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Sentinent Space

Leman Figen Gül, Elif S. Yağmur-Kilimci, Mine Özkar

Published Jul 24, 2020

We are now on the trajectory of the ultimate challenge of redesigning physical space, one in which invisible layers of technology appear to be ‘dematerializing more and more of the world around us’ (Shepard, 2017, p.2). With the proliferation of digital information / computational methods and integration of these with placemaking, we experience the emergence of ‘Sentient Spaces’ which can be defined through their three pillars: the Built Environment, the Inhabitant, and the Architect.

With a wide range of complex technologies and devices – from microprocessors and electronic identification tags to sensors, cloud systems, and networked information systems – The built environment is being transformed into the Sentient Space saturated with new capabilities. The built environment of Sentient Space can sense, record, recall, process, respond to information, and provide its inhabitants' opportunities for new kinds of activities and experiences. The Inhabitant of Sentient Space is defined no longer as an owner or user of a building or a city but as an ‘active engineer of atmosphere’ (Baudrillard, 2006). Typically, the materiality of architecture exists in “atmosphere” which is, in Peter Zumthor’s words, “this singular density and mood, this feeling of presence, well-being, harmony, beauty... under whose spell I experience what I otherwise would not experience in precisely this way” (Zumthor, 2006, p. 2). Our experiences have an effect on our sensations of an object. As such, there is both a deep connection and a tension between what a designed object, e.g. an architectural space, is intended to be in reality and the inhabitant’s sensation of it, the illusion as Gropius calls it, and the alternate reality that is the ‘Sentient Space’ as we would like to call it.

The Architects of Sentient Space have opportunities to imagine/dream of new kind of spaces that may be composed of complex geometries/forms/images/information/knowledge, spaces that can afford new activities, spaces that inhabitants can interact in a variety of ways and means, spaces that would not be possible to materialize before. By employing digital technologies and exploring the sensory qualities of space, architects can manipulate inhabitants’ sensation and thereby interpretation of a space. This interpretation and experience of Inhabitants are what we, as architects, would be interested in. In the light of this new sensorial potential, we need to re-define the basic conceptual framework of architecture to accommodate the sensor-based qualities of materiality of interaction that the inhabitant would perceive / experience within Sentient Spaces. We also need to accommodate and experiment with new design technologies, mediums in our design thinking processes, and devise new ways of designing in order to design the sentient spaces.


Baudrillard, J. (1996). System of Objects translated by James Benedict, Brooklyn, NY. p.26

Shepard, M. (2017). Toward the sentient city. In Mark Shepard (ed.), Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing,

Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space: 15-45. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Zumthor, P. (2006). Atmosphere: Architectural Environments- Surrounding Objects, Birkhauser Verlag AG.

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