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How to Add Depth to Design Experience Using In/Visibility

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

‍Image Credit: © Mikkel Bigandt| Fotolia


Some architectural design features are meant to be the focus of attention, and their visibility makes the spatial experience an unforgettable one. Yet, other architectural design features are meant to be invisible, where they are purposefully designed to recede into the background. For example, when looking through a window, there are times when one would want the window to be accentuated so it frames or makes a statement about the view. Yet, when looking through a window, there are other times when one would want the window to “disappear” so the view is accentuated.

As an architectural designer, it is important that you consider how to add the nuance of visibility or invisibility to your environmental design features. This creates experiential rhythm and an architectural language that is derived from behaviors of in/visibility.


Architectural environments all have a narrative that creates experience. This experience can be a good or bad one, depending on the narrative. Just imagine a musical song, where each note is like an architectural feature. The song’s composer needs to create variation with the notes --- between loud and soft, fast and slow, or high and low tones. Ultimately, the composer also needs to consider the space, or silence, between notes as well. Design for environments is very similar. With features that vary between visible and invisible, it becomes possible to create nuance in the narrative of space. After all, you would not want to listen to a one note song that had no variation and no silence between notes. You would want to listen to a song that takes you on an experiential journey. The design for architectural environments is no different.


Being aware of the story you are telling with your environment is critical. It is important to consider what thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you are evoking within occupants. In other words, what is your design saying to them? How does it guide them on what to focus upon?

Select your visible features carefully, and analyze how to make the invisible features do their job. Just because they are “invisible” does not mean they are any less important. In fact, these more subtle design elements add depth into the layers of the story you are telling occupants through your design. 

To start designing more conscientiously for the in/visible elements of your design, simply become aware that not all of your design features are meant to be experienced in the same way. Some will make an obvious statement, while others will stand quietly adding to the experience. While designing, just ask yourself: How can this design element best contribute to the narrative moment of this experience? In other words, is the feature most important? Or is there something else that the feature frames or supports that is most important? This will tell you whether you are creating a visible or invisible architectural design element.





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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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