Sensory Participation in the Communicative City


In The Eyes of the Skin architect Juhani Pallasmaa contends that “modernist design at large has housed the intellect and the eye, but it has left the body and the other senses, as well as our memories, imagination and dreams, homeless.” In the seminal work Understanding Media, Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan asserted everything humans touch is both tool and extension, part of the techno-sensorium environment suggesting the experience of time and space is influenced by media technologies. Researchers from diverse disciplines have been concerned with sensory overload. Urbanization has certainly been a contributing factor in the increased awareness of this phenomenon. How do sensory experiences inform place attachment, place identity and the sense of place so essential to participatory communication in the city.

From Aristotle, and Plato to McLuhan and Palasmaa, the senses have been seen as providing the interaction between body and the external world. Whether it is sight, hearing, smell, touch, or sound the idealized structure nurtures and address each of them. Since the Renaissance there was a school of thought that the embodied sensory experience of a building required full sensory engagement. How important is sensory perception in the experience of a building, place space? Further, the senses work together closely to enable the mind to better understand its surroundings and in so doing construct rather than reflect reality. It has been argued that Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality be considered when considering sensory perception (Friedman, 2015). Focusing on the senses can enhance our understanding of the process of the social construction of reality. Participation in the city comes through our senses. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching create a multisensorial means to engage with the urban environment and identify with urban communities.

In Understanding Media McLuhan noted, the media as extensions of the sense organs alter sensibility and mental process at once. In an age of growing cities and technologized cities sensory participation in the city is concerned not only with the sights, sounds, smells, feel and taste of the city but also the ways in which the urban landscape is managed and regulated to enhance or hinder our sensory experience (e.g. How has engagement in cities been shaped by signage, QR codes, and app technology). This paper will explore how individuals and groups develope their own sensory experiences of the city and how these experiences have changed over time.How have technologies enhanced or hindered participation with the senscape?