August 8, 2014

Creating a sensory experience

What is it that makes some spaces wonderful to walk into?
It is that indefinable “something” that just makes it work. You cannot identify exactly what it is, but the space is both comfortable to be in, yet exciting, with a sense of discovery.

Architectural theorist Juhani Pallasmaa (stay with us here) has stated that “buildings have turned into image products detached from existential depth and sincerity,” and expounded a return for architecture “to address all the senses simultaneously and fuse our image of self with our experience of the world”.
Nowhere is this more important than within the interior spaces – the spaces in which we occupy and live our everyday lives. Creating a sensory space, one that fulfils one’s body with sensory stimulation, the smell of the coffee, the chitter chatter of people in the café, watching people pass by on the street from within, is a connected space. Henri Lefebvre, a 20th Century French philosopher, wrote of sitting in his apartment with the windows open, experiencing the sounds and smells of the market street below and feeling connected to the street, the community and the city as a whole.
A space that is sensory does not have to be “designed”: some of the most delightful food spaces are ones that happen on the street, or back street, the tumbling down spaces, not the coolest place in town, but they do have an authentic connection to ourselves, to our past, and to our community.
But what is a space that is sensory? It is simply one that works to fulfil all the five senses – touch, hearing, sight, smell, taste, not just our eyes. Sometimes the most engaging spaces are the ones that are overwhelming in their noise, light and smell. That is why street markets can be such an unforgettable and memorable experience. It is these spaces that evoke memory, stir something deep within ourselves, and make us feel a connection. It might be the tactile timber used on the wall in your local café, or the crumbling brickwork outside, or just the hustle and bustle of a market café, but it is these elements that build to create a space that works; you want to come back to it time and time again.
It is also the sense of discovery created within an interior that creates engagement with the people who occupy it. Perhaps it is the space slowly revealing itself and unfolding as you pass through it, experiencing it bit by bit rather than revealing itself completely as you enter. It is spaces that talk to you, adding their own personality, that become memorable. It is the quirks, the oddities, the small things that you notice when you spend time in the space that add to the flavour. It is like forming a friendship and slowly getting to know each other until you feel like comfortable old friends, understanding and celebrating oddities with each other.
Spaces that create a narrative, and share that personality and bring a sensory experience together as a clear storyline are the ones that stay with us. It is the dimly lit wine bar in New York selling wine carafes labelled “cheap”, “decent” and “good”; it is the noisy sushi bar in a Tokyo train station with the sushi chefs lined up at the bar all working their craft with the customer queue outside, or the middle eastern desserts piled high in the window of a London High St restaurant waiting to be eaten. We have all shared experiences like these.
In the design of the coffee roastery, Code Black Coffee, we aimed to create all of this, a space that fully engaged people with all of their senses. They could smell the coffee, see the bean production, taste the food from the open kitchen and feel the tactile materials within the customer zone. It is a space that has had a surprising reaction from everyone who visits; although perceptions of the space can be different, they all have a deep level of engagement with the design.
It is this understanding of the deeper need for the return to these sensory spaces that will create a meaningful connection for customers to new hospitality designs and successful future food concepts.
ZWEI (German for two) started operating 7 years ago when Hanna Richardson (German) and Katherine Kemp came together in a creative collaboration in Melbourne. Both have extensive experience in interior architecture, as well as a passion for great food and coffee.
Now with a multidisciplinary team, Zwei specialise in hospitality design and offer clients creativity, experience and a pragmatic approach that delivers exciting, sensory spaces.

Photos by Michael Kai


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