Can you Taste Architecture?

Published on the 23rd of December, 2018

Have you ever found yourself wondering into a well-crafted architectural space and felt that it tingles each and every one of your senses? The organic form creates a dazzling effect on your eyes, the reverberation of people walking around and talking start to blend together into a tightly tuned hum, the aromas of the surrounding interior landscape is successful in tickling your nose, while your fingertips are invited to seductively touch the materials on the enclosing walls … and somewhat, inexplicably so, you seem to be able to taste smoked salmon in your mouth. No, they aren’t serving hors d’oeuvres, and no, you haven’t had any such appetizers for lunch (you had some fast food burger at the local mall, and it wasn’t exactly pleasant), but somehow, for some reason your brain cannot comprehend, you get a taste in your mouth that is akin to smoked salmon. Now, why is that?

Most of you reading this won’t have the faintest idea of what I am talking about, and those that continue reading up to this point will be doing so out of shear curiosity over the insanity of my proposition in the paragraph above, but others will connect with me on some level. Perhaps the flavor tasted from inside the architectural space isn’t a food item that can be easily associated with such places, but yet there are those of you out there that have experienced an indescribable taste upon entering certain spaces. This is called “Synesthesia”, where exposure to one sensory stimulate creates a reaction in another sensory receptor; someone’s name can inspire though afflicted with “Synesthesia” to see specific shapes or colors; a certain color can cause certain sounds to erupt within the ears; or some sounds can conjure up different odors…etc. Usually the “Synesthete” experiences one type of “Synesthesia”, and it is treated as a neurological disorder (regardless of how cool it actually sounds). However, some artists attempt to create opportunities for the general public to have such synesthestic experiences by relying on ideas associated to the sensory stimulant (bare with me). For example, in regions where the color red is culturally considered to be of a certain mood, the artist uses the color effectively to associate itself with a specific region that is known for their own food, music, materials…etc. This is where the art of design comes in.

 

When it comes to the sense of “taste”, it is a challenge to create a space that would encourage the general public to think of a specific food. Most of the time, when someone visits a particular place and starts getting his or her own personal weird cravings, it is because they associated something in particular within the space with that food/taste, and such a beautiful experience is often the result of happenstance and not any deliberate or careful planning on the designers part … but it can be. Designers cannot customize their public spaces to cater to each and every individual that walks through, but they can analyze the general consensus and plan accordingly. This is particularly helpful for F&B, Restaurant, Café, Bar, and Marketplace designers – the challenge is to encourage the user to taste the product the moment they walk into the space long before ordering their food.

 

But what tools does the designer have to orchestrate the user experience in an element that is extremely intangible as that of the sense of taste – especially given that the designer has no control over the chef that is preparing the actual food that is being served. While the designer cannot directly create the taste of the product, she or he can influence the user experience from a great deal. Attention paid to colors/color combinations, material choices/combinations, texture choices/combinations, temperature of the human body, seating arrangement, seating comfort, distance between tables and one another, reverberation time of space, sense of enclosure, sense of intimacy vs grandeur of space (tasting in small cozy pods vs that of large halls), surrounding aromas of landscape….etc, all contribute to the user’s overall experience and I believe can drastically change the perception of taste of any consumable.

 

The above paragraph describes the standard process of design when it comes to spaces related to the sense of taste – it does not however tackle how does one design specifically for one tasting experience over the other. Sometimes, the design is meticulously and impeccably done yet it allows the visitor to expect one tasting experience but gets serves another… creating an unwanted distortion and disconnect in the overall experience. Have you ever had a drink of water thinking it was seven up, or vice versa? What was your reaction? You most probably spit it out… its not that you don’t like water, or seven up, it just wasn’t what you were expecting and thus your brain (and taste buds on your tongue) are rejecting it. Same would apply when designing spaces for taste; the designer must dig deep into trying to understand what makes a sushi place different from the burger joint, than the pizzeria, than the kebab-gy. Designing for the culture of each of these spaces if very important, taking account what is the best way to sit, which tools to use, which plates best enhance the presentation, how the waiters serve the taste items, what drinks best accompany such tastes, what colors best describe these tastes…etc. The successful designer is one that can create a zone that allows the visitor to taste the food/drink/air as they step in, long before they have ordered or purchasing anything.

Until next time - Have an awesome New Year🙂

Mahmoud M M Riad

Director of RiadArchitecture