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Architecture as a means of

conveying emotions
Laurent Khuat Duy

Philosophy in Architecture (7X700)

dr. J.C.T. Voorthuis

been countless times witnessed empirically.

Suffice it to mention the number of people who,
every year, come to Paris to see the Eiffel
Tower, or fly to Bilbao to experience the
Guggenheim. They go there to see something
new, something that will make them live and
adventure with memorable emotions.

The perfection
Do you really think such a beauty exists?
A work of architecture that would universally be
recognized as beautiful, a design that would
automatically put a smile on the face of its
visitors or owners?

What is interesting is to understand how a

building triggers emotions in an individual.
Besides their traditional sheltering function,
buildings speak. Alain de Botton (2006) adds
that the buildings invite, rather than force,
people to share their lifestyle. In fact, it is not
solely the visual aspect of a building that makes
it attractive, but also the values it conveys. This
is a very strong idea: it means that if we find a
building beautiful, it might not be because of its
visual appearance, but rather for what it
symbolizes. As a consequence, there can be as
many visions of beauty as there exist visions of

If yes, think twice. Those who have made

architectural beauty their lifes work know only
too well how futile their efforts can prove . It is
in these words that Alain de Botton (2006, p. 1718) describes the vain effort of architects that
believe they can enforce happiness by the sole
beauty of their designs. He adds: Not only do
beautiful houses falter as guarantors of
happiness, they can also be accused of failing to
improve the characters of those who live in
them. Is then architecture as a means to
influence peoples behavior a chimera?
I dont believe so. This is what I will
demonstrate, as we explore the question of how
can architecture be used to create strong
emotions, and how is this fact being used in our
modern society?

De Botton stops there, but I would like to go a

bit further, because this last statement raises
the following question: does this divergence in
values from person to person constitute an
unsolvable problem when we want to generate
a unique design?

The first part of the question will be explored by

looking at the book of Alain de Botton, The
Architecture of Happiness (2006). The second
part of the question can be answered in several
ways. I decided to present one of them, namely
how architecture is used as a tool to influence
peoples behavior through consumerism, as
described by Kevin Ervin Kelley in his essay
Architecture for Sale(s): An Unabashed Apologia.

A priori, we could think that if the building does

not convey the values that the architect
intended the visitors to experience, it is in itself
a major design failure. And since each of us has
a different values and visions of a perfect
design, this seems like an impossible challenge.
Fortunately the task is not as desperate as it
could seem, because what really matters is that
only the majority of the people for whom the
work of architecture has been designed respond
to it as the designer intended. It is thus of
primary importance to take into account the

Creating emotions
In our question, we imply that a building is
capable to generate emotions. This fact has

as music, touch, smell, feeling of safety or body

perfection) with the new product.

cultural environment in which the building will

be placed. A futuristic building in a progressive
city will not be welcomed the same way in an
historic medieval city. And a medieval city in
China will not welcome a gothic cathedral the
same way as a medieval city in France would.

So would an architectural masterpiece be in

fact a mere commercial display? A giant one,
with all the lights, bells and whistles, but still a
machine with unconfessed lucrative goals That
is what we are going to explore in the next

In that respect, the design of a building is similar

to the design of a commercial: if a new beauty
cream is designed for women between 20 and
40 years old, the designer wont care whether a
70 years old man doesnt like the commercial.

Architects at the heart of a design


and using them.

In his book Commodification and Spectacle in

Architecture (2005), William S. Saunders
gathered ten essays on the role of architecture
in commoditization. I have chosen to focus on
the essay of Kevin Ervin Kelley (2005) because it
fits particularly well in our attempt to describe
how architecture can be used to influence

Now imagine that we have defined our target

our target audience, that is, the profile(s) of the
people that we want our building to have an
impact on. How do we know they will like the
In fact, what makes us like a place? Everyone
has experienced that: there are places where
we really feel at home. They could even be a
library, or a restaurant, but those places are in
harmony with us. Alain de Botton (2006)
explains that the reason for which we like a
place is that it reminds us of our ideal self.
Things in our surroundings embody ideals we
respect. We arrange our home in such a way
that we are reminded of who we want to be, of
what makes us feel at peace.

