Architecture by all senses

December 4, 2013

5The text Irigaray for Architects by Peg Rawes gives an introduction to the works of French philosopher Luce Irigaray. An important part of Irigaray’s writing is the concept of the sexed subject, and the assertion that women and men experience space differently.

The excerpt of text given for this course focuses on sense-based interaction with architecture. It emphasises the hierarchy between abstract and material knowledge, as well as the greater importance placed on sight compared to our other senses.

It is interesting to question the focus on sight traditionally found in both the design, and imagined use of architecture. While we do discuss concepts such as acoustics and tactility, we certainly spend much more time thinking and talking about how a building looks than how it sounds, smells, tastes or feels. Our first and foremost tool as architects is always the drawing or image.

What would happen if this ceased to be the case? Would architecture be different if the design process began not with a sketch, but with a noise? If instead of drawing a shape or a plan, we began by imagining what a room might smell like, or how the floor would feel beneath our feet? If spaces were written before they were drawn.

I think this would result in an architecture that offered richer experiences to our other senses, than most of the visually conceived architecture we have today. However, it would be difficult to suddenly change one’s way of working. To be able to try this, perhaps we must first learn to experience existing architecture with all our senses. This is not easy, as we are so biased in favour of vision. A way to try might be to temporarily remove sight, and force ourselves to use our other senses more fully. By doing so, create an experience of space based on touching, hearing, smelling, tasting, that can be utilised in future projects.


Source: Peg Rawes, ‘Introduction’; ‘Touching and Sensing’ in Peg Rawes, Irigaray for Architects, London: Routledge, 2007.

Malin Ahlgren Bergman



2 Responses to “Architecture by all senses”

  1. ninelniazi Says:

    Nice post!
    “Democracy Begins Between Two (1994/2001)” & “To Be TWo (1994/3001)” (P. Rawes p.3)
    In my opinioan, niether materialistic nor, abstract/senses are valueable by their own! but a mixture of both in architecture will be a master piece.

  2. gerdholgersson Says:

    I agree with your thoughts about the hierarchy between sences and the superiority of the eye in our culture. This I would guess is related to the imagined idea about a certain connection between eye-brain-knowledge-rationality, as opposite to “other sences”-emotions-irrationality. I just want to add to the discussion the importance of the tools we have in hand, the tools that have functioned as means to gain scientific knowledge as well as to entertain ourselves and understand the world around us. The last century, I believe, has been a century of the eye: the rise of the camera, the moving images, the X-ray, the visual culture offered by computers and similar devices.

    To move the focus from the eye towards the body as a complex whole new techniques to communicate and value the knowledge gained from smell, touch, sound, emotions needs to be developed. This is a process that has already started but it will be fun to see what comes out of it.

    /Gerd Holgersson

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