Cold Thermoception

The use of temperature, especially cold thermoception requires us to change temperatures from a baseline to allow variation in experience. The baseline would be a tepid temperature, which would vary with the ambient temperature, as the seasons provide differences that our bodies accommodate, so a tepid temperature in summer will be warmer than the tepid temperature in winter. In any case, our bodies thrive with changes and the best cold experience will be that which contrasts with the hot or tepid. In addition, we do not want to have consistently low temperatures, which would nullify the effect of cold experience. With this said, we must have full control on the space where we incorporate cold thermoception into design, which means a permanent space is likely to be interior, although we can have a temporary design installation in the late-spring, summer, and early-fall seasons that highlights cold.

Before using cold thermoception, the designer should understand the meaning of the experience of cold. Of course, a breeze of cold air on a hot day is pleasurable, but is there another meaning to cold? Some would say that the cold is about death and nothingness, while other cultures might feel that the cold brings creation of form, making the abstract or nebulous concrete. In most instances, architects and designers only think about temperature in relation to comfort, but cold, just like the other senses can convey information and encourage certain feelings or thoughts. We must ensure that we understand the context we are bringing the cold sensation to and then have a distinct and specific meaning for the application of the temperature difference. When using cold thermoception, it is most likely that the designer will also want to include heat thermoception, which though using different sensors, provides similar experiential qualities with the undulation in temperatures.

If one were only to use cold thermoception in a design, the experience would be limited in dimension, as well as use of the senses. Our body is able to experience cold through sensors in the skin, but to feel a great difference in cold, other than a minor change to ambient temperatures, we must allow time for the cold to sink in to provide an understanding of the magnitude of cold. This is not viable in many instances, as we must control the entire environment’s temperature and we may not want to put the user through such extremes, which could cause sickness or possibly even death. Nevertheless, to use only cold thermoception, we must have a higher temperature to provide a differential which allows the experience of cold.

Beyond ambient temperature, most design does not incorporate cold thermoception, so it is an opportunity to explore what the sense can provide to the visitor. Without the cold, we have a continuous moderate to warm temperature which will feel dull and monotonous. This might be the intention of the designer, and so it is a point that no variation will provide a very static environment. As such, other senses may need to be toned town to complement the effect, or they may want variation to contrast the cold thermoception sensory experience.

Again, the use of cold thermoception requires variation of temperatures to feel the full import of the change to cold. Without this actual and experienced change, we would not register the cold temperature. With this change, there should be some meaning that is associated with the temperature, and this is based on the cultural context. What is the cultural meaning for cold in the location of the design? When working with cold, first design with hot–this will allow the experience to fully develop.

In an existing space, we must control the temperature for a baseline, then introduce the cold inputs. Will this be with blowing air? Refrigerated surfaces? Ice with food and drinks? It is very likely that the use of cold thermoception will work in conjunction with other senses to create the sensory moment. As such, it is important for the designer to have full control of the narrative that is desired, so that the interaction of the various senses does not create a muddled experience because of interference. Furthermore, the designer must not intend to use cold thermoception constantly, so that the experience of cold is registered by the user.

To counter the experience of cold, we of course can use heat, however what other senses or emotions can we use? With concentration or ire, the visitor can overcome or ignore the feeling of cold. Furthermore, with separation, the user does not need to experience cold thermoception, as it can be separated from touch and insulated.


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