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The Power of Scent for Architectural Design

I came across an interesting article recently entitled Scent as Design. In it, the author discusses topics that were brought up during a recent symposium that was held to promote thought on the implications of using scent in design. To no surprise, it was shared that within today’s “modern lifestyle” we typically tend to “cover up” and “clean up” scent — without tapping into the vast potential which it holds. It seems that many of today’s cultures trend toward eliminating scent, without accentuating it — even though everything has a smell.

Just think about that for a moment, everything has a smell. Don’t you think that architects today should uncover what this widely underestimated sensorial stimuli can hold for their designs? But now that we know that the olfactory sense is significant, what should we begin to do as designers to make our creations even better?

When Scent Can Enhance the Visual

I was particularly struck by a particular thought from the above mentioned article that says that stimulating the olfactory sense in your design can help your occupants be more present. So, if your occupants were more present within your design — might your occupants function better and feel better when within it? Also, might the incorporation of scent help you as an architect attract your occupant’s attention at a certain moment during your occupant’s experience of your designed built environment?

In the article Scent as Design, it was noted that when experiencing scent, an occupant may inadvertently “tag” an object or make “associations” with it. Of course, you can see proof of this already by simply thinking about the branded scent of a particular perfume or the smell of a new car. In and of themselves, scents can actually become part of a brand, a style or even a culture. If you look hard enough, you can see many examples of this in today’s world, and certainly, I think there is much untapped potential when you really begin to delve into what designing for your occupant’s olfactory sense can do for your work.

As architects, it is time to think about smell as more than just being good or bad, associated with food, a new car or even perfume. Tapping into the power of the olfactory sense will mean a refinement of your own “palette”. As you go through each day, you should start to become consciously aware of the different scents you experience both while outdoors and indoors. Soon, you will begin to realize that there is an almost “invisible” dimension which you can integrate into your design work to make your architecture pop in all the right places.

Think of Traveling Through a Space With Only Your Nose

With this post, I will leave you with one last question for you to ask yourself:

If you were to travel through your architectural built project using only your sense of smell — would you be able to find your way? How would you distinguish transition between spaces? And how would you know what to do and when? Also, how would different scents make you feel, think or behave?

Already, you are probably thinking of some basic smells which you identify with certain spaces. For instance, what smell do you think of when you envision a bathroom? A bakery? A church? Or a school?

Now, push the boundaries of the “default” smells that come pre-attached with your building materials. You should use smell on purpose to create entire olfactory environments. Escape from the “cover-up” mentality. Go beyond simply making everything smell clean. Use your design talents to push the envelope — what might different scents do for a school for instance? Furthermore, what might different scents do for different classroom types within that school? Should the art room smell different from the math room or even the computer lab?

Then, start to think about how smell can impact not only emotional and intellectual associations, but then be processed through to occupant behavior. In short, it is time for you as an architect to get re-acquainted with your sense of smell — the often underestimated and untapped design resource with so much potential.

Image Credit: © claude.attard.bezzina | Flickr

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