You encounter a mysterious man offering you a magic potion that, once sipped, will make one of your senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) super sharp — but dull the others. Will you sip it, and if so, what sense do you choose?
I’ve talked before about the effect architecture has on the senses and how important it is, as an architect, to think about not just how people will use a building but also how they experience it with all their senses. If I had to single out one sense to sharpen in my experience of architecture, above all others, it would be my sense of touch.
Architecture is a tactile profession, much more than visual. The shiny pictures you see in magazines, the high-res websites and big screen shots with over-done lighting and special effects….this doesn’t even begin to do a building justice. As an architect, once I’ve created a basic form for a building, I start thinking about materials, colors, light and shadow. The first of these is the most important – materials. Building materials have a texture, a feel, and they evoke an emotional response. If you take a piece of dimensional lumber from your local hardware store in one hand and a piece of rough sawn lumber from a saw mill in the other you’ll know what I mean. The same material, perhaps even the same tree, but a completely different feel and a completely different response to each. Dimensional lumber is cold and hard; almost sterile. The rough sawn piece is warm, and rough, earthy. The first makes you think of a construction site – lots of sweaty guys hammering and sawing, etc. The second makes you think of old woods, cabins, relaxation and a deeper connection to the past. All of this is gained through your sense of touch first. Sight, smell and taste come later. And, yes, I’ve been known to smell and taste wood…I’m weird. What?
And there are so many other building materials to apply the same comparisons to – brick, stone, concrete, tile, gravel, shakes, shingles, nails, screws, drywall, plaster, stucco, siding…the list goes on. All of these materials can be experienced almost completely through touch. So, the next time you enter a new building, take a minute and touch the walls, the floor, the door trim. Try not to pay attention to the sights and sounds. Get to a more visceral experience of architecture. You may get some strange looks – I know I do – but it’ll be worth it.