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05. Scent as a Multidimensional Material

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

For the ultimate sensory experience, architects and interior designers need to consider scent an essential building material.

Like many of the creative arts, there are strong crossovers in both the creative processes and the terminology that is used to describe the particular art form. Music is described in terms of notes, accords and compositions. There are harmonies - sounds that work well together, textures and each instrument carries certain weight - from the deep vibrato of a bass drum to the light chromatic range of a violin. Fragrance is no different. We compose notes and accords to form harmonies replete with texture, each with its own unique “profile.” Even a perfumer’s array of aroma chemical and raw material bottles, from which they compose their creations, is displayed in such a manner and likeness that it is called a perfumer’s “organ.”

While music and fragrance may have the most overt references, architecture and fragrance creation are synchronized in a similar fashion. In fact, when one speaks of architecture, ideas of composition, material and structure are inescapable. Experiencing space and aroma go hand in hand, in particular from a phenomenological standpoint where the physical form of the space affects the metaphysical, emotional and experiential component of inhabiting that space. Architecture and fragrance share a form of sensory sequencing of space - as we move through a built environment, we experience what the architecture intended us to experience - a guided, sequentially unfurling story that reveals more and more as we move through it. Like an onion peeling away its layers. As a result, we process and interpret the space in either a complex or simplified, yet visceral manner that helps us understand our being in that space. That is why great designers use all of the tools at their disposal - form, light, texture, material, sound and scent, in a precise manner that truly leverages our investment in the experience and the story the designer wants to tell.

Those very same ideas found in architecture, exist in perfumery, and in more similarly striking ways than one would imagine. The anatomy of an aroma is generally described in what’s called the fragrance pyramid - a literal graphic pyramid depicting the molecular weight of raw materials and aroma chemicals and how they are structured and arranged to effectuate an olfactory composition. What’s fascinating is that the perfumery pyramid - base, mid and top notes, graphically translates to the key components of a building - foundation, core and envelope, and even more interestingly, they represent the same conceptual properties. A fragrance’s base notes represent the foundation of the aroma - raw materials and aroma chemicals that have a higher molecular weight and longer-lasting scent profiles (in architecture, think stone, concrete and steel. In aroma, think woods, musks & resins). Heart notes, such as florals and spices, are the connective materials that link top notes with base notes and directly correlate to a building’s core - the link between the foundation and the building’s envelope, a “spine” if you will. Finally, at the top of the pyramid diagram we find what is commonly referred to as the top notes. These are molecules with light, evanescent and sheer characteristics that act with various degrees of transparencies, and that give us an initial impression of the perfume - exactly the way a lightweight glass curtainwall would do in architecture - it’s primary duty being to allow in varied amounts of light, but also it is what makes the building or space iconic at first glance.

The next time you experience beautiful architecture or an amazing space, take note of the entire spectrum of your senses. Ask yourself if what you see, hear and sense is in alignment with what you smell. If it all falls into perfect harmony, chances are that your visit will be a true multi-sensory experience to remember. It’s equally important to state that a beautifully designed space that incorporates the visual and textural cues without engaging the olfactory sense, is a like story without a protagonist or a musical without an orchestra. #ScentOfArchitecture #ArchitectureOfScent #OlfactoryBranding #ScentMaterials #ScentPyramid #ScentMusic

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