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.


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


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.


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.

Lefebvre, H. (1991) The Production of Space, Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing.
Lynch, K. (1960) The Image of the City, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The M.I.T. Press.

Mallgrave, H.F. (2011) The Architect’s Brain. Neuroscience, Creativity and Architecture, Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

Malnar, J.M. and Vodvarka, F. (2004) Sensory design, Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945. 2012 ed.) Phenomenology of Perception, London & New York: Routledge.

Schmitz, H., Müllan, R. O. & Slaby, J. (2011) ‘Emotions outisde the box – the new phenomenology of feeling and corporeality’, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 10(2), 241-259.

Sensory flow. How do you feel?

On 16th June I participated in a seminar on multisensory design organised by CIBSE Intelligent Buildings Group & CIB W098 Commission on Intelligent & Responsive Buildings.

The seminar took place at the architectural practice Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios in London.


Our existence is enlivened every waking moment by a symphony of stimuli from people, objects, building spaces, task interest and Nature. This rich array of inputs to the mind and body generates the multi-sensory experience which can colour and enrich the environment for people to live and work in. Like in music the notes of melodies, harmonies and rhythms magically combine in a myriad ways to inspire the mind so too in multi-sensory design which weaves a tapestry and diversity of experience for people to flourish in. This seminar reviews the research but then shows how multisensory design can be achieved in practice to achieve healthy and wellbeing spaces.
Prof. Derek Clements-Croome, Chairperson of the CIBSE Intelligent Buildings Group


18:00 – 18:05 Welcome Prof. Derek Clements-Croome, Chairperson of the CIBSE Intelligent Buildings Group

18:05 – 18:20 ‘Why multisensory Design?’ Prof. Derek Clements-Croome, Universities of Reading and Queen Mary London

18: 25 – 18:40 ‘Sensory Flow – How do you feel?’ Valerie Mace, University of the Arts London
Valerie is a Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts London where she teaches interdisciplinary spatial practices. Her research centres on spatial experiences, sensing and atmospheres in interior and urban environments, developing sensory research methods and exploring practical applications for design.

18:45 – 19:00 ‘Sensory mapping’ Kay Pallaris

19:05 – 19:20 ‘Sensewalking in a heritage city: the Canterbury tales’ Carolina Vasilikou, University of Reading
Carolina is a Lecturer at the new School of Architecture at the University of Reading. She teaches design studio, environmental design and technology. Her research focuses on the multisensory perception of public spaces, health and well-being in outdoor and indoor environments and community engagement, exploring interdisciplinary methodologies and design practices.

19:25 – 19:40 ‘Capturing the visual using an Interactive Space Analysis Tool’ Joe Jack Williams, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Joe is a researcher within Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, using a wide-range of tools to capture the impact of the built environment and feed-forward lessons to future projects.