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Design Proximity and Timing to Help Avoid Sensory Side-Effects

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

‍Image Credit: © Sasint | Pixabay

DESIGN SOLUTION: PROXIMITY

Have you ever formulated a solution for a design problem, and then discovered that your solution created other new problems? For example, within museums exhibits are often placed near small micro theaters that play films all day. And while it is great to have this type of multi-media film experience, the film’s soundtrack creates noise that can actually interfere with other nearby exhibits. In this case, proximity of a design solution matters.

DESIGN SOLUTION: TIMING

Just as proximity of sensory stimuli is important to consider when integrating a feature into your design, technology is another realm that can bring symptoms and side-effects if not incorporated properly. You see, technology often gets “added on” to an environment – often, in a “default mode” of designing. Without really questioning or investigating the different functionalities that a technology brings, an environment can become “painful” for its occupants. For example, healthcare technologies in a hospital can often trigger more anxiety in patients, as their sounds disrupt critical healing behaviors like sleeping or contemplation. It becomes important to consider not only the proximity, but also the timing of design features (like technology) that get incorporated into environments.

DESIGN SOLUTION: CONVERGENCE

As you can see, finding a design solution is not enough – one must also determine how to hone and refine this solution to avoid any side-effects it may bring. A helpful mindset shift to make as an environmental designer is to think about the “convergence factors” of your design solution. Whenever possible, think about how your design feature is behaving – both to solve your initial design problem, but also to uplift quality of life in the space. Look for ways your design features can reach that convergence point, where it solves for many design challenges with one solution (and does not create any additional side-effects). For instance, if an HVAC output is too noisy (proximity) within a room when someone is trying to speak (timing), then it is important to find the convergence point where HVAC functionality can occur without interfering with room activities. Often, there will be a “sweet spot” where your design feature shifts from being a painful disturbance, to being an uplifting experience. Within your design, always iterate until you find this convergence point.

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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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