I recently finished reading Italo Calvino's first novel, The Path to the Spiders' Nests. Unlike his later, more famous works, including Invisible Cities and Marcovaldo, which are written in the style of "magical realism", this book takes place in the very real world of WWII-era Italy. The protagonist, Pin, is a young boy caught up in the events taking place between Mussolini's Fascist government and the Italian Communist resistance. Much of the story is influenced by Calvino's own experiences, though he was in his 20's at the time.
What I really appreciate about Calvino is his ability to very carefully and clearly set a scene, drawing our attention to many things beyond the visual. As a designer, it's important to keep in mind that, though we communicate design ideas mainly through visual means, the user actually experiences a place with all five senses. Below is the opening passage of the book:
To reach the depths of the alley, the sun's rays have to plunge down vertically, grazing the cold walls which are kept apart by stone arches spanning the strip of deep blue sky.
Down they plunge, the sun's rays, past windows dotted at random over the walls, and plants of basil and oregano in cooking-pots on the sills, and underwear hung out to dry; right down they go until they reach the cobbled, stepped alleyway with its gutter in the middle for the mules' urine.
As I read it, I thought about how much Calvino's engagement of all the senses adds to the reader's ability to feel absorbed in the scene. This is similar to how a good architect tries, during the design process, to envision the space he or she is creating. Designing architectural space is a challenge that requires the use of all senses, in order to create a place that feels totally right for its purpose (or feels neutral enough to house its multiple intended purposes).