Pacinian corpuscle and free nerve endings are used to sense pressure. This corpuscle is a type of nerve ending in the skin that detects deep pressure and vibrations. The Pacinian corpuscles are located deeper in the skin than the Meissner corpuscle, which we will discuss later, and they contain specialized sensory cells that sense pressure and mechanical stimulation. When something applies pressure to the skin, it stimulates the Pacinian corpuscle, and this sends a signal to the brain. The brain processes the stimuli, and we perceive these as a sensation of pressure.
Free nerve endings are a type of nerve ending found in the skin that are responsible for detecting pressure, pain, temperature, and other sensations. These nerve endings are not associated with any specialized sensory cells, and are instead found throughout the skin, particularly in the deeper layers. When something applies pressure to the skin, it stimulates the free nerve endings, which in turn sends a signal to the brain. The brain then processes this information and we perceive it as a sensation of pressure.
Using pressure is not very common in architecture and design. There are physical phenomena that change the pressure of a space, such as weather, elevation, and depth, however designers usually look past it. Nonetheless, an architect can use the sense by affecting the size and shape of spaces–in order to use pressure, we must add either density to the air or pressure to the body. Both will work, but it is much easier to apply pressure through materials, actuators, and physical interaction. The question is what is the meaning behind the introduction of pressure–is it warm and welcoming like an embrace, or is it overbearing and dangerous, like a crushing weight? Furthermore, are there other meanings to the sense? We can apply some through storytelling. Narrative can run along cultural lines, or it can expand beyond, into new realms. However, we must have a reason for the introduction of the sense, to ensure that it is not frivolous and gimmicky.
The first thing to improve pressure in design is to acknowledge its necessity and use. This can be done with the introduction of a compressing aperture, like a narrow doorway with elasticity. This first experience places it in the menu of possible interactions within a space. Then, we must understand the story that is being told by the designer, and use pressure sparingly to provide an experiential moment. Minimal use is important especially at first. If desired, the design can build to a climax where the user is placed under pressure, which could be either a calming effect or a choking effect, depending on application. The designer must take great care to guide the user to one of these places, or another, as poorly communicated intentions can create adverse effects. Instead, try to have a simple story and simple plot, expressed through the senses.
If design were only pressure, then it would be quite surreal, but also a hearkening back to the womb. Most of us do not remember this experience, but a part of our brain may have a reaction to such a sensation. However, pressure does not only need to provide safety or comfort, but it also can communicate meaning. Think about how someone who cares for another will squeeze a shoulder or press their torso to another’s as a hug. These show caring, but what about someone who shakes hands too hard? Is this done to show caring? No, not likely. Instead, it is meant to show strength and some form of superiority, whether true or not. So, as stated earlier, the designer must have a strong understanding of the introduction of pressure, and also know what it means.
If design doesn’t incorporate pressure, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is an important type of touch that can be employed relatively easily. Most design doesn’t include actual pressure. In fact, a lot of design doesn’t have to, with so many senses to explore. But, it is immediate and personal and, although design does not need to include it, pressure is a relatively simple way to convey belonging or caring.
Some alternative uses for pressure include mapping or translating information from one sensory output to another. Also, sound is really air pressure, so the sense of pressure can mimic the effects of sound. In use, pressure can rise and fall, showing a story, meaning, or song. Furthermore, story arc can be represented by the shape of the curve, and the ups and downs of the curve can be expressed by rising and lowering pressure.
Adapting pressure to an existing structure can be difficult, unless walkways, corridors, and spaces are robust enough to meet the codes while interacting with the user through pressure. However, the introduction of the sense in places of movement or personal spaces are definitely possible. Movement is able to provide the input of pressure through acceleration. Personal spaces allow pressure to be applied like or by clothing, and doing such can be rather simple for placing pressure on the user consistently, but the variation of the sense and novel application can create new experiential moments that change the individual.
To use pressure, we should start with no pressure, then we would build up the sense and its placement. We must remember that pressure is on a continuous spectrum, where the introduction of pressure is not just on and off again, like 0s and 1s. Instead, it builds fractionally or steadily, and it is not just yes or no, but partially, mostly baby steps to experience. This can create more nuance for a structure, not just knocking the patron over the head with information.