“This house smells like leather. That’s what it looks like.” That’s one of my favorite quotes from our 2013 Residential Architect Design Awards jury. (Winners will be announced soon, BTW.) And the juror was right—the house in question did look, in the best possible sense, as though it smelled like a beautifully worn-in leather chair.
His comment reminded me of the subtle but very real importance of scent as an element of how we experience buildings. (I’m not talking about added fragrances, but rather the natural smell of wood, stone, and other organic elements.) Peter Zumthor mentioned this notion in his RIBA Royal Gold Medal address last month. “Architecture is not about form, it is about many other things,” he said. “The light and the use, and the structure, and the shadow, the smell and so on.”
San Francisco firm Aidlin Darling Design also alluded to the relationship between scent and space when I interviewed them for a 2011 story. “We’re designing to all the senses,” said Joshua Aidlin, AIA. “The human body has an amazing ability to absorb information in many ways.” And some of my own strongest memories of homes I’ve visited are scent memories, such as the faint but evocative smell of cedar in a house in Seoul, Korea.