Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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posted on 2021-07-28, 23:46 authored by Sheehan, Liam

The dominance of vision within the human sensory system, particularly in fields such as Architecture, has created an ocular-centric paradigm prevalent in Western architectural culture. “Experience” is an architectural design thesis that uses Virtual Reality (VR) design techniques to explore how we, as designers, can affect spatial presence by integrating other bodily senses within virtual environments. “Experience” integrates four senses, Vision, Audition, Kinaesthesia and Thermoception, as combined for exploration.

The relationship between the human senses, in particular thermoception, and the spaces we experience is the particular focus of this thesis. Juhani Pallasmaa’s theories of sensory fragmentation have been applied as an important critical theoretical approach. This study aims to determine the extent to which our less commonly simulated sensory functions can be used within VR design to experience virtual spatial qualities. Specifically, it introduces a physical thermal atmosphere around the VR user to alter spatial and sensory perceptions and create virtual atmospheres. The development of a real ‘spatialised’ heating environment allows the thermal qualities of virtual space to be perceived by the user.

In this context, space is defined as the experiential medium that situates itself within the bounds of a room. It is not of a fixed size, nor does it have fixed qualities. Instead, this research applies Henry Lefebvre’s ideas that the body creates space due to the relationship between the body’s deployment in space and its occupation of space.

Through theoretical reviews and James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson’s artwork analysis’, ‘Experience’ generates an understanding of spatial perceptions, human sensory experience and space. These understandings were then applied to the virtual environment through a range of computational design means.

The ideas of sensory fragmentation were then applied to a series of design experiments. Each sense was treated as its own sensory system fragment, which allowed a series of conceptual, and developed spatial, interventions to be created. Each spatial intervention provided unique insights into the independent sensory fragments, which eventuated in the design of the final holistic sensory experience.

The final sensory design, titled Sensationalising VR, results showed how sensory balancing must be achieved before implementing new sensory experiences. Thermoception, the body’s ability to detect magnitude and direction of temperature changes, proved to be a fragile sensory fragment that requires careful balancing when being engaged with other sensory stimuli in a VR setting.

The conclusions resulting from “Experience” suggests that the human sensory system’s visual bias can be usefully augmented; it can be shifted, altered and even removed by designers. The introduction of a spatial thermal atmosphere around VR users is shown to affect the perception of presence in that space.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Title

How sensory engagement can produce atmospheric qualities

Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Moleta, Tane; Schnabel, Marc Aurel; Brown, Andre