After having discussed the basic concerns in the previous posts, we need to describe how we can actually design architecture attuned to the concerns of the users. Which architectural means do we have to achieve this? And how can we create specific atmospheres that can elicit specific emotions?

First we’ll briefly discuss the senses and the way humans perceive architecture. After this we will focus on the stimuli (from the basic model of emotions), or in other words the architectural atmospheres that influence our emotional state. Atmospheres are created with certain architectural means. These architectural means – like the use of materials, form and light – will be discussed in the upcoming series about architectural means.


“The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress.”
– GOETHE, J.W. von (1)

Our experiences are the result of our perception with the senses. We experience by what we see, what we hear, smell, taste and touch. Without our senses there would be no experience.
From our childhood on we learn from our experiences with the world around us. Rasmussen says about this: “By a variety of experiences (the child) quite instinctively learns to judge things according to weight, solidity, texture, heat-conducting ability.” (2) All this also holds true for architecture. The stimuli we perceive with our senses tell us all we need to know about a space.

In architecture all senses are important, but the sense of sight is very dominant. The other senses are underappreciated in architecture. We could pay more attention to the other senses, as the combined perception of all the senses gives us our total experience of a space. We leave so much of our spatial experience to chance if we leave the other senses untouched during the design process. Pallasmaa says about this: “[…] modern design at large has housed the intellect and the eye, but has left the body and the other senses, as well as our memories, imaginations and dreams, homeless.” (3)

The other senses also have powerful influence on our experience of a space. Below are examples of hearing and smell to illustrate this influence.


Sounds reflect in a space, and that way it gives us an impression of its form and material.  Steven Holl wrote on the subject of sound: “The live reflections of echo and re-echo within a stone cathedral increases our awareness of the vastness, geometry and material of its space. Imagine the same space with carpet and acoustically softened… a spatial and experiential dimension of the architecture is lost. We could redefine space by shifting our attention from the visual to how it is shaped by resonant sounds, vibrations of materials and textures.” (4)

“Human being still enjoys variety, including variety of sound.”
– RASMUSSEN, S.E. (1962) Experiencing Architecture (5)


“A particular smell makes us unknowingly re-enter a space completely forgotten by the retinal memory; the nostrils awaken a forgotten image, and we are enticed to enter a vivid daydream. The nose makes the eyes remember.” (6)


Do you have any interesting examples of architecture and the senses?

We would really like to hear your ideas. And if you have any comments or questions – please let us know.


More on architectural means

  1. Form
  2. Mass or void
  3. Movement
  4. Expression of Form



  1. GOETHE, J. W. von, as quoted in PALLASMAA, J. (2005) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (p. 14) – affiliate link
  2. RASMUSSEN, S. E. (1962) Experiencing Architecture, 2nd Edition (p. 18) – affiliate link
  3. PALLASMAA, J. (2005) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (p. 19) – affiliate link
  4. HOLL, S. Proportion, scale and perception. In HOLL, S., PALLASMAA, J. and PEREZ-GOMEZ, A. (1994) Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture (p. 87) – affiliate link
  5. RASMUSSEN, S. E. (1962) Experiencing Architecture, 2nd Edition – affiliate link
  6. PALLASMAA, J. (2005) The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (p. 54) – affiliate link

2 thoughts on “Architectural means

  1. We can learn much from architectural space. Unfortunately the 21st century has not allowed the lessons to be taught much. Our buildings are senseless and without pleasure as a result because we don’t want to know. But the blind person can sense how large a space is, it’s shape and what the materials a space is built with from smell and reflected sound. Sun and ambient light windows and the shape of wind currents have all fascinated me for my entire career as an architect. My own churches introduce indirect daylight as source of mystery and presence and focus.
    St. Ignatius Chapel by Stephen Holl @ Seattle U is a masterpiece that celebrates the value of research. Rasmussen is to be rediscovered. Lou Kahn was correct when he said “the side of a building didn’t know how great it was until the sun shone on it.”
    Thank you for your awesome thoughts. I will investigate

    1. Thanks for the comment! I really like your Lou Kahn quote… I used to have a teacher at my university who said that the key to great architecture is light. I’m curious to see some examples of your use of indirect light in your churches.

      At the moment Paul and I (from Experiencing Architecture) are enrolled in a course on Environmental Psychology at the University of Amsterdam to learn more about the relationship between the environment (architecture) and the behaviour of humans in that environment. I believe this could be of great value for architects and their understanding of architectural space. If you’re interested, I recommend reading Architectural Psychology Explained by Maria Lehman (from and her related posts to give you an general idea.

      If you have any remarks, questions or ideas… please let me know!

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