Designing experiences – Sensory ecology

In October and November 2021, I designed and led two workshops that allowed me to put principles developed in my PhD research into practice and test their validity and transferability. The outcome of these workshops will contribute further insights to the PhD. The first workshop took place on 26th and 27th of October in Pamplona, Spain, at the University of Navarra with students from the BA Service Design students. The second workshop took place online on 20th of October and on 3rd of November, a collaboration between students from the BA Interior Design at Politecnico di Milano and students from the BA (Hons) Design for Branded Spaces at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

I would like to thank the students at Navarra, PoliMI and LCC for their valued contribution and amazing designs. I would also like to thank Aitor Alicu and Alicia Fernandez Barranco at University of Navarra, as well as Alessandr Biemonti, Silvia Maria Gramegna and Lorenzo Fossi at Politecnico di Milana for their support and warm welcome.

In these workshops students were introduced to principles of sensory ecology exploring the correlation between sensing and emotions in the context of place attachment and wellbeing. The objective was to design experiences that enabled people to develop positive emotional connections towards their environment. The principles explored in these workshops are discussed in a paper published in 2020. The paper titled “Inhabiting the Public Interior. An Exploration into the Critical Role of Personalisation in Imparting Quality to Public Life” is discussed in a previous post titled ‘Inhabiting the Public Interior’.

Mallgrave, H. F. (2018) From Object to Experience. The New Culture of Architectural Design. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts.
Caan, S. (2011) Rethinking Design and Interiors – Human Beings and the Built Environment. London: Laurence King.

Designing experiences – University of Navarra, BA Service Design.

The activity took place on the site of the University of Navarra Museum designed by architect Rafael Moneo. First, students were invited to re-consider the museum as a public interior and were provided with tools to document and map sensory phenomena (sight, touch, smell, hearing, kinaesthesia). They were then tasked to design interventions that would entice visitors on a journey through the interior and enrich their experience of Museum.

Students from the BA Service Design course working on the site of the Museum.
Students from the BA Service Design course working in their studio.
Students from the BA Service Design course working in their studio.

Designing experiences – Politecnico di Milano, BA Interior Design and London College of Communication, BA (Hons) Design for Branded Spaces.

The activity took place online using Miro as a platform for students to collaborate (a fantastic platform for individual and group work). First students learned about the primacy of sensing and the types of emotional qualities people may experience in the built environment. They were then tasked to design a temporary public space or pavilion where people could define personal and group territories while still maintaining positive sensory connections with the collective environment.

Online interactive studio space (Miro).
Sensory map – Sample work from the collaboration between BA Interior Design and BA Design for Branded Spaces students.
Sensory map – Sample work from the collaboration between BA Interior Design and BA Design for Branded Spaces students.

These activities draw on phenomenological and ecological theoretical principles. Here, phenomenology is presented as the study of experience from the first-person perspective to foreground the primacy of embodied perception. The ecological perspective explores the relationship between living organisms (people) and their environment (the build environment). Phenomenology and ecology bring the perceptual and the relational together to become phenomenological ecology, a principles coined by Mark Reigner (1993, p.181) and discussed by David Seamon (1993, p. 16) in the book ‘Dwelling, Seeing, and Designing. Toward a Phenomenological Ecology’.

References

Reigner, M. (1993) ‘Toward a Holistic Understanding of Place: Reading the Landscape through its Flora and Fauna’, in Seamon, D. (ed.) Dwelling, Seeing and Designing. Toward a Phenomenological Ecology. Albany, USA: State University of New York.

Seamon, D. (ed.) (1993) Dwelling, Seeing and Designing. Toward a Phenomenological Ecology. New York: State University of New York Press.

Sensory workshop ESDI-Roca Gallery Barcelona

Working with a group of interior design students from ESDi School of Design (University Jamon Lull, Barcelona) as part of an Erasmus+ exchange, we took over the ROCA gallery in Barcelona to carry out a sensory study of the site and a creative activity designed to help students reconnect with sensing through design research for interior design practice, making the activity both practice-led and practice based experience. Following on site investigations, students were invited to translate their experience into three-dimensional artefacts.

Read ESDi article about this event

SUMMARY OF ACTIVITY BRIEFING

Sensory flow and design explorations

In this workshop introduces a method to document embodied multisensory experiences in space. It is followed by an experimental design activity.

