A framework of analysis for urban sensory aesthetics: looking at sensescapes as ‘brush strokes’ of an urban canvas

Urban sensory aesthetics is a multisensory composition of visual, sound, smell and haptic characteristics. As in an artwork - a painting, a piece of music, or even a sculpture - people experience it in different ways, and its full understanding depends on its context, the artist(s), but also on the person engaging with it. In the urban environment, streets are the ‘artwork’, senses the ‘brush strokes’ and language the medium for its communication and understanding.

Counteracting the visual dominance, uni-dimensional and ‘negativiness’ of the current sensory research and literature, this paper discusses a framework to understand the ‘sensescapes’ of a place in a structured, comprehensive and multisensory approach. Through the way street users express themselves when asked how they perceive the urban environment it is possible to analyse the link between the urban realm and sensory perception. From the analysis of the case study of Bishopsgate London four main dimensions result as the main constituents of ‘sensescapes’ in its relation to the urban realm: sensory characterisation, sensory geography, spatial characterisation and individual experience. Therefore, this chapter aims to broaden understandings of aesthetics and qualities of the ‘sensescapes’ of a place, to contribute to a more comprehensive knowledge of public space, and to encourage the creation of tools to design or redesign the city in sensuously fitting and stimulating new ways.