contact maria lorena lehman

send your message

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

spECIAL MASTERCLASS: Design concept formulation


Join Now to learn my HPA Design Formula to improve your architectural design concept formulations. This formula will help bring your mindset, skillset, and project design results to new heights. Plus, get the Design Insight Digest, FREE.


Architectural Smellscape: Designing for the Olfactory Occupant Journey

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

‍Image Credit: © tai111 | Fotolia

Rediscovering the Environmental Smellscape

Have you ever thought of “smellscapes” for design? And have you ever considered that you could compose smells for the olfactory sense to promote certain responses through memory? Well, the olfactory sense is an important part of the way we experience our surroundings. An article featuring Sissel Tolaas, who is a chemist specializing in olfactory information, teaches very interesting points about how smell impacts us. In fact, Tolaas explains the following:

“…the perfumes, soaps and pumped-out bakery scents that camouflage the aromas of the bodies and streets do humanity a disservice. […] When we eradicate smells […] we strip cities of their sense of place, and people of a valuable tool for communicating and navigating.” (1)

Smell offers a type of wayfinding that not only becomes part of our experience of a space, but also serves to prompt or guide behavior within that space. A smell can act as a boundary which signals what lies ahead, or what has just been experienced. Often, it is smell that can evoke a powerful memory – to emotionally reconnect us with our past experiences. Yet, the vocabulary to describe different smells is not very diverse, thus making olfactory information a bit invisible and intangible. (1)

Designing an Olfactory Journey

When designing an environment, have you considered what the olfactory journey will be like for your occupants? So much attention is given to the visual sense during design, but little is often spent on the sense of smell. Just imagine how your design could improve by making design decisions that factor for the olfactory sense. Your architecture could tap into occupants at deeper levels by using smell to evoke emotion.

Of course, different smells have different meanings to different occupants. Yet, there may be some universal responses to certain smells as well. The key is to uncover your design’s intent. And then, ask yourself: What emotions, behaviors, and memories do you want your occupants to experience? And how can different smells from architectural materials, nature, or other occupants do to strengthen these outcomes?

Personalizing Space through Smell

What if a particular smell brings back a strong memory for you? Thus, smelling this scent could help you re-experience the past through the visualization of that memory. As a designer of environments, you should consider how the smell of your environments will be remembered. Paradoxically, it is this invisible olfactory sense that can leave the longest lasting and most emotional impression upon your occupant.

So, if you could pick a particular smell to act as the trigger that will help occupants to remember their experience in your environment…What would that particular smell be? Would it be a combination of scents working together to create a “smellscape”? Or would there be one particular scent that would immediately make your occupant remember their experience?

As you design, be sure to use olfactory stimuli to make your architectural environments better. By strategically incorporating the sense of smell into your occupants’ experiences, you will make your architecture reach new poetic heights — because you will be pulling from multi-sensory methods to connect with occupants through your design. And this will yield more profound architectural experiences that enhance not only memory formation, but also learning and emotional response.


(1) Lasky, Julie. How smell shapes our perception of the world around us. Ideas.Ted.Com [Accessed from:] October 14, 2015.





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
read more testimonials
journal article collectionsresearch designs

Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

maria lorena lehman, as seen in...
featured posts
Urban Design

Urban Architecture – A Design Process of Co-Creation

To view urban architecture as the result of a design process of co-creation fundamentally shifts how it can be used to bring higher levels of thrivability to citizens. By integrating citizen ideas, behaviors, and experiential insights into how such urban systems and elements adapt, the city becomes a more joyous, peaceful, healthier, and inspiring place to live. This is how urban architecture can help cities to reach these higher levels – by pulling from the wisdom and ingenuity of its citizens through its buildings, that together act as a bridge that opens communication between people and city.

Design Process

Schematic Design – Using an Occupant-Centered Design Approach

Schematic design is the first stage of an architectural design project, and within this phase there are important milestones to get right that will greatly leverage the project’s results throughout the rest of its impending design phases. For example, by iteratively designing through various schematic prototypes, it becomes possible to optimize one’s design concept idea in a way that prevents future errors and expands the discovery of new design opportunities.

User Experience

How Architectural Poetics Improves Human Performance

With the design of each built environment, it is possible to help make the world a better place for individuals, the collective, and the planet. The key is to rise as architectural designers to create poetic architecture, not mere status quo buildings. You see, it is with poetic architecture that environmental design can awaken potential to nurture the self-actualization of those it serves.