Invisible City - A Multi-Sensory Approach to the Analysis of Urban Space

This PhD research project explores the relationship between sensory stimuli and human behaviour in urban space. It seeks to understand how spatial conditions, mediated, and supported by sensory experiences, impact individual and social activities and how this learning might be applied to other cities. It aims to challenge the “visualism” of planning and urban design approaches and to examine the urban environment through a multi-sensory analysis, focusing on the non-visual senses, such as hearing, smell and touch. It is based on a qualitative case study approach focused on Bishopsgate, in the City of London, an area with a unique variety of urban spaces, compact morphology and land use. 

This thesis contributes to knowledge in three principal ways: First, the use of “sensewalks” and “sensetalks” as innovative user-centred methods of data collection, enabling in-situ semi-structured interviews with the presence of the researcher. Second, the use of thematic analysis of verbal and semantic descriptions received from participants establishes a baseline for the exploration. Finally, the creation of a framework of analysis based on the concept of “sensescapes” will facilitate the future exploration of the urban setting through its different dimensions. This framework not only creates a baseline for discussion but also establishes a tool for use in future urban development within the fields of environmental psychology, sensory analysis, urban design, and spatial planning. 

These contributions add to the academic literature and offer methods and techniques of analysis that may support future academic research, practice, and policy. As planners and urban designers try to create better and healthier spaces, the analysis and production of urban “sensescapes” can be used as a tool in (re)designing the city in new ways that stimulate the senses – ultimately making the role of the non-visual senses more ‘visible’ in the urban setting. This research is undertaken at the Bartlett School of Planning, UCL.