Bringing all 7 Senses to life through Design

What are the 7 senses?

Outdoor spaces are those where all of the senses are heightened. How could they not be? There could be beautifully scented blooms, the sound of wind moving through trees, the cool of a shaded garden, the taste of a herb or a vine-ripened cherry tomato as well as the feel of grass underfoot. There’s the five senses in one paragraph! However, it’s a misconception that we only have five senses. Just like the seven deadly sins and their corresponding heavenly virtues, we have seven senses to take advantage of in our landscape design. All seven are important in how we view and move through our urban lives, and in the case of early childhood settings, bringing them to life through design is essential.

According to the 7 Senses Foundation, spaces that incorporate all seven senses are critical for healthy and happy communities that cultivate activity and play, inclusive of people of all abilities and levels of wellness. Sensory-focused design is the way to achieve this.

Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

Just like Water Sensitive Urban Design takes into account the sustainable management of water, sensory-focused design has a multifaceted approach and impact. 7 Senses Foundation have a fabulous library of research pieces that are a great reference, but put simply when we design against the seven senses we’re extending beyond the bare bones of accessibility to take into account more broader considerations of disability and neurodiversity. Again, this is a highly simplistic explanation. Every design has an individual brief against a client’s requirements, be it an early childhood centre, a residential home, a community project such as a development’s constructed wetland or a commercial office space, and so the level of sensory inclusion is variable.

So, what are the seven senses? We all know the first five:

Sight, Smell, Taste, Feel & Sound

Here are the bonus two:

Proprioception & Equilibrioception

Proprioception is how we make sense of where our neighbouring body parts are positioned and the level of effort we need to coordinate movements, otherwise known as spatial awareness. Picture a climbing wall where the legs and hands have to work together to get up and over that wall, or to climb through a tunnel. It’s also actions like clapping, marching in time and skipping.

Equilibrioception is based on the vestibular system and refers to the perception of our body in relationship to gravity, movement and balance. It’s how we know the difference between standing up and lying down, which is why tinnitus can be such a debilitating symptom to experience as it knocks the vestibular system around. In early childhood settings the educators take advantage of their equipment to develop this sense, which is why we see lots of swings, balance beams, jumping and rolling opportunities. Kids love testing out their equilibrioception which is why the old school washing lines were so popular as play equipment and why parents have to repeatedly refit towel rails to bathroom walls.

7 Senses in application

One of our favourite projects from our archives is a kindergarten where we created a hill that had a slide down one side, wide enough for at least five tots, with a tunnel to crawl through, and ramps to roll up and down, but best of all? It sat under the shade of a giant deciduous tree (already existing on site) that in autumn as its leaves dropped gave the children a huge bed of leaves to slide into which thrilled them no end. There was also an unholy amount of possum poo on site, but we’ll just ignore that, shall we!

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Obviously, as we go about our day to day activities of living we use our senses to navigate the world around us. Often, one or two senses tend to dominate while others are left in the background. One of the most discombobulating and distressing symptoms of Covid infections was the loss of taste and smell that some people experienced. People expressed not really knowing or understanding the impact of these two senses on their state of simple pleasure until they lost them. It’s really important for all of us, but especially young developing people to use all senses, and actively seek out the ones we don’t use as often. Children need spaces that allow them to test their boundaries while experiencing all of their senses, and we know that fall incidents increase with ageing, so design elements that can safely support proprioception are really beneficial across the community.

Photo by Jane Slack-Smith on Unsplash

We love the diversity of our work and where our expertise can make spaces that heighten the senses – all of them! To find out more about our work or to have a chat about how we can support your landscape project, contact us here!

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