Documentation

You will be assigned a sensory system documentation template to document a pre-selected site outside the ESDI building. Bring your sketchbook and a range of pen.

Once on site, use the template provided to document your embodied experience of the sensory system you have been assigned and map/sketch your experiences in your sketchbook.

Interpretation

Team with three other people so that each of you represents a sensory system (visual, auditory, smell/taste, haptic). As a team, make a collective mind map of their sensory documentation, highlighting significant elements, scale, connections, hierarchies, qualities/emotions.

Translation

Working individually again, use the information on the mind map as the basis for the design of a multisensory space/structure. Experiment by making 3 different sketch models to explore how you can give 3D form and spatial expression to your group sensory documentation. The objective is to explore and experiment not to provide a definitive solution.

Presentations and discussion

In your group, present your models to each other. Each group selects 1 model to present to the class and discuss insights.

BA Interior Design students, Course Leader Alicia Fernández and Valerie Mace
Students translate their research into a three-dimensional artefact

Sensory design in the workplace

‘To live in an environment which has to be endured or ignored rather than enjoyed is to be diminished as a human being. The society which ignores this fact is at risk, for it is presuming too far upon human adaptability; drabness, confusion, and mediocrity make an imponderable but real contribution to the frustration and depression which produce stultified, sick, or apathetic citizens’. Sinclair Gauldie.

On Wednesday 7th October 2020, I was invited to speak at an online seminar organised by CIBSE Intelligent Buildings Group in conjunction with CIB Commission W098.

Transdisciplinary workplace research (TWR): Wellbeing

Health and wellbeing in the workplace has become an increasingly important issue in recent years as we realise the impact it can make on productivity and, indirectly, the costs to national health services. The Covid-19 pandemic has served to emphasise this fact even more.

TWR is a research community founded by Dr Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek at Eindhoven University that carries out research internationally on the factors that affect health and wellbeing using a transdisciplinary approach, introducing data from the fields of work psychology, medicine, design and planning for example. Speakers presented from the perspective of workplace psychology, health, and forthcoming research priorities.

This webinar addressed what the research needs are. The questions are what do we know but what do we not know? What do we need to know? How can research answer these questions?

Speakers:

4.00 Nicola Gillen, Director Occupier Business at Cushman &Wakefield.
What are the unanswered questions?
4.15 Nigel Oseland, Workplace Consultant.
Lessons from Studies and Research in Psychology
4.30 Piers MacNaughton , View and Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health.
How the office affects employee health and performance
4.45 Valerie Mace, University of the Arts.
What are the research priorities for sensory design of the workplace?
5.00 Panel Q/A
Moderator: Derek Clements-Croome, Chair of CIBSE IB Group and co-coordinator for CIB Commission W098 on Intelligent and Responsive Buildings and Board Member for TWR

KEY TOPICS DISCUSSED
What are the research priorities for sensory design of the workplace?

Wellbeing: the way individuals can feel about themselves in relation to their environment.

Sensory design: the practice of designing for all the senses, never forgetting that the human body is the primary means of perception, which is the phenomenological underpinning of experience, and that feelings and emotions are part of the perceptual process. Sensory design also considers that our experience of the world is always multi-sensory and that the senses interact with each other. The philosopher Gaston Bachelard poetically calls it ‘the polyphony of the senses.’

Ecology: the relationship between organissims and their environment. The ecological approach can consider the environment of the workplace as an ecosystem constitutive of physical space, behavioural space and emotional space brought into one.

Biophilia: the use of natural elements, real or figurative, in the design of spaces.

Phenomenological ecology: as ‘an interdisciplinary field that explores and describes the way that things, living forms, people, events, situations and worlds come together environmentally.’ David Seamon / Mark reigner

Culture and enculturation: the impact of culture on design practices and the way culture defines and even potentially constrains what we do and think.

Harry Francis Mallgrave argues that architecture as the practive and making of culture. Drawing on the meaning of the Latin etymology of the word culture, the growing, tending and cultivation of the land, Mallgrave defines culture in biological terms as ‘the built and social environments in which the human organism either flourishes or withers.’

