are clever, beautiful, and enjoyable. We have started this at Chetwoods by researching and measuring emotional responses to buildings, to capture wellbeing and identify how different elements of places and spaces can be designed to induce happiness and enjoyment.
How has participating in this competition and winning affected your perspective on sensory architecture and its importance in the field of architecture? Have you discovered any new passions or areas of interest through the process of researching and writing your essay?
Many of our buildings seem to have forgotten how to appeal to human nature and to the human psyche. It might be economically convenient to build repetitive and prefabricated structures, but human beings need something more: something that changes, something that is colourful and decorative.
I believe that as architects we have a responsibility to design places and spaces that will not only protect and benefit our environment but also have a measurable positive impact on the wellbeing of the people who use them. Writing this essay about sensory architecture has reinforced this conviction and I am delighted that it has won this Sensory Architecture Essay award.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and researchers who are interested in exploring sensory architecture or entering similar competitions? Based on your experience, what are the key elements that make an essay stand out in a competition of this nature?
Any entry for an essay competition will have the greatest chance of success if its subject is a topic that the writer is obviously passionate and well-informed about. A good essay will have a logical structure to convey a point of view and present an argument clearly, supported by research and references, but ultimately it will communicate the writer’s own unique take on the subject matter of the competition.
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