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Designing a Sense of Place: Don’t Forget Memory!

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

Image Credit: © Adam36 | Dreamstime

Within architectural space it is important to establish a sense of place. This is true not only for the architecture to be good but also for your experience within that space to be memorable. Did you know that your memory and your sense of place are closely linked?(1) Creating an environment involves designing for meaningful experiences — to do this, establishing a sense of place is key.

In the paper Neuroscience and Architecture: Seeking Common Ground, both landmarks and paths are described as important when designing architecture. It seems that both memory and sense of place prominently involve the same part of the brain – the hippocampus. “Our memory of events may depend upon a strong sense of place, and by extension, our sense of place may be influenced by the integrity of the memories formed there.”(1)

A key factor in distinguishing place from space is the ability for humans to interact. This provides occupants with a feeling of belonging to the environment, instead of just “passing through it.” Also, establishing a connection between spaces is important. This provides opportunity for the incorporation of landmarks and other architectural features that can make a place memorable.(1)

Can you remember being in an architectural space that had a strong sense of place? Is your memory of that place linked to an experience that happened there? Odds are that that place also had a strong sense of orientation. As landmarks and other architectural features come together in one’s mental map, your sense of place becomes stronger.

Buildings that guide you through them while providing you with enough information to make meaningful decisions along the way can make for quite profound experiences. Embed within your architecture a succession for a meaningful sense of place – where memories can be shaped and built form can transcend the senses.


(1) Sternberg, Esther M. and Wilson, Matthew A. Neuroscience and Architecture: Seeking Common Ground. Cell 127, Elsevier Inc. October 20, 2006.





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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 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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