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How an Architectural Exterior Design Impacts Occupant Journey

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

‍Image Credit: © venusangel | Fotolia

Using Sensory Design for an Architectural Exterior

When it comes to sensory design, much emphasis is placed on architectural interiors that aim to uplift occupant well-being. And this is critical to get right within a design project. But what about the architectural exterior? How can one use sensory design to create exteriors that foster the right occupant journey? A journey that is started well before an occupant ever enters a building, and a journey that is completed well after they leave.

The architectural exterior is an important part of the process by which a building occupant engages with their environment. Not only does a building’s exterior prepare one for what they will experience once inside — it also sets the occupant journey in motion, fueling a certain momentum through thought, emotion and behavior. When designing, one must consider the relationship an architectural exterior will have to its interior. Will it juxtapose, complement, or foreshadow its interior? Or will it become an invisible boundary between the two — only to be felt beyond the visual sense?

Sensing Exterior Stimuli from the Inside

An architectural exterior may be an extension of the interior, or visa versa. Whatever the case, one can use sensory design to orchestrate and synchronize exterior stimuli using aspects like architectural materiality and nature. While one may argue that designers have less control of the exterior compared to the interior where air quality, lighting and temperature can be modified — it is important to remember that exterior environments can be designed as well. Just imagine the beautiful gardens which use only nature to create outdoor “rooms”. Architectural exterior stimuli become a multi-sensory experience that, when designed well, can complement its interior while also providing a meaningful occupant experience in its own right.

The approach to an architecture is crucial. And it is often this approach which becomes etched in an occupant’s memory. Yet, what they remember is not only visual. Often, it fuses with how that building made them feel. By designing for the senses in the exterior environment, one can unlock certain attributes that will be experienced later. For instance, a building’s visitor may feel a particular breeze due to the location of the walkway and its proximity to the building. Yet when inside, the same visitor may also visually see the breeze as it blows gently through the trees outside. Thus, exterior elements can impact occupants sensorially from both within and outside of a building.

Sensory Design Beyond Perimeter Walls

When you design, be strategic about exterior architectural stimuli orchestration. Remember that the interior and exterior may be different due to certain boundaries, but there are other multi-sensory means by which to connect the two. Understand that exterior stimuli may be sensed through many modalities, and when orchestrated together can impact the interior not just because this is how one approaches it, but also because of how one senses it from within the building. Thus, sensory design does not stop at a building’s perimeter walls. It includes the design of the exterior.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is an award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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