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How Architectural Environments Evoke Emotion in Occupants


Maria Lorena Lehman


Founder — Sensing Architecture ® Academy

‍Image Credit: © Kantver | Fotolia

How is it possible that one environment can make you feel happy, while another environment can make you feel sad. Can these feelings only be attributed to the people interacting with you? Or does the environment also play a role?

I believe that environments do evoke emotions in occupants, and the way you compose your architectural space with its many materials, lighting, sounds, and textures all play a role in the type of emotions occupants experience.

This leads to an important question that you, as an architect, should keep in your mind as you design:

What emotions are you evoking within occupants through your design?

If designing a hospital, can you foster a sense of calmness, trust, and hope? If designing a school, can you foster a sense of curiosity, joy, and excitement? And if designing an office building, can you foster a sense of creativity, productivity, and focus?

The context of your building type matters because the way you design to calm patients in a hospital is likely different from the way you design to calm patients while at work in their office. The patterns of occupant behavior matter, and it is important for you to uncover what patterns are healthy and which are not. Through your design, you can then strengthen the healthy patterns, while eliminating the unhealthy ones.

To evoke emotion through your design, means having deeper connection with your building occupants. You are transmitting a meaning to them through your environment.  You are providing them with context around their experiences.

For example, if a hospital patient breaks their finger and they seek treatment in a hospital that you design, will they feel hope or will they feel despair? Does the environment make them anxious with random and loud noises, with ill-feeling wall colors, and with poorly ventilated air quality? Or does the environment teach the patient how to heal and recover through audio that educates, along with wall colors and air quality that evokes a sense of well-being?

As you design, think of the context surrounding your building occupant, and think about how you can make their experience a better one, not just for the short-term but for the long-term as well. At the crux of the matter is emotion — so design for this carefully as you create the experiential journey that your environment exudes.


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 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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