De Vorm Pod Sessions | Sissel Tolaas

The scent is the only sense that is directly linked to the brain. It is one of our strongest senses. One smell can take you back to your childhood, a memory of that perfect holiday or your first love. Nobody understands the power of scent better than Sissel Tolaas, ‘nasalnaut’ and olfactory expert.

Sissel Tolaas is a Norwegian expert when it comes down to the sense of smell. In her Berlin lab, she supports interdisciplinary projects and research involving smell, odour, and fragrance. The lab establishes communication between experts in different fields dealing with olfaction. She argues that in many interior design cases, the visual aspects are leading while there is so much more to gain.
The work of Sissel Tolaas gained worldwide recognition winning numerous awards and scholarships, like CEW, New York award for chemistry & innovation and Rouse Foundation Award from Harvard University GSD. The renowned smell expert cooperates with many global institutions like TED Global, World Science Festival, MIT, Stanford University and many others.

Holistic approach

“We have hardware, called the body, and we have five amazing pieces of software called the senses. And I think we need to create environments where all of these senses are challenged somehow. Environments are primarily driven by visual qualities. That’s not enough, not at all.”

Especially when you realize that the average human breathes in and out 23.000 times a day. It’s also the oldest sense and the first one we developed as creatures. But still, smell is very underrated.

“Take this Pod Privacy Chair for example. It’s good for conversation because it kind of isolates the sound. Sound, acoustic, light, the tactility, the smell and the air. It’s so important. The mission is not accomplished before you have all those elements in shape.”

Opportunities for better spaces

“If you enter a hospital, you get sick just by the smell of it. I think it’s a very underestimated variable knowing that kids have the most developed senses. You’re born with amazing alert senses and it seems that nobody cares. The acoustic is lousy, the smell is disgusting. The light is oh my god! And if we just improve that a little bit, the outcome would be radical.”

There lies the challenge for designers to incorporate all the senses when designing the next project. Acoustics has taken the architectural world by storm in the last couple of years. The smell is the last frontier in architecture. An exciting one. Because people only notice smells when it’s bad or good. But everything smells and that is an interesting concept to play with. You never forget a smell and it’s forever linked in your brain to a certain place and time.

“And we think the smell is just something that happens outside, somewhere else to it, but we inhale smell molecules all the time. Even when we sleep, we smell. We move 12,7 cubic meter air every day. Every breath we inhale is information. So if we could do something, use that in a way.”


About De Vorm Pod Sessions

Pod Sessions is a series of interviews with prominent creators and thinkers of our time. They share their thoughts on workplace design, the essence of art and the creative process. The interviews take place in our Pod PET Felt Privacy Chair.