Post 51 –by Gautam Shah
(Lecture series: Space Perception -Article-VI of 15)
There are main two facets, each for Smell and Space. Both are real, and also manifest in recollections. For design considerations, visual, audio and tactile experiences can define a space. But smell alone cannot define a space. Smell, like the vision and hearing, is not a space scaling factor. A spatial experience arises from the shape, size and scale of a space, but its smell chiefly emerges from the environment of the space. The source is not part of what we perceive in a smell mechanism. A space through its configuration and openings allows concentration or dilution of smell forming elements. The smell generating elements are of two basic types: materials of space forming and habitation. The built spaces have smells of their own, whether it is an unused relic or inhabited entity.
Sense of smell is related to spatial remembrances, but not as a single phenomenon. We recollect it, in association with other things like the visual and audio qualities of space. Once we smell something, the recollection of a particular situation or space is powerful. It is difficult to imagine smell of a place from representations like audio, photograph, video or description.
Our spatial experiences with smells are substantially environmental. An actual space with the interlaced environment lets one to predict or recall comparable ‘smell-conditions’. A lay person, however, cannot separate out the space, environment and its smells. The role of some architectural components typically openings and volume are basic to the living with the smells. Smells change with environmental conditions, like it is more effective in dry and cool, but higher temperatures cause smells to feel more pronounced as it spreads further.
Intensive engagement and temporal over-exposures to good or bad smells, are traumatic due to insufficiency of breathable air. Smells form dislike for the space-environment and cause loss of comfort, well being, concentration, productivity and appetite. The sense of smell is a basic element for comfort though influenced by experience, expectations, personality and situational factors.
Smells have a connection to feel good or bad aspect of a space. And this varies with the communities. In confined indoor spaces the concentrations of odours increase many times due to lack of fresh air for dilution. The sense of smell gets fatigued with such intense and continuous exposure. This is beginning of physiological and physiological side-effects. Sense of smell, however, can recover, if the stimulus is removed.
The smell ‘habituation’ depends on physical conditions and memories of past exposures to similar situations. The sensitivity and ability to perceive smells are unique to each person, but the capacity to discriminate odours, reduce with exposure and age. The threshold before an odour becomes a nuisance, depends on the frequency, concentration, and duration of an odour. Memories of odours are significantly more intense and evocative, than those recalled by the visual or audio cues.
‘Most memories that pertain to an odour come from the first decade of life, compared to verbal and visual memories which usually come from the 10th to 30th years of life’. ‘Odour-evoked memories are more emotional, associated with stronger feelings of being brought back in time, and have been thought of less often as compared to memories evoked by other cues’. (Willander, Johan & Larsson, Maria. (2006). Smell Your Way Back to Childhood: Autobiographical Odor Memory. Psychonomic bulletin & review. 13. 240-4. 10.3758/BF03193837.)
Smell is a primal sense. It impacts relationships with people, liking for places, foods, and products. The sense of smell enables pleasure, can subconsciously warn of danger, help locate mates, find food, or detect predators.
Of the common sensorial perceptions, Olfactory function directly relates to emotion and sense of well being. The emotions are, some universal, others culture specific but mostly associative. The smell is seamless, and if ‘neutral’ in effect, there is no acute need to trace its source. An incense in church, temple or mosque may add devotional fervour, but one infused in commercial and public places, is more subtle, masking with a less emotional content. Smell branding Commercial spaces include offices, trade-booths in exhibitions, fashion-shows, large format retail outlets, hotels, automobile showrooms, metro UG stations, passenger air crafts, etc. Smell branding of such spaces serve many different intentions like: familiarity, reliability, loyalty, memorability, consistent identity, productivity, promote sales, provide sense of well being, inculcate safety-security, thematic alignment, etc.
“Today, Hyatt Place’s signature scent can be found in almost 300 hotels across the U.S. The scent is such a proven brand asset that it has been codified as a brand standard that defines the company’s experience and brand personality”. -https://hbr.org/2018/04/inside-the-invisible-but-influential-world-of-scent-branding.
Studies show that humans can distinguish about one trillion odours. Smells are part of culture and belief systems. In spite of the vast ability to distinguish one smell from the other, it has not been possible to formally define that into some rational classes. Smell, like colour or texture has been difficult to describe characteristics. Colour and Texture are now codified, but sense of smell still evades the definition. We do not have any plausible vocabulary for different smells. We tend to identify the source of smell rather then its class, like eggy, meaty, floral, nutty. Aristotle classified odours in Seven categories: aromatic, fragrant, alliaceous (garlic), ambrosial (musky) hiricinous (goaty), repulsive, and nauseous.
“–there is a geography of places characterized by variety and meaning, and there is place-less geography, a labyrinth of endless similarities. –Ralph 1976-140 “.
Japanese Government identified 100 locations with ‘good fragrances’, and the list includes: early morning markets, old books stores, grilled sweet-fish of the Gogasegawa river, and Nabu rice crackers of Morioka.
The smell defies codification mainly due to lack of mechanics to measures it. The WHO defines the annoyance threshold for odour nuisance as being at a level where five percent of a specified population experience annoyance for two percent of the time. But this are personal or cultural references.
English word Perfume literally means ‘to smoke through’ and that relates to fire and warm air. And so does the word incense derives from Latin incendere meaning ‘to burn’. Perfume is a ‘mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents’. Perfume and its evaporation process is metaphorically compared with music, as having three sets of notes rendered out in time. The Top note offers the introductory impression, such as mint, lavender and coriander. The head note arrives before the diffusion of the top note and masks the often unpleasant initial impression of the head note. These smells include seawater, sandalwood and jasmine. The base note, after nearly 30 minutes of the application brings in depth and solidity to the experience of a perfume. Examples of base notes include tobacco, amber and musk.
Perfumes were used primarily by the wealthy to mask body odours resulting from infrequent bathing and lack of urinals in large estates (Versailles Palace) in 16th and 17th C. The smells were sought to be suppressed with cuttings of Orange trees. Fruits of citrus plants (Latin =Hesperidium), provide fresh, fleeting and effervescent fragrances. The Hesperides are nature nymphs in Greek mythology. By extension, the garden they tended also was known by that name. Other scents derive from: flowers, greens (freshly crumpled leaves, cut grasses), spices, foods and beverages, wood and mosses, resins and balsams and animal smells.