Research priorities

  • To enhance qualitative awareness of environmental experience.
  • To the design of the workplace and people together into one sensori-emotional model, moving away from an ocurlarcentric paradigm to integrate multi-sensory stimuli.
  • To define contextual frameworks for the research, exploring opportunities beyond what we know and how we think about existing workplace design.                                     
  • To apply transdisciplinary principles by drawing on expertise form different disciplines.
  • To promote delibarate collaborations for organisations, architects, designers and stakeholders to work together to create cultures where the human organism can flourish.

Touch

On June 24 2020 I took part in the 24H Worldwide Design conversation organised by the Polimi Design Systems community of the Politecnico di Milano. The events was streamed live and 48 guests from across the world were invited to discuss a design related topic in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I selected TOUCH as my topic of conversation.

PRESS RELEASE

Following the COVID19 pandemic, many design paradigms need to be rethought and re‐invented. The POLIMI Design System community of the Politecnico di Milano will launch, on June 24, 2020, a continuous 24‐hour live broadcast, through a schedule that follows the international time zones; this way it will travel around the world, keeping at each session the same moment of the day.

The international network of the POLIMI Design System will be involved, and through teachers, professionals and alumni will start a fast and dynamic discussion dedicated to the culture of the project, oriented towards reflection on design changes after lockdown. Through 30 minutes sessions, the 48 guestswill develop their talks around a term, a keyword they propose, and consider to be significant in defining the design and its changes.

Programme and list of participants

TOUCH (abstract)

The link between multi-sensory experiences and wellbeing is recognised and has been documented across a broad range of practices, including architecture, interior design, ethnography, anthropology and environmental psychology. Our perception of the world derives from sensory, embodied interactions yet, as vision dominates in Western culture, our relationship with touch is more ambiguous.  In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, touch, direct skin and body contact, has become problematic, especially in the public realm. Due to obvious health concerns, we have learnt to wash our hands, to protect our face and stringent restrictions have been put in place. People may feel cautious, even concerned, about touching surfaces and others. Touch, which enables us to intimately connect with the world and which until now we took for granted, is now perceived as a risk, impacting on spatial and social encounters. Although this could be perceived as negative, this situation may also provide opportunities to re-think relations between people and environment, to reconsider embodied experience in design by exploring ways for people to retain a sense of tactile connection with the built and social environments. In order to find answers, we need to understand which questions we should ask.

Although I don’t usually consider the senses in isolation, I chose to talk about touch, by which I mean specifically ‘skin and body contact through the act of touching’, because in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, touch is more likely to be perceived as a risk. Surfaces, especially in the public realm, can be perceived as posing significant risks to our physical health. At present, we’re being told not to touch.

Recording: Touch

Recording: all conversations

Phenomenological mapping

In my research and PhD, I use phenomenological maps to represent my experience of environments. The map is a representation of the perceived environmental experience and of emotional qualities projected onto the environment.

Phenomenological map – Royal Festival Hall level 2 – 2018

Drawing on Dretske’s (2003) representational theory of experience, exploring the process of interpretation of the representational vehicle into representational content can help understand what is significant to the individual and convey what is perceived through direct experiences in the present. However, to understand what remains with the individual from the experience and potentially, what can consolidate the emotional connection to place, the mapping process turns to the concept of mental images. Cope (2019) provides a useful summary of the distinction between perceptions and mental images. He explains that perceptions are embodied, in the present, they can include abundant details and the subject finds meanings and recognition through direct experiences of the environment. Mental images on the other hand are re-lived in the mind, they are of the past and selective, only retaining information that is significant for the individual. This suggests that significant phenomena can be retained as mental images.

Malnar and Vodvarka (1992, p. 232) draw on the work of Arnheim to explain that “one’s percepts typically concerns the autonomous existence of objects as they form in the mind from many individual impressions, particularly as one approaches or passes through a building. And he notes that our end image of an object (or building, as one sort of object) is thus the result of our spontaneous integration of these multiple visual projection into a total perceptual image. Arnheim theory has three important aspects: first, a comprehensive perceptual image of a building develops as a purely perceptual process; second, this image must incorporate the sensations generated in the viewer by the building as it is experienced sequentially; and third, a building exists both as a spatial event outside the temporal dimension and as an event unfolding. […] The third point is critical in Arnheim’s argument, as it implies several conditions unique to architecture. First, that the viewer’s experience of the building is participatory; second, that the appearance of individual components of the building come from the intended order of view; and third that the order of view makes senses only in terms of the physical structure of the building. It’s enduring nature”

Phenomenological map – More London Estate – 2014

Therefore, unlike architectural floor plans, phenomenological maps are not representations of a unique space but an amalgamation of different situations that occurred over time and from which mental images have been retained, creating a connection between the individual and the environment.

