Each of our five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste – plays a key role in how we experience the world.
When it comes to the design of buildings, architects are increasingly designing with all of these senses in mind. The impact of sight, sound, touch and even smell are obvious enough, but taste? I can hear you now thinking “who tastes a building? That sounds like some kind of obscure listing in the DSM-V.”
Maybe thinking of our sense of taste when it comes to buildings is not so crazy, however. Finnish architectural theorist Juhani Pallasmaa argues that to be truly meaningful, architecture should awaken all the senses.
“I have experienced on a number of occasions that certain qualities of stone, for instance, certain metals, detailing of wood, can be so subtle that you feel it in your mouth,” he said.
Pallasmaa cites an example of entering a building in California made of rough, grey stone with a white marble threshold, saying that the “whiteness of marble juxtaposed with the rough stone almost made me automatically kneel and taste the surface with my tongue.”
Panagiotis Hadjiphilippou from the University of Nicosia argues that while most of us may not want to literally lick the building materials, architecture can make our mouth water just through the sight of appealing materials.
In a more obvious way, when it comes to workplace design and how design can impact productivity, taste is a key concern. What people eat can have a profound impact on alertness levels. For example, one study found that a wandering mind is key to creativity – but drinking too much caffeine can make you too focused. To boost creativity, the study found you could trick your mind by drinking decaf coffee while pretending it is caffeinated.
What employees eat during the work day – and where they eat – can also have a significant influence. Are your employees eating carbohydrate-heavy fast foods at their desk, or does your office provide a space for employees to take a break and eat meals prepared with real ingredients that will truly fuel and nourish them?
In another context, taste is of course an incredibly important consideration for restaurant design. Designing to amplify diner’s experience of taste is an emerging area, and according to Bernard Lahousse in his talk Food = Interaction, some restaurants are experimenting with augmenting dining areas with varying temperatures, sound and projections to alter and enhance the taste of food. Indeed, a study by molecular gastronomy professionals and scientists from Oxford University found that altering the surrounds – or the ‘sensory architecture’ – including lighting colours, physical materials, textures, sounds and smells greatly affected taste perceptions and enjoyment.
When it comes to design, our sense of taste has traditionally been neglected. But as studies are showing, quality design can absolutely influence and impact on our experience of taste. It is an exciting and emerging area. By actively seeking to enhance a building’s features for all five senses, we can appeal to people on a deeper level and subtly increase the pleasure they feel within a space. And there’s nothing crazy about that.