Assessing the multi-sensory qualities of urban space

Lucas, Raymond and Romice, Ombretta (2010) Assessing the multi-sensory qualities of urban space. Psyecology. Bilingual Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1 (2). pp. 263-276. ISSN 2171-1976 (

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Urban spaces are an experience for all the senses, but all too often, academics and designers are interested in only the visual or aural aspects of place. What are the implications of a more holistic approach to the role of the senses in our experience of urban space? This paper investigates ways of assessing the multi-sensory quality of urban spaces. One important task is to find ways of recording sensory experience, as individualistic and variable as it can be. The paper describes a notational system depicting the relative importance, corroboration, and qualities, of six perceptual systems in the tradition of James J. Gibson's (1966) groundbreaking work. The notational system is demonstrated with a series of notations of spaces in Rome. Such a notational system can be used as an individualistic exercise akin to sketching, but has a number of wider uses as well, such as the diagnosis of sensory deficits across a site or route. This research draws on a wide literature, from the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty (1962) through Ingold's anthropology of the environment (2000, 2007a). The work of James J. Gibson on the contextual nature of perception (1966) is central to the research, enlarged by more literary approaches from Georges Perec (1974), Michel deCerteau, Gaston Bachelard and Henri Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis. This research puts these more open, subjective theories of environmental perception into practice by embedding them in a set of inscriptive practices, allowing them to become part of the design process.