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The Sixth Sense

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Complex forms have become more common within the last several decades in an attempt to stretch the boundaries of what is architecturally possible. However, by emphasizing form, so many other important aspects in creating a successful building have been left behind.


“Through its blinkered emphasis on visual form and function, has modernity divorced us from our sense of belonging to the cosmos”

Juhani Pallasmaa’s The Sixth Sense: The Meaning of Atmosphere and Mood discusses how throughout the modernist movement architects have forgotten about creating atmospheres, and a sense of place, preferring to prioritize the importance of architectural form. Complex forms have become more common within the last several decades in an attempt to stretch the boundaries of what is architecturally possible. However, by emphasizing form, so many other important aspects in creating a successful building have been left behind. Pallasmaa argues that by only focusing on the most obvious sense (sight) the other senses which combine to create a sense of place have been neglected. I believe this is a very fair assessment, as I have been exposed to this line of thinking throughout schooling as well as my architectural placement. I believe as architects we are often encouraged to develop interesting facades and unique forms but as a result the interior spaces of a building suffer. By attempting to create a visual experience, our other senses (smell, sound, and touch specifically) are coincidental an afterthought.

Modernism has favored an elementarist view where entities are assumed to arise from elementary units and percepts. However, when we study our perceptions and experiences critically, we seem to be perceiving essences of complex multi-sensory entities such as the characteristics of spaces, places, landscapes and urban settings in an instant

This idea is very interesting to me, as I believe it challenges the thought process of many modern architects. In my experience whenever designing a building, I often imagine spaces as if I am within them: A long hallway leading to an open space emphasizing the most significant view in a project, or a grand entrance intended to create a specific feeling within the user. Although I attempt to create these “moments”, in retrospect I almost never consider the other environmental factors that are being represented as a whole. Although sight is the simplest way to experience architecture, there is so much more needed in order to create a memorable experience for the user. Experiencing architecture with only your eyes does not do it justice. All of the periphery sensory information needs to be simultaneous creating a sense of place that is unforgettable.


Pallasmaa expresses this point by stating,

We have developed, as other animals to various degrees, two independent yet complementary systems of perceiving; one mode of precise focused perception and the second of diffuse and unfocused peripheral scanning” and later, “Focused vision detaches itself from contextual interactions, whereas atmospheric observations fuse and unite all the sensations through the sense of being and self”

By understanding the different ways people perceive space I believe architects can begin to design spaces that better support their intentions. By only getting people to focus on something like a unique form, they often block out other significant aspects that are involved in a space as a result. However, in order to create a sense of atmosphere and a sense of place, all of our senses need to be activated to create something that is unique.


After reading through this paper, I have drawn a comparison between creating atmospheres in architecture and cooking that has changed the way I think about design. In cooking, each ingredient plays a significant role in creating a dish; each ingredient has its own characteristics, but only by combining them, do they create something that looks, smells, tastes and feels different than the sum of the individual components. Even if the same ingredients are used, the way in which they are incorporated as well as the quantity create a drastically different result. In architecture similar elements can be used (such as materials) but the way in which they are used foster different feelings within a space.


Architecture is the sum of our senses; individual stimuli is not experienced independently but in conjunction with one another simultaneously. This shift in perspective has forced me to reconsider my thought process and truly understand what type of atmosphere I want to create while designing. How does the space smell? What sounds can you hear? How does the floor feel beneath your feet? All of these aspects should be considered just as important as what the user is seeing. By taking this approach moving forward I hope to create spaces that are more significant to the users while leaving them with a much more memorable experience.

ADAM-PETIT-THESIXTHSENSE
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