Designing With Our Five Senses: Sight

Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Taste. Our five senses have a much bigger influence on the way we perceive our built environment than one may initially think. For designers, sight seems to clearly be the dominant sense. But beyond this, how do our other senses – sound, smell, touch and taste – influence the way we experience materials and live within the built environment? How can a thoughtful consideration – or rather reconsideration – of our five senses in the design process lead to healthier, better materials and built spaces? This week, in line with our ‘Five Senses’ theme at Material Xperience 2015, we will be breaking down the five senses by looking at a different sense each day, starting with sight.

Sight: For aesthetically oriented designers in particular, sense of sight dominates – often to the detriment of our other senses. Juhani Pallasmaa presents this point in his classic text of architectural theory ‘The Eyes of the Skin.’ First published in 1996, Pallasmaa argues that the dominance of visual imagery in architecture suppresses the other four senses, resulting in an impoverishment of the built environment. A building’s form and appearance take centre stage at the expense of, for example, how a building smells, or how its floor feels under your feet, or how its walls feel against your skin. One can only imagine his argument has become stronger in light of our increasingly digital world and the bombardment of visual imagery that comes along with it.

This is of course not to diminish the importance of sight, as this sense has a considerable affect upon our health. A small organ located beyond our eyeball that records light intensity controls one part of our hormonal system. This small organ has considerable influence on our body’s biological clock – or rather our biorhythms. When daylight is limited, for example in the evening or in a sparsely lit room, this organ sends a corresponding message to the brain and the body in turn begins to produce a sleep hormone called melatonin. The production of this hormone ceases when sufficient levels of light return in the morning. Too low an exposure to natural daylight can corrupt your biorhythms, causing the body to produce too much melatonin at the wrong time of day – or not enough at all. This can lead to troubles waking up, feelings of tiredness during the day and a lack of energy. Lack of daylight also leads to additional health problems including winter season depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS).

To dive deeper into the world of the Five Senses and materials, we invite you to register for free and attend Material Xperience 2015.