Representing sensory experience in urban design

Raymond Lucas, Ombretta Romice

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The urban environment is clearly an experience for all the senses. This multi-modality is rarely accounted for in inscriptions of cities. Even architects with a rich approach to the senses continue to use traditional mapping and drawing techniques which are grounded in the visual. In developing our attitude towards designing for sensory multimodality, we have identified approaches in the notation of space and movement from the likes of Kevin Lynch, Rudolf Laban and Christopher Alexander. This response is measured against traditional forms of orthogonal representation of urban space. The study is further grounded by texts on the senses including Maurice Merleau Ponty, James Gibson, Joy Monice Malnar & Frank Vodvarka and Tim Ingold. We shall demonstrate the results of our notational systems, grounded in the practice and theory of urban design. The aim for this system of notation is to allow both multi-sensory description of urban space and multimodality in design. Such a notational system must respond to issues of urban scale and density as well as the needs of the design process itself, balancing carefully between utility and completeness of depiction. Questions of accuracy, legibility and application have been carefully considered in the production of a suite of representational techniques for urban designers, architects and others. All this offers a phenomenological representation of experience itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-94
Number of pages12
JournalDesign Principles and Practices
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • modality
  • multi-Modality
  • senses
  • sensory modality
  • representation
  • urban design
  • sound
  • smell
  • taste
  • touch
  • movement
  • thermal
  • kinaesthetic
  • drawing
  • notation
  • synaesthesia
  • space
  • place


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