Sensory Design: Lessons from a Tea Cup

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Image Credit: © patrick george | Flickr
Image Credit: © patrick george | Flickr
“Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea.”
— Yoshio Taniguchi

This quote highlights why sensory design is indispensable. The act of enjoying the tea is fostered by the teacup just as sensory architecture enhances occupant experience. Both the teacup and sensory design must be sensitive to human needs.


With interactive design, a sensory teacup could integrate user sensory system factors like temperature and flavor. The same sensory teacup could also adapt itself to the particular tastes of each individual drinker. The sensory teacup could even adapt itself in real-time as its tea level decreases. And yes, the tea cup could even use technology to make the tea more physiologically healthy. In the end, this tea cup still exists to enhance the experience of drinking that tea.


As architects that design for the senses, it helps to understand latest findings in other fields such as the field of neuroscience — where much is being uncovered about how the human brain and central nervous system work. As we tap into the inner workings behind the senses, emotion and physiology, we will be better able to create spaces that comfort, motivate, teach, remind and enhance experience. (This becomes evermore important as new technologies and materials surface.)


The question then becomes — Can we, as architects, enhance experience without losing sight of what makes that experience so special in the first place?

About the author

Maria Lorena Lehman

Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary artist, designer, and author focusing on links between environmental design, science, emerging technologies, and human potential. Lehman is founder of MLL Atelier, an art-based architectural design research practice. Maria Lorena Lehman is author of the award-winning book entitled, Adaptive Sensory Environments. She is recipient of the Harvard University Digital Design Prize for the "most creative use of digital media in relation to the design professions". Lehman also creates sculptures and paintings described as "visual poetry of motion that is a new inspiration" by Daniel Smith, the company that creates watercolors for artists worldwide. Maria Lorena Lehman holds the degrees of Master in Design with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Architecture, Cum Laude, from Virginia Tech. She is internationally published and in numerous periodicals, including The Architect's Journal, Esquisses Magazine, Architect Magazine and Forbes.