The body uses chemoreceptors to sense chemicals. These cells are found in a number of organs and tissues throughout the body, including in our taste buds, nasal passage, and respiratory system. When a chemical substance comes into contact with these cells, it stimulates the cells which send a signal to the brain, and the brain identifies the chemical substance and possibly provide a response. There are several types of chemoreceptors and each is sensitive to different chemicals.
The body is able to feel and experience the chemicals that are placed within, and they can be positive, negative, or neutral. Benign chemicals would include normal or healthy amounts of vitamins and proteins that help the body grow or stay strong, and some chemicals might be able to help the body reach a higher potential. Some of these include stimulants and steroids, however the designer has no business trying to suggest or provide chemicals to change the body and the perception of the world or reality. Instead, these must be personal choices, as the user will affect the body for better or worse, and it should be the user’s choice.
As humans, we use chemoreception all the time. Common chemicals that affect us are alcohol and caffeine, and there is an amazing array of other chemicals that affect us through our healthcare providers and pharmacy. Some of these can drastically improve the way we live and our outlook, but these are not to be considered by the designer, unless approved by a doctor or researcher, and these professions are not likely to coordinate their decisions with designers, as there are ethics, especially when working with humans.
Chemicals can help us and hone our senses, but they can also be very harmful and cloud our understanding and senses. This is why the designer should not be involved with the use of this sense. Some drugs and alcohol can alter perception and could even permanently affect the user. The chemicals can be placed in the body in many different ways, and these include: through the stomach, lungs, nose, ears, and skin–all of these are capable of sensing, and the ingestion of the chemicals can affect those senses or others, or the chemicals can go directly over to the brain to change the way the impulses from the senses are interpreted and acted upon.
We use the sense of chemoreception to alter, understand, or change our perception, and it must be up to the individual to choose whether to use these and change the experience. Some may want to become stronger or more observant, while others might want to turn off external reality, and some may believe it is necessary to use chemicals to improve life. Now, some chemicals might provide multiple effects, both good and bad. Again, this is for the user to decide, and is not for the designer.
The chemicals that we experience can be used or felt in any environment or time, although they should be controlled to avoid unexpected or undesired affects and changes. The sense of chemoreception is intensely personal and cannot be sensed the same among multiple people that partake in the use of the same chemicals. One can say this is very much like taste or possibly smell, because the sense is local and cannot be provided or sent across space. In this way, chemoreception is not like vision or hearing, but because it is sensed at the body, it is like the other forms of touch, taste and smell. In fact, some might argue that taste and smell are forms of chemoreception, although taste and smell use sensors on the exterior of the body.
The best time to use chemoreception is when all parts of the environment are controlled. There should not be any provocation, manipulation, or requirement to use the chemicals, and it must be entirely in the control and desire of the user. How the chemicals are provided and received can affect outcome, and the user must be calm and confident when choosing the chemical of choice, and the designer should not be a part of this. In contrast, the worst use of chemoreception is when the user is out of control of the body, context, and circumstances. With these beyond the users grasp, anything can happen, and the body can be harmed.
Another way to use chemoreception is to self-regulate the body to create the desired chemicals and effects. We can experience many chemicals because we make forms or similar types of the chemicals in our bodies. In this way, the body can recognize certain compounds and reacts in ways we can understand and control. Surely, we affect our brain chemistry when we react to external events and process our internal feelings, and we can improve our outlook and mindset with exercise. There are other ways to create chemical changes in the body without drugs and other forms of chemicals, and it might be the job of the psychologist or psychiatrist to explore these and not the designer.
Chemoreception is used to change the perception of the individual user and not a group. In addition, the way the chemical effects will vary from person to person. As such, it is not a very well controlled method of affecting the senses, so this adds to the ethical component that chemoreception is not a great method for the designer to provide a narrative. However, what is interesting is the sense of chemoreception will alter the perspective of the user, sometimes dramatically, depending on the substance. In this way, as a viewer it could be an excellent way to change the experience of the senses. But, it must be understood that there is not a central story or intent, as we have tried to explore with the other senses.
As stated, the designer should not explore chemoreception as a mode to provide a sense experience. However, it is a moral issue about whether to encourage or allow the individual to explore with the use of chemicals. In a liberal, free space, it would be an interesting variation that would allow a very dynamic installation. However, this is cultural, and many other groups would not be open to such exploration. As such, the offer to allow this should be weighed.
When, how much, and what type of substance to allow in the installation is another problem, since the individual is in control of providing the sense use. Use at the wrong time, of too much, or of the wrong type can create problems with the design intent and chaos or awkward interactions can result. Can we rely on the laws of the local, state, and federal governments to proscribe the substances? Are we at fault if individuals misuse chemicals? Again, it is likely best to not partake in this sense for experiential changes. But, if the sense is used, then there should be a controlled, safe environment for the individuals to interact with the space and installation.