The fluid aesthetic of the map draws on the “stream of consciousness” concept developed by the psychologist William James (Sennet 2019, p. 175). Sennet explains that “[a] stream flows: thinking, feeling, dwelling is never static.” Thus, the stream of consciousness in in constant flux, whether the body is static, as in the context of vantage points, or actually moving through the interior. Philosopher Mark Johnson (2007, p. 50) explains that “if you are moving forward in a linear fashion, you experience a visual “flow” that emerges from a horizontal focal point and streams toward you, and then envelops and flows past you.

Phenomenological map – Elephant park London – 2017

Map organisational principles

The organisation of the content and design of the map draws on Kaplan and Kaplan’s (1981) mental map functional properties. They propose that to be useful the construction of the map should follow specific functional properties, described below.

CONTENT DESIGN

Generality: the map extracts similarities and ignores unique situations in phenomena.

Simplicity: unnecessary information is discarded.

Economy: the map simplifies and codes the information for speedy and reliable access

Essence: critical stereotypical information is retained.

Connectedness: the map uses symbols to identify known points and establish connections for the map to read as continuous.

Directness: experiences are arranged into categories.

Unity: a clear organisation of information against its background.

References

Cope, W. (2019) Perceptual Images and Mental Images: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Available at: https://www.coursera.org/lecture/multimodal-literacies/11-3-perceptual-images-and-mental-images-H08eo (Accessed: 23 March 2019).

Dretske, F. (2003) ‘Experience as representation’, Philosophical Issues, 13(Philosophy of Mind), pp. 67-82

Johnson, M. (2007) The Meaning of the Body. Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Kaplan, S. and Kaplan, R. (1981) Cognition and Environment: Functioning in an Uncertain World. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ulrich’s Books.

Malnar, J. M. and Vodvarka, F. (1992) The Interior Dimension. A Theoretical Approach to Enclosed Space. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Sennett, R. (2019) Building and Dwelling. Ethics for the City. London: Penguin.

Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine pavilion

This case study is presented as a phenomenological account of first-person embodied experiences of Peter Zumthor’s 2011 Serpentine Pavilion in London. This account was first written in 2011 as a direct experience and revisited as a remembered experience for a number of presentations to undergraduate students and research symposia.

Zumthor is known for his striking integration of sensory qualities in the design of his buildings (Ursprung 2014) and I had the opportunity to visit his London Serpentine Pavilion twice. The first time the weather was bright and relatively sunny while the second time, it was raining abundantly. The weather is mentioned here because it had a significant impact on sensory variability in the pavilion due to its design. According to Kellert (2008) sensory variability, the level of variation in sensory phenomena such as light, sound, touch and smell in an environment, impacts on human satisfaction and wellbeing and as such, can impact on people’s ability to develop intimate connections with their surroundings.

In the first instance, my experience of the corridor as I entered the building was especially powerful. Inside, intimate proportions, the modulated light, the mellow darkness and relative quietness provided a welcome refuge from the vastness and brightness of Hyde Park as well as the noise of traffic nearby. Robinson (2015, p. 57) highlights the significance of surface materials in Zumthor’s pavilion design. She explains how he seduced visitors by coating the burlap walls in black paste to introduce texture and micro-shadows to deepen the darkness of the interior (Figure 1). She doesn’t write about the smell but through my own experience, I know that a faint but comforting smell emanated from the walls. Upon entering the corridor, my body attuned to its environment, ‘[t]here was no need to hurry, no urge to move on’ (2014, p. 39). I felt an embodied connection with the environment.  Zumthor had designed the outside of the pavilion as a simple black rectangular box hiding the inside so the experience was serendipitous. By including an opportunity for an unexpected phenomenon with special qualities to occur, Zumthor created a significant and memorable experience whose image still resonates with me today.

Figure 1: surface material and light qualities.

