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How to Deepen the Sense of Place Your Designs Create

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

‍Image Credit: © orpheus26 | Fotolia

Strengthening the Relationship between Occupant and Environment

An architecturally designed environment, when newly built, stands ready to welcome occupants inside – to utilize its environments from which they can extract function, beauty and meaning. But have you considered that your occupant will actually develop a relationship with your designed architecture over time? And that this relationship will deepen with each occupant visit to the environment you create?

In some ways, architecture teaches occupants how to utilize its spaces, and occupants often develop a personalized sense of place with such environments. With each interaction and engagement with their environment, they discover what they like and what they do not like. The occupant may return again and again to those architectural moments and features that bring them fulfillment. Similarly, they may stay away from those which are “painful” as they detract from what the occupant is trying to accomplish.

Personalized versus Collective Sense of Place

For this reason it is important for you as an architect to consider the “sense of place” you are creating within your design. And yes, there is a collective sense of place where a community of people feel the same connection to an environment – as its meaning becomes a shared experience among people. But what about the personalized sense of place? One might ask… Can sense of place shift in meaning from person to person? After all, this may occur as different architectural features appeal to one occupant while another set of environmental features appeal to another. Also, the same environmental feature could have different and profound meaning for different occupants based upon the past experiences, memories and activities they bring to it.

Thus, when you design architectural environments, it is important to think of function as a multi-faceted goal. For example, you may create a home with a room in which people dine – but the way people dine differs from meal to meal, person to person, family to family, and culture to culture. Such a room will likely develop a sense of place shared by a family, but with an equally different and meaningful sense of place experienced by each individual in the family.

Sense of Place Can Shift Over Time

It is important to realize that the sense of place of an environment can also shift over time. The meaning and emotion a place exudes may be different as times change. What holds deep meaning in one era, may take on renewed meaning in a different era. For example, the sense of place exuded by the Colosseum in Rome is very different now as compared to when it was in use. With such built environments, meaning and emotion of place can become more profound or less important over time. However, if an environment stands the test of time, it is likely establishing and deepening its relationship with occupants on both collective and personalized levels. This helps it be become more universal in the meaning and emotion it conveys – making its sense of place transcend time.

As you design your architecture, consider the different ways a functionality may be interpreted to create sense of place for both the collective and personal occupant experience. This requires you to expand your mindset to uncover how your design may be perceived not only by thinking of your occupants as a collective group, but also by thinking of your occupants as individuals. After all, these individuals are constantly re-calibrating their relationship with the spaces you create. And as these relationships deepen, a more profound sense of place will be established.




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 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.

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