In order to explore the sense of taste we must place items in our mouths, and for this reason, taste is likely the least important for architecture. However, it is not completely unimportant, and we can use taste to accentuate the other sense elements in a design. The one program that has taste as the main sense is the restaurant. A well-designed restaurant will be designed around the food, and with this program all the other senses support taste. However, this is likely the only type that is this case.
Taste relies on taste buds on the tongue that have receptors that detect, salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. These receptors send signals to the brain to be interpreted as specific flavors. The interaction of the sense receptors is similar to that of smell, and smell is very often used in combination with the sense of taste to affect flavor. In fact, aroma is often confused with taste while eating.
We taste for the description and enjoyment of food, but we also use this sense to understand the composition of the item being eaten. This is similar to the way we use smell, where the sense experience itself defines the item in focus. This is helpful to develop a knowledge and understanding of what is unhealthy or fatal for us to eat; we develop memories of flavors and we associate feelings and descriptions of each of these. In addition, there are certain flavors that we have come upon or developed a negative connotation with naturally–these flavors taste bad without any previous experience.
We use taste when we put items in our mouths, and there are a limited number of ways to understand this experience. However, there are a myriad flavors, given the combination of the five taste types. Although we think of food and drink first when looking at taste, we can also taste things without ingesting them. This is a questionable way to analyze objects and is not encouraged unless you have knowledge of the item’s composition.
Unlike other senses such as vision, hearing, and smell, taste cannot be experienced over distance. In this way, it is similar to touch. Therefore, we need to near items to taste them. This can be accommodated by placing the food, drink, or other at the location to be experienced and coordinate how the other senses interact or not at the location. When we use multiple senses, smell is a natural pairing with taste, but so is touch, especially because we must be near an object to use both of these senses.
Like all of the other senses, taste can provide variation in experience. It does this by varying the salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami profiles to create many flavors. By defining and separating these taste types, we can draw direct relationships with other sense characteristics, such as color per taste type, where salt could be blue and umami could be purple. But, how do we make these associations? Again, it is likely that any sort of correspondence would be via cultural preferences, and in this way it is very important for the designer to understand the cultural context for the design implementation.
Most likely, we should not use taste in all design cases. It can be used as a surprise or moment of delight. And, it can be used in specific programs as given above and with other senses. When using taste, we will always have at least one other sense, which is touch, because we must touch to taste. However, other senses that pair well are smell and color. But, what about hearing? How can we use hearing in relation to taste? This can create some very novel and creative designs, and we should not discount this.
There are times we should not use taste. First, not everything should be tasted, and what is should be well-defined. Furthermore, certain programs and events should not incorporate the sense. Solemn places, such as funerary services, would not be a good location for taste, but where the grieving gather afterwards could be an excellent place. The use of the senses reinforces culture, and taste is arguably the most important in terms of culture. Ownership of foods, drink, and cooking methods helps build cultural identity. In this way, the designer should think about the culture, but also how to bridge between cultures through food, and therefore taste. Defining the similar or complementary tastes between cultures can bring them together, as food is the most basic and necessary element for human survival.