How Kinetic Architecture Fuels New Perceptions of Nature


Kinetic architecture can use its transience to work with nature in ways that fuel new perceptions for building occupants. Using two key methods, kinetic architecture can work through perception and through behavior to re-present nature to occupants in ways they may never have experienced it before. In this micro-lecture, both perception through architecture and behavior upon architecture are explored as a means by which to spark innovative design concepts that provide for awe-inspiring occupant experience. Use this micro-lecture to jumpstart your creative thinking about what kinetic architecture can do to help occupants better harmonize with nature.

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00:05 Maria Lorena Lehman: I’m Maria Lorena Lehman, Founder of Sensing Architecture. And in today’s video, I’m going to teach you how kinetic architecture fuels new perceptions of nature for building occupants. You see, kinetic architecture can act as a go-between when it comes to nature and the occupants that use your architecture. By embedding or integrating kinetics into your architectural design, you can reframe nature’s behaviors and perceptions of nature for your building occupant to experience. In order to do this, you may notice how occupants often experience nature through architecture, particularly when they are experiencing the interior of a built space, for instance. In this case, an occupant must perceive through architecture to experience the qualities of nature. And when you add kinetics into this diagram, you will notice that nature can be re-presented anew to building occupants.

01:30 MLL: For instance, if within a kinetic architecture, a window frames nature and it moves or even changes color, what the occupant experiences as they look out that window will change. The perception of the nature that they experience through the window will be different as the kinetic architecture transiently changes.

01:55 MLL: Now, another way to view the interactions and new perceptions and experiences between kinetic architecture, nature, and occupant, can be seen when you take a look at behavior. Nature can interact or impact kinetic architecture, and the occupant can experience that nature as they experience the kinetic architecture anew — as it transiently changes. You see, an example of this can be found in nature when wind, for example, interacts with a kinetic form. The occupant then may experience viewing or hearing the kinetic form as it moves in the wind, and this creates a new perception of one of nature’s qualities, which is wind. So as you design, think about these two different diagrammatic formulas, if you will. Think about how transience and movement within your architecture, impacts how your occupants experience and perceive other elements like nature.

03:13 MLL: In one case, occupants perceive through kinetic architecture to transiently experience nature. And in the other case, nature behaves through kinetic architecture so that occupants can transiently experience the qualities of nature and the architecture. So, thinking in this way may help to spark certain new design concepts that integrate kinetics into your architecture in new and innovative ways that can help occupants reconnect with nature anew.

03:51 MLL: If you’d like to learn more, I invite you to join my Design Insight Newsletter, and you will also get my book, “Bringing Architecture to the Next level”, for free. Discover how you can shift your mindset to reach breakthrough ideas, meet and predict occupant need using sensory design, leverage your design process so you can get more with less, and rethink new technologies to unleash your innovative edge. To join now and access your book, simply visit

How Emotion Impacts the Perception of Architecture

The Link Between Emotion and “Sense of Place”

Architecture can trigger emotion. Just look at how designed memorials can trigger emotions like pride, sadness, or gratitude. Similarly, other building types can yield surprise or can even mellow one’s mood. It all becomes a matter of how a particular place is designed — to trigger for an emotional response in its occupants.

Building Occupant Perception
Image Credit: © kantver | Fotolia

Emotion in architecture can often be linked to how well an architecture exudes a “sense of place” — where the emotion experienced of a particular architecture can be shaped by its “sense of place”. Often, “sense of place” can help an architecture take on a type of personality — and this personality can serve to trigger emotion in its building occupants because it connects with them.

But the question remains: Why is human emotion an important factor for you to consider as you design your architecture? For starters, reaching for an emotional response in occupants can help your architecture achieve a higher level of poetics. You see, when your architecture can connect emotionally with its occupants, its message and its meaning can be felt more deeply — thus, more readily leaving a lasting impression.

Architecture that Unfolds Into a Story

In the book called Atlas of Emotion by Giuliana Bruno, motion is linked with emotion, as are the physiological bodily sensations that result because of a felt emotion. (1) So what does this mean for you? As your architecture guides occupants along its journey, both intellectually and physically, it takes them on an emotional narrative which affects where they go, how they behave, and what they remember.

In essence, emotion is a critical link that impacts the perception of architecture by occupants. So, how do you do it? How do you design for human emotion with your architecture?

Well a first step is to design through the senses — using architectural qualities like materiality, light, and sound, you can create an architectural journey where the narrative pushes and pulls at different emotions. In other words, you can tell a story with your work using different architectural characteristics.

Secondly, the grand gesture behind your architecture can stand poetically to trigger certain emotions in occupants. This initial design concept can pull from aspects like metaphor, juxtaposition, or even new kinds of beauty. Emotion can be triggered if the design concept connects with occupants.


(1) Bruno, Giuliana. Atlas of Emotion. Verso: New York. 2002

Use Nature to Strengthen Your Design Solution

Learning from Nature Anew

Different architects use nature within their designs in different ways. While some gain inspiration from nature to influence a built form, others use nature to fuel the mechanisms within their design solution. Yet still, nature can be used to inform a design in real-time — as architecture gains greater fluidity through interactivity.

Green Architecture
Image Credit: © okalinichenko | Fotolia

Whatever the case, nature is integrated into architectural design in a variety of ways. For instance, I invite you to take a close look at the “Seed Cathedral” designed by Thomas Heatherwick. By preserving seeds and showcasing them in a unique way, where they appear to grow to comprise the building “skin” — an entirely new experience of nature is created where visitors can experience seeds like they have never experienced them before. (I invite you to look up the Seed Cathedral so you can see for yourself.) In this case, the architect used nature as both inspiration and tool by which to see a unique architectural expression realized.

Another way to use nature within architecture involves learning from how its mechanisms work. Innovations today pull from the genius of nature to inform how designs should be constructed. For example, there is a new rooftop coating that actually intends to make buildings “sweat” to help lower cooling costs. (1) Similar to how the body deals with cooling through sweat, these rooftops aim to do the same for buildings.

Integrating Nature to Help Architecture Evolve

So, as you design, think about how you can use nature to help your designs evolve. Perhaps there is an aspect of nature that you would like to present anew to your building occupants — to let them experience nature in a way they have never experienced it before. Also, you could take a cue from biomimcry — and begin a study of nature to pull from its genius to inform the mechanisms that make up your design.

Additionally, you can look to nature as an ecosystem, that informs the systems which make up your architectural solution. Think about how your architecture can be self-sustaining, just as nature can be. You may want to learn from the way natural systems work with each other to inform the way your architectural systems can do the same.

If your designs happen to be more fluid (more interactive), perhaps you can use nature to inform their interactions. By designing an architecture that responds to nature’s changes, greater function and aesthetics may be possible.

You may use nature to strengthen your designs. It can be used in various ways — from experiential design to biomimicry, from interactivity to self-sustaining ecosystems — nature can contribute greatly toward the design and evolution of architecture.


(1) Dillow, Clay. A New Rooftop Coating Makes Buildings Sweat to Cut Cooling Costs. Popular Science.