The corridor entirely surrounded the interior and the thresholds, from the outside into the corridor and from the corridor into the core of the interior, were cleverly staggered. This design feature protected the intimacy of the interior by providing a refuge from the more chaotic reality of the outside world. Covatta (2017) equates this form of intimacy to mental wellness and the interior, a simple cloister-like space with a rectangular garden of wild flowers as a central focal point, did present a peaceful and restful outlook. The experience was pleasant. The edges of the space were lined with benches integrated into the architecture, as well as tables and chairs inviting people to pause. Tuan (1977, p. 138) identifies pause as one of the conditions necessary for individuals to experience a sense of place. He writes that ‘[p]lace is a pause in movement. Animals, including human beings, pause at a locality because it satisfies certain biological needs. The pause makes it possible for a locality to become a centre of felt values.’ The ability to pause can thus be an opportunity for individuals to attune to their surroundings.

Beyond the biological need to rest, people tend to prefer secure and protected settings (Kellert et al. 2008, p. 13) and the recessed sitting area nested against the wall and protected by a short overhanging roof presented a nested opportunity for private positions from which to enjoy the garden. Bachelard (1958) relates the nest to the concept of inhabiting, linking the ability to withdraw into one’s intimate territory to pleasure, while Nakamura (2010) adds sensory precision to the concept of pleasure by explaining that, due to their intimate size, nests minimise distances and maximise opportunities for bodily contact with space through an active relationship between the structure of the space and the body.

Aside from its role as a natural focal point, the variety of plants, their colours and complexity of details contrasted with the simplicity of the architectural forms and materiality. This complexity also contrasted with the view to the sky above. Although the design of the pavilion eliminated all connections to the outside and people could seek protection under the overhanging roof, the garden remained open to the sky with the top of the trees in the park still visible. This feature provided a distinctive and enticing, even poetic, mental connection to the outside.

The edges of the space were busy, occupied by people, adults and children sitting on the furniture provided, some chatting, some eating, a few people reading, some simply resting while others strolled around the garden. All seemingly relaxed and enjoying the space (Figure 2). Following the more contemplative experience of the corridor I began to attune to the more convivial mood of the garden. Mallgrave (2015, p. 6) explains that the recently discovered mirror mechanism underpins human empathy and is the reason why we can easily share emotions with others. As such, the sight of people relaxing can have a positive effect on the mood of others as it did on mine.

Figure 2: interior and garden at the centre.

During the second visit, the interior of the pavilion was almost empty and thus quieter because it was raining. While previously people dominated the experience of the space, this time I became immersed into the experience of the Summer rain falling onto the garden through the open roof, watching, listening to, touching and even smelling its humidity. Drops of water fell heavily onto the edges of the metal tables, creating a rhythmic sound pattern and visual liquid explosions (Figure 3). Even though it was raining, the overhanging roof offered protection and the experience was comfortable and relaxing. With little disruption, my mood was contemplative. During the previous visit, my body had attuned to the environment in the corridor however, while previously it felt like a sudden unexpected force, this time it occurred more gradually, as if my body was slowly easing into the atmosphere of the space. I tried to capture these experiences in a phenomenological map (Figure 4).

Figure 3: interior and garden in the rain.
Figure 4: phenomenological map of first person embodied experiences.

Even though the pavilion was temporary its design as a refuge, the choice of materials, the garden, the visual connection to the park and the thoughtful integration of natural elements, grounded the interior and gave it a natural relational presence. It felt authentic. Interior designer Mary-Anne Beecher  (2008) expresses a link between authenticity and atmosphere. She argues that for a place to cultivate atmosphere, the setting requires an authentic and meaningful contextual grounding. Moreover, despite knowing that it was a temporary space, the environment also exuded continuity, projecting a temporal connection between past, present and future. Till (2013: 95)  refers to it as ‘thick time’, when ‘[in] its connectedness, time places architecture in a dynamic continuity, aware of the past, projecting into the future.’ In this instance, a sense of continuity emerged from the surface materials such as the worn patina of the burlap walls and aged timber whose slight imperfections could be imagined as a reference to past occupancy, while the cloister like design also seemed to reference a historical architectural context. Although the black box of the exterior felt incongruous in Hyde Park, once inside, it felt that the interior had always been there.

Bibliography

Bachelard, G. (1958) The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Beecher, M. A. (2008) ‘Regionalism and the Room of John Yeon’s Watzek House.’, Interior Atmospheres. Architectural Design., pp. 54-59.