Kelley does not see merchandizing as an

immoral thing. As long as lies or long-term
negative impact on health are not involved,
retail can be seen as a positive contribution to
people well-being. This can be by the life
improvements that the product will bring, or
simply by the shopping experience itself. For
example, a shopping mall, by its existence, will
offer social places, such as cozy cafs, where
people could enjoy the atmosphere as part of
their shopping tour. Such a shopping mall could
be seen as a giant trap where people are subtly
manipulated and pushed to consumption, but
Kelley thinks otherwise: we [designers] think
that we are helping stores get credit (purchases)
for the things they do well. (2005, p.55).

In fact, this is the main reason for which we buy

objects, especially decorative ones: it is a bit like
buying a virtue or an ideal lifestyle that the
object represents. We can expand de Bottons
observations by having a look at marketing
strategies: in a commercial spot, the real quality
of the product does not takes the front of the
scene. Rather, the goal of the 20 seconds is to
make us associate things we already like (such

What is interesting is the place of the architect

in this consumerism trend. Kelley states that the

architects are educated to see themselves as

artists that can distinguish themselves from the
materialistic-oriented parties, traditionally
perceived as dishonest. In reality they should
instead embrace the opportunity to have a role
to play in giving the visitors a positive
experience by helping them getting pleasure
through their purchases.

regain their (lost) power. But to my point of

view, he is rather defining a new kind of job,
which is not systematically applicable to all
We could therefore position the architects over
a gradual scale: on one end would stand the
traditional architect. His role is to design
buildings that facilitate the functioning of the
institution that occupies it, and/or is of pure
aesthetic purpose. On the other end of the scale
would stand a consumerism-oriented designer,
who would combine architectural competencies
with marketing and economics competencies.
He would be the central brain of the marketing

I can only agree with Kelley up to a certain

point. While casual consumption of non-needed
goods can provide pleasure and is harmless, the
border with manipulation is often not clear.
Casual purchases can give an ephemeral sense
of satisfaction while in the long run leaving the
customer in a bitter state of disillusion.
Furthermore, it is well-known that lots of goods
are designed to maximize the addiction of its
consumers. Up to a point where people cant
stop consuming (alcohol, bets, Coca-Cola) and
tumble toward their ruin.

As we could see, in consumer-oriented places,

architecture is used to generate emotions and is
part of an overall marketing strategy. The
strength of the architect lies in his creativity. A
good idea will make the sale, not the
construction plans. Kelley supports this opinion:
Our major emphasis should not be on
negotiating and selling construction documents.
We ought to sell our ideas and give away
construction documents [] Ideas are not
related to square footage; they should be sold
based on their ultimate value to the client. A big
idea merits a big paycheck. (Kelley, 2005, p.

Kelley points out that the current role of an

architect is subordinated to an overall strategy
whose purpose is to make people consume. He
deplores this position, because instead of having
marketing and advertisement agencies buying
out architecture services, the architect could be
adopting a more capitalist-oriented mind: he
could widen his role by being at the center of
the design and being the one calling for the
services of marketing agencies. In fact, Kelley reoriented his own company from a role of
architect to a role of designer, as it
encompasses not only the architectural design,
but also all other aspects (marketing,
advertising, branding) that gravitate around the
sale of products. As mentioned earlier, these
products will be representative of a specific
lifestyle and the values it implies.

I would like to illustrate the usage of
architecture as an influence medium in a
mercantile environment through two examples
to show how different designs can trigger
opposite emotions, and still be used to attract
the customers.

Kelley seems to point to a general direction that

the architects should follow if they want to

Example 1: Frank Gehrys EMP

The Experience Music Project is a museum in
Seattle, designed by Frank Gehry and funded by
the Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen. Laid down
besides the gracious Space Needle in the heart
of Seattle, Gehrys deconstructivist building was
considered by many locals as blasphemous
(Frank, 2005).

Fig. 1. Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle.

Outdoors view.