The use of chemoreception can affect the individual in several ways. First, the use of chemicals can alter the way the user experiences the senses. The senses will have a different reaction without a substance than with the substance. Using a chemical might heighten, deaden, or change the senses, and it is crucial that the designer keeps this in mind, unless there is a complete loss of control of the experience.
Second, the use of chemicals can alter the way the brain takes in and processes the experience. The user may not remember or remember differently the experience in a previous use. Furthermore, the brain may take the input in a novel way. This will affect the overall experience because it will change the information to be acted upon.
Next, the chemicals can change the way the brain interprets and uses the input. The brain affected by chemicals will create different results from the input than a brain that is without the substance. In this way, the chemical can change the output vastly, and the user may or may not be in control of how the experience is analyzed and evaluated.
Finally, the use of substances can alter the way the body is able to act upon the output from the brain’s analysis and interpretation. The body might under- or over-react to the ideas and notions the brain produces, and the results could be extremely different than a body’s reaction without the use of chemicals. In this way, there are four ways the use of chemicals can affect the way we experience a space or installation.
The use of chemoreception is not a strong solution for a designer and the designer’s intent, however it is extremely strong for the individual to have an altered understanding of reality. In fact, it is possible to not even require a design for the individual to have a new experience, and arguably, it would be better to not have a design.
If the user is looking for a new experience and would like control or actual lack of control of the sensory understanding, then chemoreception is a fine way to use the senses. However, care in which substances, when to use, and how much to use is crucial for a good experience.
What other senses are like this? Nociception, hunger, and thirst are somewhat similar in that they cannot be experienced the same way by others. In addition, the experience of the senses is extremely personal and can only be understood by others through the use of similar chemicals, though the interaction will really be different.
As mentioned earlier, the designer should not use chemoreception to meet the design intent. However, if it were possible to have a safe and consistent reaction to chemicals, it might be appropriate to use the sense. Because each individual is unique, this does not allow the sense. But, the use of chemoreception allows complete virtual transformation of the environment, as the changes occur internally, within the user. This creates an interesting effect that allows elements to remain constant in reality, but vary from person to person.
To improve chemoreception, we must have it acceptable for all in the use with design. This requires care and consistency, and of course, the similarity in response across all of the users. It is not only physiology but cultural acceptance that must be surmounted in order for the use of chemicals. For example, some groups and locations allow the use of alcohol, while others do not. Some places allow marijuana, but most do not. Chemicals and their effects would affect where they were used, while some cultures will not allow any. Is it possible to change a culture to allow the use of chemicals in design? Should we try to do this?
If chemoreception is the only sense used in a design, the users and experience would be introverted and would not be shared among each. Therefore, it is an alternate and very different way to look at design, which is usually shared among those that experience the design installation. Typical design is an extroverted, communal experience, in most cases. To go interior is not necessarily canceling the fact that the experience is designed, but it makes it much harder to share and convey.
Most design does not incorporate chemoreception, though the use of some chemicals may open or inebriate the user, making the visitor more accepting of the design installation. However, this is up to the individual, and may not be allowed in the design space nor within the culture. Because we cannot control the experience and use of chemoreception, we won’t allow it, in general. How do we control intake? How do we control experience? Will we be able to do this in other experiential spaces, such as virtual reality or online presence?
Chemoreception is used to affect and alter the body, the mind, and experience. As such, it can be used in many environments, though we must define who has the authority to allow and control the use of the chemicals. Is this something in the realm of the designer–most definitely not. But, is a doctor the best authority? Or, is it better to be within the world of law? A lawyer? But, what if it is a spiritual leader, such as a priest or similar? In any case, it is likely needed that some controlling group has oversight of the use.
Because chemoreception is so individually based, we can use chemoreception with any building. But, the choice of chemical used is an important one. Something that alters perception may not be viable in a complex or deep space. A building with stairs and winding halls might not allow one to use chemistry to affect the experience. However, what is appropriate? What are the types of chemicals and how do they affect experience? Can these be matched with a space? Although this is not proper for design and its research, it is an interesting idea about how we can match chemicals with spaces. This is for someone else to explore.
Although the use of chemoreception in architecture may not be allowed or appropriate, is it alright to think about and discuss, even though it is not going to be reality? What if some groups allow it to be reality? What if some are able to experience and there is an imbalance of architectural and spatial understanding and knowledge. Would we be able to say that those that are open to experience and chemoreception via chemicals might have a deeper and broader understanding of architecture and space? Should we say this, if true?