Covatta, A. (2017) ‘Density and Intimacy in Public Space. A case study of Jimbocho, Tokyo’s book town.’, Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health, 3(5).

Kellert, S. R., Heerwagen, J. H. and Mador, M. L. (eds.) (2008) Biophilic Design. The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Mallgrave, H. F. (2015) Architecture and Empathy. Espoo, Finland: Tapio Wikkala-Rut Bryk Foundation.

Nakamura, H. (2010) Microscopic Designing Methodology. Tokyo: Japan: INAX Publishing.

Robinson, S. (2015) ‘Boundaries of Skin: John Dewey, Didier Anzieu and Architectural Possibility’, in Tidwell, P. (ed.) Architecture and Empathy. Espoo, Finland: Tapio Wirkkala-Rut Bryk Foundation.

Till, J. (2013) Architecture Depends. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press.

Tuan, Y. F. (1977) Space and Place. The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Ursprung, P. (2014) ‘Presence: The Light Touch of Architecture.’, in Wilson, V. & Neville, T. (eds.) Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined. London: royal Academy of Arts.

Inhabiting the public interior

AMPS conference building, Florida State University

On 16 and 17 January 2020 I presented my PhD research at the AMPS (Architecture Media Politics Society) research group conference at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Conference theme:

‘Experiential Design – Rethinking relations between people, objects and environments.

From the AMPS website:

Design context:

Where once design and the arts may have been confined to the ‘straightforward’ creation of objects, places and similar elements, today we have the knowledge to transcend mere physicality. The experience economy challenges us to move from reactionary to initiatory modes, moving us from questions of problem solving and object making to our potential to serve as catalysts, releasing potential energy, activating thought and affecting change from those who engage with the objects and spaces we design and make.


Experiential design, situational design and Xbd (experience by design), are all examples of this expanding reality for the art, design and spatial sectors. Within this context, it is clear that art, design and space influence, reflect, react to and sometimes distort life experience. This is evident across sectors and scales making the relationship between designer-maker, designed object and user or client complex and varied.

Provocations for Designers, Architects & Artists:

This conference brings together designers and artists of all kinds to celebrate and share strategies, compare practices, and advance dialogue about art, designed objects, interiors, environments and their relationship with people. On this basis it welcomes contributions from multiple disciplines: interior design, architecture, art, furniture, graphics, product design, textiles, app design and more.

Examples of questions that may be asked include, but are not limited to:

How do interiors and buildings impact on mood, wellbeing and learning potential? How do artists, product and furniture designers shape experience and meaning? How should artists and designers communicate the intentions of their work? What skills and principles best serve us in the experience economy?

How does public art, buildings and spaces influence human interaction? How do interior designers engage users in design, visualization and feedback? How do graphic designers monitor the effects of their work in different contexts? What effect do furniture designers have on bodily health and spatial experience?

How do architects understand the impact of buildings on diverse users – from patients in hospitals to children in classrooms? How is body and ergonomic simulation effecting the practice of product design? What role do artists see for the public in the act of creation and making? How do exhibition designers engage with studies about the psychology of attention?

Paper abstract

Inhabiting the public interior: the critical role of personalisation in imparting quality to public life.

The ability to connect emotionally to our environment is fundamental to human experience. Architects, designers, urbanists and environmental psychologists have explored spaces from the perspective of experience, to understand why certain places make people feel alive and human, and how to design environments that resonate with human sensibilities. A significant body of research focuses on urban public spaces and shows that the quality of the public realm can impact on place experience, social cohesion and the quality of life in cities. Cities need public spaces people can connect to emotionally to build liveable communities. As a shared destination, the public interior is an extension of the public realm and fundamental to our experience of the city because it also contributes social values and impart qualities to urban life. Yet, qualitative research on public interiors is fragmented, with few insights on how they can contribute to the quality of human experience.

In this context, this paper asks how the public interior can colour public life by providing opportunities for people to personalise spatio-sensory experiences, nurturing emotional relations between people and their environment. The concept of personalisation is defined here as the way in which people can shape their experience of the public interior around their needs and desires to enable them to define personal territories. Thus, the research explores the critical role of personalisation in imparting qualities to public life by investigating how the design and management of the public interior can contribute to people’s ability to personalise their experience of the interior. It focuses on the public interior of the Royal Festival Hall, a cultural venue in London UK, because its ownership, design and managerial culture present distinctive characteristics that can nurture opportunities for personalisation and enable individuals to comfortably inhabit the public interior.

