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What Gives a Building Its Personality?

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

Image Credit: © seier+seier | Flickr

Each nuance that a building emits comes together to become more than the sum of its parts. And often, that sum can be said to be an inherent character that a building exudes. But where does such character come from? And how do we know that a building has personality?

Even something as simple as the way a handrail feels as you glide your hand along it while going up the stairs can feed into what you perceive as an environment’s personality. Those details that feed the senses come together to engage you — just as the sounds that a building’s materials make as you walk across the floor can tip you off about that space’s characteristics. Again, such details all come together to yield more than the sum of their parts. But what does this mean? Why care about your building’s personality?

Personality is important because this is what engages your occupants, and ultimately helps to form their experience within a place. Without personality a building would feel like a void.

Also, there is reputation — the way your building weathers, the amount of maintenance it needs, or the way it keeps occupants safe. Furthermore, reputation gives way to the “impression” people have of a building, even before they have set foot inside.

This all matters because of the way a building can “touch” occupants with its personality. Its character may be associated with “ambience”, and ambience can tap into the mood of a place — a mood that may change dependent on time of day, weather, or type of occupancy.

So, how does your architecture make occupants feel? What is its mood? Is it happy, serene, dark, or perhaps even awe-filled? And what are its details that come together to yield its character? What does your building’s personality say? What is its purpose?

In all of the places where your architecture “touches” its occupants, its personality gets formed. And this is true for all those that experience your building — both for those within it and for those who experience it from the exterior. This means that your building also gains personality in the way it relates to its neighbors — where it takes its own place within a larger context. Perhaps that means it has a role to fulfill or that it has a message to convey.

Whatever the case, know that when you design, you need to think about how your building will take its place, as it “touches” its occupants in meaningful ways. And each time that your building interacts with occupants, it is revealing a piece of its personality.


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 an award-winning 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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