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Using Context to Spark a Spiritual Design that Touches Your Occupant’s Soul

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

‍Image Credit: © country_boy_shane | Flickr

Within your building it is very important to meet basic human needs — whether they be your occupants’ needs for shelter, to work productively, learn alertly or even heal more quickly. Yet, that is not all that good and inspired architecture should do. As you may have noticed, within great works of architecture there is often a more spiritual side to those buildings which “moves” those occupants as they travel within them — and thus, is born spiritual design.

So the question then becomes… How do you as an architect tap into this more spiritual and awe-inspiring kind of architecture? How do you innovate by finding new ways to meet occupant needs that are better for them, better for the planet and which also simultaneously give them more of an experiential journey through your building that is both beautiful and stirs their soul?

Elicit Occupant Emotion by Merging the Senses with Context

Now, this does not mean that your architecture always needs to evoke the human emotion of “happiness”. Often, it is possible for your architecture to evoke other emotions by calling upon memories as within a memorial, faith as within a religious building or even beauty as might be experienced in an art museum. And while most all building types can benefit by having that emotional-side, it is up to you as the architect to hone in on the core context so that you can translate a given situation into an architectural and spiritual design.

One way in which you as an architect can begin to tap into your occupants’ emotions would be to design a narrative that speaks the language of your occupants’ senses. And by using more than the visual sense, you may design your architecture as a more holistic and harmonious composition which calls upon its contexts. When I refer to “context” here, I speak not only of a building’s site and location, but also about the more personal (and at times universal) past memories and future visions with which its occupants connect.

Just as a great memorial may tell a story about the past for the future generations to come — it is because of that memorial’s ability to transcend its materiality that it can connect its occupants to not only deeper understanding, but also more profound feeling. It is interesting to think of the moment where a stone wall becomes more than its materials and placement, when it becomes a celebration, a rememebrance or even a space for contemplation.

Touching Your Occupant’s Soul in Any Building Type

So now I invite you to take your turn at tapping into your occupants’ senses to elicit and create that spirit of place that is your building. By delving deeper and going beyond basic human needs, you can find the spiritual within your architecture that may permeate your overall design composition. Whether you are designing a religious institution, a museum full of masterpieces or even an office building where employees will spend most of their days, look for the context in those situations by understand the bigger story whereby you can anchor and uplift your architecture into the spiritual design realm.

View your architecture as a spiritual vision within which your occupants can travel. And by all means, be sure to meet your occupants’ human needs elegantly — doing it better by assembling them in a way that moves them and inspires them, all the while, transporting them in such a way that the experiences within your building are enhanced, and their memories of those experiences will have touched their soul.

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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 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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