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Top 3 Tips to Connect Emotionally with Your Building Occupants


Maria Lorena Lehman


Founder — Sensing Architecture ® Academy

‍Image Credit: © Tata Chen | Fotolia

Tapping Into Deeper Occupant Emotion

I often teach about the five levels of experience which are so critical to include within your architectural design. (The five levels are as follows: physiological, intellectual, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual)

By designing for the latter experiential dimensions, you are able to connect and engage with occupants in more meaningful and profound ways. And the experiential level I get asked about most often is embedded within the following question:

How can I create a design that connects with occupants emotionally?

This article is here to get you started. The following are three fantastic methods to help you create architectural designs that touch occupants in just the right way, and at just the right time --- so they will connect with themselves, with each other, and with your design work in beneficial ways.

To Strengthen Your Design’s Emotional Connection…

· Design for Intellectual Context: With this method, you will want to evoke curiosity, education, or even guidance through your design. In other words, you will be intellectually communicating with your building occupants through your design’s features. For example, a certain message communicated through signage, a monitor, or a light projection that is emitted at just the right time within the environment you create can help to frame a context surrounding an event that your occupant is doing. Use your design work to frame occupant events. And the spin you give to a particular frame will affect your occupants in different ways. You can frame pain, to be full of hope. And you can frame learning, to be full of fun.  And so on.

· Design for Physiological Context: With this method, you will use architectural qualities like color, scent, or even sound to evoke a physiological response. Just think about how certain light at certain times can impact one’s circadian rhythm. And visualize how color (on the walls in a room, or being emitted by a light) can evoke different emotions. As you design, plan for what type of emotional response your occupants would benefit from: Are they in a hospital? Perhaps guiding them toward calmness, contemplation, and hope is best. As the designer, it is for you to decide.

·  Design for Behavioral Context: With this method, you will create architecture that evokes certain behaviors within occupants. For instance, does your building guide occupants to sit in front of a window to watch a sunrise during a particular point along their occupant journey? Perhaps the behavior of sitting and contemplating frames an event which is about to happen during the occupant’s journey.

Nurture Your Occupant. By Pulling, Not Pushing.

Remember that evoking emotion within your occupant while they experience your design is more than simply about pushing them along a path. Your responsibility as a designer is to guide your occupant in a nurturing way --- that expands their own potential. And a big part of accomplishing this is to tap into their emotions, to help them reach the goals they desire most.


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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