Keywords: public interior, experience, personalisation, emotion, connection.

Article publication reference: Mace, Valerie. “Inhabiting the Public Interior. An Exploration into the Critical Role of Personalisation in Imparting Quality to Public Life” In: Y. McLane & J. Pable (eds.), AMPS Proceedings Series 18.2. Experiential Design – Rethinking relations between people, objects and environments. Florida State University, USA. 16 – 17 January (2020). pp.25-35

Download proceedings

(Re)Defining Luxury. Perspectives on experiential design

I recently wrote an article for RocaGallery an online magazine on architecture and design.

“In his book The Emergence of the Interior: Architecture, Modernity, Domesticity, Charles Rice draws on the writings of Walter Benjamin to express the notion of experiential duality. He explains that there are two types of experiences: long experiences and instantaneous experiences.”

Continue reading…

Interior Futures

New book chapter in Interior Futures

Mace, Valerie (2019) Transient Domesticity in the Urban Interior. In: Interior Futures. Crucible Press, Yountville, CA, pp. 144-163. ISBN 978-0-9967526-4-0

The launch of Interior Futures took place on 14 March 2019 with an exhibition of selected work at the Royal College of Arts in London on 15 March 2019.

Active Sensing in Soho Square

Symbols used for the cocumentation process in the workshop

Facilitated by Valerie Mace – Friday 25th May 2018.
Participants: Students from the MA Narrative Environment course at Central St Martins.

In this workshop, an introduction to active sensing, you are invited to document sensory impressions across an environment defined as the dynamics of the physical space and people within it. The tools used in the workshop are designed to help you quickly familiarise yourself with the environment and become more conscious of your sensory impressions.

Learning objectives:

  • Understand the relevance of active sensing in environmental cognition.
  • Unlearn sensory inhibitions, learn to sense information in space.
  • Explore impressions that emerge from sensory information.
  • Be inspired by the sensory environment.

Schedule

1pm. Lecture: Active Sensing
1:20pm. Workshop instructions
1:45pm. Travel to Soho Square
2:15pm. Workshop
3:30pm. Debriefing

Materials

Research toolkit
A4 sketchbook, a few sheets of tracing paper and 1 bulldog/foldback clip to secure the tracing paper to the sketchbook. Different colour pen.

Process guidelines

You will be working individually within a site pre-selected by your tutor. Work quickly: document your initial impressions as they occur and allow the flow of sensory impressions to guide you.

Discover-Walk through the site to immerse yourself into its sensory environment(space and people) and to familiarise yourself with it. Don’t just look, use all your senses: smell, taste, touch, listen and notice how you move. Use the Active Sensing Annotation Sheet to capture key impressions.

Document–Find a vantage point. Complete the sensory flow diagrams. This will increase your familiarity with the site and you will start to develop more precise mental images.

 

Document–Map sensory impressions using the 2D line drawing provided as an underlay. Place a sheet of tracing paper on top of the map and use symbols to record sensory impressions onto your map. Use the symbols provided and include annotations if required.

Indicative content:
What do you see, smell/taste, hear, touch? How do you and others move through the site? Can you identify perceptual thresholds and boundaries? Are there any sensemarks? Don’t try to document everything. Capture the essence of how the space resonates with your senses.

        References

Anheim, R. (1983) ‘Buildings as Percepts’, Via. The Journal of the Graduate School of Fine Arts, Architecture and Visual Perception(6).

Bachelard, G. (1958) The Poetics of Space., Boston: Beacon Press.

Gibson, J.J. (1966) The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gibson, J.J. (1986) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception., Hove: Taylor & Francis Group.

Hiss, T. (1990) The Experience of Place. A new way of looking and dealing with our radically changing cites and countryside., New York: Vintage Book.

Johnson, M. (2007, 2008 ed.) The Meaning of the Body. Aesthetics of Human Understanding, Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Kaplan, S. and Kaplan, R. (1981) Cognition and Environment: Functioning in an Uncertain World, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ulrich’s Books.

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