Sensing Spaces. How the senses influence the choices we make when we walk

The urban environment is a multisensory composition of sensory characteristics. However, when designing public spaces, planning and design are still dominantly deep-rooted in a visual-centric approach and often ignore, or forget, the importance of the non-visual sensescapes in public space. The (non)visual senses are part of the streetscape even if we don’t see them, and they often play a fundamental role in the choices we make, and the routes we prefer or avoid. Consequently, this presentation will focus on the non-visual multi-sensory experience of public space. Supported on the idea that the “invisible” senses are fundamental in our daily life experiences.

Focusing on an alternative methodological approach aiming at allowing academics, practitioners, and policy makers to better understand the relation between urban space and the individual through the senses. This presentation will examine how the senses mediate our contact with the streets reflecting on the analysis of a set of in-situ semi-structured interviews within the case study area of Bishopsgate, London. Exploring the participants verbal descriptions and searching for shared perceptions and sensory patterns. The results are a methodological tool that can be used in the (re)designing of the streetscapes in new ways that stimulate the senses, as changing the urban environment not only impacts on spatial reconfiguration but also creates change in people’s attachment to places and how these spaces are then used.

An investigation that built on the knowledge that an element might be perceived differently in the same or different spaces by exploring the characteristics of the urban realm that promote these sensory variants within a space. Framing the way we understand the environment that surround us, so that we can move beyond the simple identification of what we perceive to understanding the relation between urban space and individual behaviour. Raising the awareness to the importance of the sensescapes in urban studies, and the ultimately make non-visible senses more ‘visible’. As emotions and perceptions are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future of cities, streets and urban life.