Seen from outside, the window-less undulating

shape of the building is uncommon and catches
the eye.
The structure seems to be in
movement, floating in the wind. It makes the
visitor want to know more Once inside, we are
in for a surprise: apparent structural elements,
metallic foils, and various styles are mixed
together in some sort of cacophony. A giant
cone made of guitars reaches for the ceiling.
Our visual senses are aggressed from all
directions. Every wall is sculpted in a different
way. Visiting this museum is like an exploratory
journey, designed to trigger our emotions, to
shock us with the unexpected. We browse from
one architectural style to the next, without
aesthetical coherence, but this is the way that
the museum displays the major innovations in
architecture, as well as in music.

Fig. 2. Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle.

Indoors view.

The plan of Paul Allen, as explained by Thomas

Frank (2005, p. 69), is to make a monument to
himself, permanently re-image Seattle as a postindustrial town run by and for persons such as
himself, demonstrate high-tech gadgetry (that
you might be inclined to purchase or use later
on), and become financially self-supporting.
Fig. 3. Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle.
Guitar tower.

So clearly a monument to himself and his

products, while keeping the cash balance
positive. This illustrates how a shocking
architecture can be used for self-promotion.

Example 2: Marina Bay Sands

When I went to the Marina Bay Sands, I had a
strong feeling of peacefulness. The climate was
moist and hot, but the presence of a large bay
of water gave it a peaceful atmosphere. When I
wandered closer to the building, in the late
afternoon, the fresher temperature, the open
terraces and the fountains made me feel like I
was walking through Zen gardens. When
entering the building, which is in fact a giant
shopping mall overhung by apartments, I had a
similar sensation to the one I had when entering
a cathedral: the tall ceiling reaching to the sky
and the daylight filtering through the windows
conveyed a strong impression of majesty. The
shopping area in itself was rather similar to
nowadays commercial centers: clean, neat and
luxurious. In the evening, free light shows were
scheduled, and I could enjoy the panoramic
view from the lounge bar at the top terrace.

Fig. 5.

The atmosphere was very relaxing, with the

added bonus of the pleasure of discovery and
the wow-effect created by the grandiose
architecture. It could keep me there for a long
time, which is precisely what the retailers
expect from their visitors.

Fig. 4.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Indoors view.

We have learned from Alain de Botton that
buildings talk to us. They generate emotions
whenever they evoke us some values or a
certain lifestyle. This capacity is not a specificity
of buildings. It also holds for other types of
products, such as consumer goods.
commoditization, complete marketing strategies
are set into place, and architectural design has a
major role to play. Kelley encourages us
architects to place ourselves at a key point of
the design process rather than remaining a
subordinated tool that generates construction
plans. The strategic design ideas should be at
the center, rather than the architecture plans.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Outdoors

We illustrated by two examples how

architecture is being used nowadays to generate
emotions in the consumer, and make him want
to spend his time in a consumerism-oriented
building. The generated emotions are rather
different, but both approaches reach their goal
in their own way.

De Botton, A. (2006). The architecture of happiness.
London, England: Penguin Books Ltd.
Saunders, W. S. (2005). Commodification and
spectacle in Architecture. A Harvard Design
Magazine Reader, 1.
Kelley, K. E. (2005). Architecture for Sale(s): An
Unabashed Apologia. A Harvard Design Magazine
Reader, 1, 47-59.

I found that de Botton and Kelley exposed in a

relevant way how architecture can generate
emotions and how the latter can be used to
influence people as a part of a marketing
strategy. However it is important to mention
that these are only chosen examples showing
the usage of emotion in architecture.
Alternative mechanisms to generate emotions
through architecture can be found in other
studies such as Emotion in Architecture by
Simon Droog and Paul de Vries (2009).

Frank, T. (2005). Rocking for the Clampdown:

Creativity, Corporations, and the Crazy Curvilinear
Cacophony of the Experience Music Project. A
Harvard Design Magazine Reader, 1, 60-77.
Droog, S., & De Vries, P. (2009). Emotion in
Architecture The experience of the user. Electronic
book retrieved November 19, 2013, from
Fig. 1 Retrieved November 19, 2013, from
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Fig. 5 Retrieved November 19, 2013, from