Your Building Design Can Trigger Profound Occupant Emotional Memory

There is very interesting research going on right now which is indicating that there could be neural connections in the brain “between the senses (hence, sensorial stimuli) and intense memories”. (1)

Instinctively, do you know such connections exist? Have you ever listened to a song and instantly been transported back to a certain time and place in your memory that this song seems to be unexplainably linked to? Or have you ever walked into a room that has a certain smell which instantly reminds you of an experience you had a long time ago? Or what about seeing something that triggers your memory, reminding you of a conversation you once had or a place you once visited? And in each case, did an emotion surface as a result of the sensorial memory trigger? Well, such is the research by neuroscientist Benetto Sacchetti which focuses on those possible “links” which are like narrow bridge-like connections tying together emotional memory and the senses.

If there were such a neural “link”, what would this mean for you as an architect and your building design? Would you purposefully embed certain smells in a school to encourage comforting home-like emotional ease to help foster learning? Or might you play certain sounds (or songs) while at work to help boost productivity and/or creativity to yield more frequent and better quality results with less stress?

It is important for you to realize that such positive outcomes can result from the materials and other sensorial stimuli you put into your buildings — especially in the details. Thus, certain material properties, lighting displays and even geometric architectural arrangements are likely to serve as acute triggers for powerful emotions in occupants. Through their senses and into their emotional memory, you can think of the effect of an inspirational museum or a touching memorial where architectural moments lead visitors on a journey through their senses and into their emotional memory.

In other words, as an architect, you need to understand that what you put in, you will get out…and this will have either a positive or negative effect (with consequences) for your occupant.

Of course, designing to purposely trigger memory can be a tricky thing, and some may say that it is an art to be able to do this well — and at a high level. So, even if there is a definitive link between the senses and emotional memories which they may bring to the surface, I think it is your job as an architect to act as a surgeon at times, knowing how to extract and guide those memories within your designs, so they can resurface, form, be realized, felt and appreciated by your occupants.

As an architect, with the right ingredients, you can create such a vessel — delivering the right environmental stimuli to the senses, and thus, triggering not only memory, but also profound emotion.


(1) Found: Possible Link Between Emotional Memories and Sensory Triggers. Discover.

Image Credit: © Soul wind | Fotolia




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