Sensory Storyteller

Renee Chang
7 min readOct 6, 2022


Environments Studio III

For this project, we were given a story from Story Corps to create an experience that uses senses to convey emotions. I was given the story about Donna and Suzi Wong whose parents immigrated to Hollywood in the 1950s. Their parents opened up a small laundry business, and they lived in the back area of business divided by a plywood wall.

Link to Story

Doing some more research, I was able to find a different story by Donna Wong who talked more about the racism they experienced when they first immigrated. For example no one would sell a house to a Chinese family in Hollywood, her mother and father faced many racist incidents, and Suzi and Donna were also bullied by racial taunts and by being physically pushed.

Link to Story

Suzi and Donna Wong in front of their parents’ laundry business

Initial Notes

Possible Senses Living There

  • sound of laundry machines
  • smell of laundry detergent
  • seeing through the small keyhole
  • seeing new faces everyday
  • feeling tight in the space
  • seeing and hearing retro television
  • imagining a world away

Positive Feelings

  • growth
  • family/home
  • empathy
  • dream, hope
  • imagining
  • American dream

Negative Feelings

  • isolated, distant
  • loneliness
  • discrimination
  • stereotype

I was inspired by the plywood wall that divided their living space from their business.

Physical Walls

  • dividing the laundry store and their house
  • dividing the laundry store and the neighborhood

Non physical walls

  • walls of stereotypes
  • walls of not understanding the other people and the other world you are not familiar with

Initial Ideas

Looking through a keyhole from the small living space

  • seeing the tv = another world
  • layers of different worlds
  • Hollywood
  • juxtaposes the two different settings

A division between the dream of Hollywood and a small laundry place

  • the different senses they give off
  • transition between the two

Keyhole that penetrates different walls and shines a small light through the hole

  • Hollywood, neighborhood, laundry store, living area

Conceptual rooms representing the journey of immigrants

  • 1st room — expecting good things
  • 2nd room — experiencing hardships
  • 3rd room — belonging in

Final Concept

Learning more about their hardships, I was inspired to choose the theme about immigrants’ journeys and how they have hope for a better future. I also wanted to focus on the keyhole aspect about how seeing from the other side of the wall through a tiny keyhole is reinterpreted as searching for hopes and dreams that immigrants held onto in order to overcome their struggles and differences. I represented the journey of immigrants in three steps: expectations and unfamiliarity, reality and the struggles that they actually face, and finally feeling belonging and togetherness. I didn’t want to use any gadgets and tools by using lights and space, and I intentionally made it conceptual so that people can sense naturally with their senses which makes it very open to different interpretations.

Mood Boards

Using the idea of having three separate rooms, I created three mood boards to represent the mood and imagery.

Room 1
Room 2
Room 3


Parti Map

The overall layout of the space is made by three parts. There is a hallway, a small room, and then a dome at the end. When visitors enter the hallway, they are unable to see the dome, so that it is unexpected and is a surprise.



Using Rhino 7, I was able to 3D model the space. The dome is not actually going to be a clear material, but was just used to show the interior.


Before people enter the hallway, I want the visitors to see a poster that explains a little bit about Suzi and Donna Wong’s story, and the concept of the experience.


So the first space that a person enters is this hallway. This would have 1 person and it would take less than a minute. For sight, there are bright colored beams and for sound there is music playing. This space represents how immigrants have hopes and expectations who cross the border to the us in search of a better life, however, there is still a sense of unfamiliarity entering somewhere new which is why I decided to add these beams to create a sense of confusion, but also hopefulness through bright colors and music.

Small Room

The second space is this small maze room which is very different from the first space since it represents how in reality, immigrants face many struggles adjusting to their new home. This also only has 1 person and would take about 5–10 minutes depending on the person. The temperature is also a lot more cold to evoke a lonely emotion for the visitor. The space is also very dark which makes it difficult for people to find their way. I decided to use these walls inside the room as a maze to metaphorically portray walls of discrimination, racism, and cultural barriers that they had to overcome.

On these walls, there are keyholes placed around that have a motion sensor and it lights up if it senses that a person walks past. These lights from the keyholes help guide them through this room which allows the visitor to use their sight and hearing sense to get out of the room. The lights also represents the hopes and dreams of the immigrants that got them through the hardships.

Inside these keyholes, I want to include pictures as well as videos that show hardships that immigrants faced but also moments where they are working hard to achieve their dream.


The third space is the big dome area which represents the idea of belonging in the community and feeling a sense of acceptance while making the culture that we see around us in our daily lives much more rich and diverse which is portrayed from the various colored lights. This space would have more than 1 person. The time would be unlimited since people can stay however long they want after they went through the first 2 spaces. For sight they see bright colored rings and for sound they hear conversation which resembles them talking and being in the community. There are also keyholes shining off light from the small maze room that represents the hope that the immigrants had in the photos and videos to get to where they are now.

The interaction is that everyone has their own colored ring and if you move closer to one another, it makes a filled and brighter circle of light which represents togetherness and belonging.


For the end of the experience when they leave the dome, I want to have another poster to give some context that explains the three different steps in the journey. I wanted to emphasize the growth and change that the immigrants face by giving more context such as starting off alone in a linear hallway, then to this room with different dimensions, and finally being in this dome where you feel encompassed.


Link to hallway and small room video

Link to dome experience video


Overall, I really enjoyed this project. Although I faced a few difficulties in the beginning, I am happy with my end product, and I feel that I was able to convey emotions through different senses. I learned a lot about how experiences can be told in various ways because I feel that I always only thought about giving an experience with sight.



Renee Chang