Designing for Zen Spaces

Figure 1.

For several decades, yoga in the western world has been strongly permeated by a set of oriental techniques and practices.1 It is an art that poses challenges of functional, environmental, aesthetic and aura driven principles which we, as architects, must continue with it, to actively adapt.1

This can be achieved in many different ways. Those which are completely focused on the human being, as they seek to find peace and stillness in the spaces and environment around them, I find is the most effective.1 These spaces allow and inhibit the disciplines of healing, reflection, contemplation and introspection not only by the practical arrangement of the floor plan but by the atmosphere it creates.

For me, the experience of stepping into a yoga studio for the first time, was in many aspects like coming home after a long day. It was raining one cold, winter afternoon, and I had very low expectations with little knowledge of yoga at the time. When I arrived, I was caught by surprise at how much my mood had instantly changed. Coming out of the rain and into a mood-lit, echoed space. It was at the beginning of my journey into the studies of architecture and was one of those eye-opening moments where I was reminded of why I love it so much. That day, I came out learning two things. How to manifest a practice of mental and physical clarity, and also the power of architecture and how it was able to move me with its atmospheric quality.

In Peter Zumthor’s Atmospheres, the author talks about the fundamentals of quality architecture that derive not only from reading, designing, drafting and planning a piece of architecture, but equally from how and when a building moves you.2 This beautiful, natural presence that is able to move us in such an unearthly way, is referred to as “atmosphere” and is arguably the most difficult part of executing a project.2

When challenged to design something to satisfy a yogi’s physical, psychological and spiritual needs, for architects, it seems rightfully important to analyse and understand how this translates spatially.1

From my personal experience, I would conclude two spatial instances that most effectively facilitate my practice.

Figure 2.

One would include a space that is drawn by the surrounding landscapes; A very effective method in attempting to bring a sense of place and mimic a connection to the earth informing the decisions for materials and colour palette.3 Bright and welcoming qualities are achieved through the use of soft fabrics, muted tones, lots of natural light and tactile furniture.3 Studio Saxe in Costa Rica is one example that is very reflective of this approach, using it to accomplish an organic, sensory experience for their guests.3

Figure 3.

The other instance, coincidently, does the opposite. The space is noticeably separate from the street outside and is purposely situated to isolate and disconnect from the nearby context.4 Dark and moody materials which are able to absorb light and sound are directly interpreted from the spiritual fundamental elements of light and reflection.4 A studio that does this really well is Cntre Space in Perth whos goal is to enhance self-exploration practices through the use of resources, teachings and set surroundings.5

Figure 4.

Ultimately, the focus and essence of yoga remains an inward reflection and contemplation. The quality of the practice remains in the hands of the yogi and the teacher. One would argue the external doesn’t matter at all and in fact even being in a space that has no architecture at all ie. by the beach, or in a forest is arguably better for the yogi. But if a man-made studio can mimic nature’s sense of tranquillity and spaciousness then the two can compliment each other and truly provide a fruitful experience.

Every yoga studio design approach and execution is different of course, but they all have one common goal.. to create a safe space for guiding your inner landscape, healing and reflection. Certainly, the experience is best facilitated when all the essential elements of atmosphere and tactility come together to inform the perfect yoga studio interior.


  1. Jose Tomas Franco, “The Key Architectural Elements Required to Design Yoga and Meditation Spaces,” Arch Daily, October 18, 2016,
  2. Birkhauser, Peter Zumthor Atmospheres (Germany: German National Library, 2018), 7,11.
  3. Katie de Klee, “Warrior One yoga studio uses textured surfaces to reference the nearby sea,” Dezeen, September 5, 2018,
  4. Alice Morby, “Karen Abernethy creates a multi-sensory yoga studio in converted Sydney warehouse,” Dezeen, March 5, 2017,
  5. “Cntre Space,” Cntre Space, accessed March 23, 2021,

Figure 1. MIRUSUNA YOGA by Melanie Beynon Architecture & Design. Digital Image. Programa. Accessed March 23, 2021.

Figure 2. Studio Saxe surrounds Costa Rican yoga retreat with jungle planting. Digital Image. Dezeen. Accessed March 23, 2021.

Figure 3. Cntre Space Studio. Digital Image. Cntre Space. Accessed March 23, 2021.

Figure 4. Karen Abernethy creates multi-sensory yoga studio in converted Sydney warehouse. Digital Image. Dezeen. Accessed March 23, 2021.