Designing with the Senses Text II

When the above items have been answered, we can begin to map out the senses in preliminary and schematic design. In the first pass, the chosen senses should be enumerated, and strategies on how to employ them may be determined. If the method of the senses’ use is not yet known, we can revisit this in the design documentation and contract documents phases. In any case, during the preliminary and schematic design phases, the sense experience can be documented with text as notes and annotations. The notes may be general, provided on the first pages of the design, but they may already be topical at certain locations in the design. Furthermore, the annotations in the early stages, beyond notes, could be leaders to locations in the drawings, providing key information.

With multiple passes at the design, a collection of sensory experiences will be curated and the use of a heat map diagram can be used to illustrate location, type, and degree of the senses. Using the standard projections of the project’s design is a fine base to mark the locations. Because the use of the senses is meant to add dynamism to a scheme, the designer should feel comfortable using sections, elevations, and three-dimensional drawings, as well as the standard plans, as underlays for the heat map diagram.

Type of sense can be conveyed through color or a symbol for the heat map diagram. We should be careful with the choice of color for the senses, as we may think of the traditional five senses: hearing, touch, smell, taste, and vision, however there are around twenty senses we discuss in this work, with many of them related to touch. So, we might choose five colors for the typical senses, but we might also have color variations for touch, though we need to worry about any conflict in meaning with the degree of the sense and sense color. Alternately, we might use symbols in conjunction with color for the great array of senses.

Finally, we must diagram the degree or amount of the sense. This can be done in the heat map diagram through the saturation of the color, so lighter equals less of the sense, when using color instead of a symbol. With the use of a symbol, we can use the size of the symbol to denote the amount of the sense used. In this way, a larger symbol would equal a greater amount of the sense used.

The heat map diagram is a very useful drawing to develop and reference in the early stages of design, because it illustrates a spatial and experiential quality that is absent with the use of traditional architectural drawings, like plans, sections, elevations, and perspectives. However, we can use additional methods of representation in design document and contract document phases of design. These additional methods include tags with annotations, schedules, and details.

When designing with the senses, we can introduce a new tag to our drawing set. The geometry of the tag might vary, but we will use a pentagon, because each side represents one of the five traditional senses and because we do not usually use the pentagon for any other tags in architecture. In this way, it does not compete with window, furniture, material, wall, or lighting tags.

Within the pentagon we will use an abbreviated form of the sense and a number. The abbreviation simply marks the sense used, and the number provides which variation or experience is used in the location tagged. In an example, we can use multiple scents in a design, and we would mark the tag with “SM” for smell and a number for the instance, such as “SM1” for citrus in the kitchen and “SM2” for vanilla in the conference room. Here are the suggested abbreviations:

TO Touch
PS Pressure
CO Cold Thermoception
HT Heat Thermoception
PR Proprioception
TE Tension
ST Stretch
VI Vibration
EQ Equilibrioception
SO Sound
TA Taste
SM Smell
CH Chemoreception
TI Time
TH Thirst
HU Hunger
VI Vision

Next, these tags can refer to another form of documentation common in design: the schedule. The schedule would include all relevant information for the plans and may also refer to additional cutsheets or manufacturers specifications. This list of sensory information would provide in a compact form, easy to take in at a single view, much of the necessary description that is not or cannot be described in the drawings, annotations, and tags. Likely columns to include in the sense schedule are:



Brief Description


Defining Properties (such as Wattage, Solution, or Volume)

Reference to Relevant Details or Cutsheets

Beyond the schedule, we would have the details of the sense experience, which would provide material and dimensional information about the assemblage of the experience through traditional orthographic projections and three-dimensional drawings. A sensory experience may have only one detail needed to explain the design, or it may have several, depending on the complexity and abstraction of the design. We should be aware that drawings are useful for design but not everything can be conveyed through two-dimensions on a drawing sheet. Nevertheless, the details, schedules, and tags with annotations should provide enough information for the contractor or consultant to understand how to construct and install the sense designs.


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