/ Sarah Jane Storrie / Arts & Culture

In our tough commercial reality how is it possible to engender joy from the experience of our buildings. At a technical level, buildings and in particular our interior spaces, emerge from an understanding of user needs in the form of briefing with the intended being interiors intrinsic to the architecture and not a finish applied afterwards. To get there, a structured briefing process is crucial as it provides an intimate knowledge of the user at different levels, potentially informing design decisions at all scales and becoming more personal the smaller the scale. This is manifested in that interior architecture, and should reflect this understanding of the user's requirements. Is that enough? One way to expand the potential of our contribution is to learn the lessons of others.

As we reflect on the spaces that bring us joy, we constantly rediscover how we can bring this enjoyment, that bit extra to the users of our designs. And in reviewing this experience certain recurring themes of importance emerge - attractiveness often arises out of a contrast with the broader context.

The brown brick of the imposing and rather austere external façade of the Grundtvigs kirke in Copenhagen is utterly transformed by light in the interior. The same brick appears different, and feels uplifting – nurturing a sense of the sacred nature of the space in the mind of the viewer.

It does not always need to be visible. In the Paimio Sanatorium, Aalto ensured that surfaces that we touch are timber but in a different form from the forest which defines its context.

In the Monastery of Santa Catalina in Arequipa, Peru, described by Alvaro Siza as “a magnificent lesson in architecture”, the sound of water in the courtyard fountain along with the birds it attracts mask the sounds of the city beyond.

And indeed this contrast can be an internal sequence. In the Villa Müller in Prague by Adolf Loos, as one moves from the blue/green, tight entrance to the large living area, wall finishes become the changing palette, shaping the character of the rooms.

These examples illustrate the importance of first defining what is important and special in each setting as the best guarantee of capturing that special but elusive quality that can engender a joyful response in future building users. That understanding enables us to focus our attention on aspects that we can amplify; surface, texture, sound, and light, creating contrast, stimulating surprise, a sense of wonder, perhaps the first step to joy.

Scottish Opera Theatre Royal, facade/interior contrast detail