The scale of sense : spatial extent and multimodal urban design

Lucas, Raymond and Mair, Gordon and Romice, Ombretta; (2008) The scale of sense : spatial extent and multimodal urban design. In: Urban Diversities, Biosphere and Well-being. IAPS, Rome.

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This paper is derived from the work of the UK AHRC/EPSRC 'Designing for the 21st Century' research project Multimodal Representation of Urban Space. This research group seeks to establish a new form of notation for urban design which pays attention to our entire sensory experience of place. This paper addresses one of the most important aspects of this endeavour: scale. Scale is of course a familiar abstraction to all architects and urban designers, allowing for representations tailored to different levels of detail and allowing drawings to be translated into build structures. Scale is also a factor in human experience: the spatial extent of each of our senses is different. Many forms of architectonic representation are founded upon the extension of the visual modality, and designs are accordingly tuned towards this sense. We can all speak from our own experience, however, that urban environments are a feast for all the senses. The visceral quality of walking down a wide tree-lined boulevard differs greatly from the subterranean crowds of the subway, or the meandering pause invited by the city square. Similarly, our experience of hearing and listening is more than just a passive observation by virtue of our own power of voice and the feedback created by our percussive movements across a surface or through a medium. Taste and smell are also excited by the urban environment, the social importance of food preparation and the associations between smell and public health are issues of sensory experience. The tactile experience of space, felt with the entire body as well as our more sensitive hands, allowing for direct manipulation and interactions as well as sensations of mass, heat, proximity and texture. Our project team shall present a series of tools for designers which explore the variety of sensory modalities and their associated scales. This suite of notations and analytical frameworks turn our attention to the sensory experience of places, and offers a method and pattern book for more holistic multi-sensory and multi-modal urban design.


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