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 a 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 I would do 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 a calming effect or a choking effect. 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 vestigial part of our brain may have a reaction to such a result. 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, ensure you have a strong understanding of the introduction of pressure, but 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. Really, 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 convenient and personal so, 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. Sound is really air pressure, so the sense of pressure can mimic the effects of sound. The pressure can rise and fall, showing a story, meaning, or song. A story arc can be represented by the shape of the curve, and the ups and downs of the curve can be expressed by rising pressure 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. However, the introduction of pressure in places of movement or personal spaces are definitely possible. Movement provides the input of pressure through acceleration. Personal spaces allow pressure to be applied like or by clothing. 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 can change the individual.
To use pressure, we start with no pressure, then we build up the sense placement. However, 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.