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.

The Effects of Calm Technology within Environments

As evolutionary trends continue, emerging technologies are getting smaller, cheaper, and smarter — all of which push technology to become evermore ubiquitous. And as technologies continue to integrate into our daily lives through architectural environments, such innovations evolve to not only become more flexible, interactive and adaptable; but to eventually disappear.

This notion of “disappearing technology” is not a new one. In fact, during a recent seminar, Alvin Huang pointed out that the Father of Ubiquitous Computing, Mark D. Weiser, taught that “technology is at its most powerful when it disappears”. (1)

In the above image you can see technology disappearing and getting calmer in the evolution of lighting from a candle, to a tungsten bulb, to a fluorescent bulb, to a halogen bulb, to LED.
Image Credit: © chones | Fotolia

“Ubiquitous computing names the third wave in computing, just now beginning. First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.” (2) — Mark D. Weiser

This idea of “calm technology” is an interesting one as we consider how architectural technology is evolving into the future. And as such technology gets increasingly embedded in daily activities, it becomes important to ask:

What happens to environments once technology disappears?

Five Effects of “Calm” Architectural Technology

As innovations in technology evolve, they will have definite effect on environments and the occupants whom they serve. But just what effects can we expect? And how will these change the way people live? The following are five key outcomes of calmer environmental technology.

  • Less resistance toward comfort: As technologies advance, they will be better able to sense (and make sense of that incoming data) to actuate better, more comfortable, environments for occupants in real-time.
  • Increasingly fluid experience: Technologies will be better able to synchronize with each other to yield more fluid architectural experiences for occupants.
  • More natural interfacing: The language by which occupants and architectural technology communicate will become more natural for occupants. By which a new “language” will hardly exist at all. For example, as the computer keyboard and mouse give way to hand gestures — the evolution of interfacing is showing how they physical manipulation of technology is disappearing.
  • Better synergy in design integration: Technology will be more seamlessly fused with architectural design, where technology will no longer be tacked on as an afterthought during the design process.
  • Easier maintenance: As technology evolves, it will become easier to maintain. Again, this is another way in which it will “disappear”.

The Architectural Technology Fusion

Finding the boundary between architecture and technology will become increasingly difficult as the two continue to merge. Each relies upon the other to yield built form that aims toward increased comfort, more fluid experience, more natural interfacing, better design integration, and easier maintenance.

So, what happens to environments when technology disappears?

Hopefully, architectural space will become more about the designer’s intended vision. It will be increasingly possible to realize the complex (1), and it will be equally possible to make it experientially meaningful. Technology for architecture is not going away, it is simply becoming a given — where space can become transient, comfortable and poetic in entirely new ways.


(1) Gerber, David and Huang, Alvin. How to Succeed in Architecture: New Trends in Computing that will Change the Architecture Profession. Novedge Webinar. Streamed live: October 2, 2014. Accessed from:
(2) Wikipedia. Mark D. Weiser.