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How Multi-Sensory Design Impacts Human Emotion

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

‍Image Credit: © geralt | Pixabay


When creating an architectural design, are you doing only what is necessary to meet programmatic project requirements? Or do you go above and beyond to ensure that the environment you create is benefiting its occupants at its highest potential? The way in which you answer the latter question will reveal how creative you are with your multi-sensory design efforts, which ultimately determine how great your design is for its occupants’ well-being.

You see, when multi-sensory design is properly injected into an architect’s design process, the entire project benefits. Suddenly, it becomes possible to solve for those initial programmatic requirements while still being able to go above and beyond so your building can also help its occupants to achieve highest levels of well-being.  The key to making this all work is to use multi-sensory design to tap into human emotion through the built environment you create. By evoking emotion, your design will have a more meaningful and longer-lasting impact that guides occupants toward living, working, healing, or playing in ways that make them thrive.


Emotion through design acts as a lynchpin that helps a design to connect more deeply, and to have more profound effect upon an occupant’s potential and performance. An environment that connects emotionally can have physiological, intellectual, behavioral, and even spiritual impact. When an emotional connection is made, a person creates a strong memory to that which triggered the emotion. Thus, if a person sees a sunrise through a window which presents dawn like they have never experienced it before, then that person is likely to have a very positive emotional reaction to the beauty and function of that window and the nature to which it bridges. Its meaning can be either explained through the design and/or interpreted by the person – and this will all synergistically create an emotional memory within the building occupant.

If your design can inspire positive emotional memories within building occupants, then it will uplift their quality of life by increasing their happiness and health. After all, designs evoke a certain level and type of emotion. These designs can exist on a spectrum where on one end there is “flat” emotionless design that invisibly connects an occupant to something greater. And on the other end of the spectrum there is “lively” emotional design that visibly connects with an occupant. Either way, the design is a catalyst for emotion, and as a designer you will want to make sure your design is evoking the optimal emotion for a given situation.


For all of this, your architectural design needs to follow a synergetic narrative. Just imagine if a comedy film had scary music composed with it. This narrative would likely not be synergetic. It would confuse the film’s audience, leaving them bewildered and emotionless. However, when your design is synchronized so occupants perceive its narrative clearly, then your design will evoke the optimal emotions at the right times. Your architecture will bring greater aesthetic and functional benefit for its occupants, and its meaning will be felt more deeply and profoundly.

When creating architecture that rises to achieve even more that its initial programmatic requirements, think in terms of emotional connection through multi-sensory design. Your design process will never be the same, as it will significantly improve with each project you design, learn from, and within which you bring creativity.


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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