Multisensory Design for Human Happiness

The future of environments in the age of adaptive technology

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Personalized poetics

There is a movement for sensory design to eliminate painful environments, and to even create sensory solutions that reach beyond comfort to build places where people optimize performance. Yet, it can do so much more.

The fusion of emerging adaptive technology with multisensory design can yield environments that help people to beneficially change, grow, and evolve through personalized poetics. In this case, the occupant journey through such environments proactively helps people to actualize their desires, dreams, and goals. This heightens the pursuit of human potential and happiness.

But what is personalized poetics? And how can environments embody this quality? 

Orchestrating stimuli in time

Within a musician’s environment the light brightens, a soft floral aroma fills the air, and the reverberating sound of what they play fills the room. Some may overlook such environmental sensory stimuli, but for the musician working in this architectural space, it makes all the difference. Now, what if the architecture changes dynamically as the musician plays their instrument? The room’s light changes its hue to mirror a sunrise, the scent of the landscape overrides the floral aroma, and the architecture’s materiality and form morph to alter the way sound travels to the ear. As the musician plays their masterpiece, the environment adapts to help this artist actualize their potential of mastery. Just as each cello string helps the musician to express their vision, the environment helps the musician to gain mastery of artistic expression. Thus, the architecture where the musician plays becomes a real-time adaptive extension of the artist.

Architecture and sensory design to increase positive emotional stimulation
Using architecture as a sensorial extension. Photo Jesus Henriquez, Pexels

As one can see in the example above, multisensory environmental design is not only about solving for painful needs, but is also about helping occupants to reach their highest levels of self-actualization. For this, architecture must orchestrate its stimuli both transiently and for the long-term. Since architectural features are positioned not only in space, but also in time, they can work together dynamically to create environments that proactively help occupants to grow into their best selves. This is how personalized poetics can work within architecture that leverages multisensory design to its fullest.

The golden thread

Yet, it is not enough to personalize the poetics of one space while surrounding environments remain dormant in their poetic interplay. For this, it is beneficial for environmental designers to personalize the poetics of different spatial interconnections, by finding the golden thread that travels within the occupant’s journey through these spaces. This includes poetic personalization of occupant discoveries, milestones, and goals.

Within a given architectural or urban design project, an important question to consider arises: in what order are the building features or urban buildings experienced? This matters because narrative, or sequence of multisensory environmental events, triggers the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors a particular occupant takes on as perception becomes action. Since an occupant narrative journey is not experienced in the same sequence each time, a nonlinear experience unfolds. And it is in this nonlinear experience where the golden thread can be found.

For example, an adaptive sensory designed school can use this personalized poetics approach by orchestrating the environment to change at just the right times, to help evoke the most beneficial behaviors that will make the most significant difference to a student’s learning journey. In other words, can a school’s design help a student to learn about a concept taught in the classroom through play on the playground? Or can a school help a student to make new connections between art and science with a personalized school corridor that displays student artwork and science projects strategically and dynamically? Multisensory design that is adaptive recognizes the order in which students engage with building functions throughout their day, and the adaptive sensory environment finds the golden thread between these activities to help students actualize their goals. In turn, happiness increases. It is important to note that this design approach extends beyond achieving short-term high performance (such as a grade on a test), but further grows into an environment that awakens students into learning how to learn, how to think, and how to increase creativity to actualize their own potential for the long-term.

 An unfolding sensory composition

Personalized poetics is marked by the way an architectural design proactively helps its occupants to self-actualize and pursue their desires, dreams, and goals. For this, it is critical to leverage multisensory experience within architecture and cities with design that reaches beyond the visual sense. It is with the orchestration of all the senses that an environment can have greatest effect, where its spaces are composed to help occupants actualize the unfolding masterpiece that is their lives. This “composition” that unfolds throughout a person’s life is key to finding happiness, and it is adaptive multisensory design that can help a person to sculpt such a composition with their life.

Main image: Architectural facade. Photo Scott Webb, Pexels

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