‘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 will present from the perspective of workplace psychology, health, and forthcoming research priorities.
This webinar will address 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?
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 affectsemployee health and performance 4.45 Valerie Mace, University of the Arts. What are the research priorities for sensory design of theworkplace? 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 theworkplace?
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the emotins and qualities projected onto the environment.
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, themapping 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”
Therefore, unlike architectural floor plans, mental 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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,
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.
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?
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.
interior, experience, personalisation, emotion, connection.
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.”
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.
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
A4 sketchbook, a few sheets of tracing paper and 1 bulldog/foldback clip to secure the tracing paper to the sketchbook. Different colour pen.
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.
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.
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.
The value of exploring the wider context of your research.
In 2017, I took part in Arts in the Alps, a week long doctoral research school organised by the Maison de la création at the Université Grenoble Alpes. The call for participation caught my attention because it related to my research interests while at the same time provided me with an opportunity to expand my practice and research network.
My research and the topic of ongoing doctoral research centres on sensing and emotions in relation to wellbeing. This is informed by previous work, notably a project called Sensing the Urban Interior published in 2014. Following the principle of ‘spatial inversion’, whereby spaces between buildings habitually referred to as exteriors become interiors, I carried out a sensorial documentation of an urban interior, the More London Estate, a contemporary riverside business development in London. The location sits at the boundaries between inside and outside, private and public, enclosed and open space. This distinctive position and promise of interiority made it an ideal site of enquiry. The objective of the research was to uncover connections between the way we feel and our sense of belonging. This was achieved by documenting how the urban interior resonated with the senses to provide a framework for reflection as well as an incentive towards sensory transformations.
Prior to the start of my doctoral research, I also worked on a project called ‘Residual Ambiances – An Illustration of Urban Heritage as a Sentient Experience’. Our urban heritage incorporates many instances of abandoned buildings awaiting rescue, where residual fragments of past occupancies provide a stage for an immersive journey into the ambiance of the interior across past and present thresholds. Accordingly, this project illustrated a unique perceptual encounter between the abandoned interior of Poplar Baths in London and myself. Subsequently, I synthesised the emotion and intimacy of the sentient experience into a scenographic narrative and short performance. The interest of the project lied in its ability to articulate how sentient experiences activate a deep empathetic connection between body and space in the context of urban heritage. Following the completion of the project, I wrote a paper about it, which I presented at the 3rd International Congress on Ambiances in Volos, Greece, in September 2016. While there, I also took part in another activity called Volos Transects, a sensory mapping of the city.
So, when the call for the Arts in the Alps research school came through, I saw this as an opportunity to further explore the wider context of my research, share knowledge and practices, participate, contribute and experiment within and international network of researchers and artists.
Below is the information sent by the Arts in the Alps organisers to call for participants:
The Arts in the Alps Spring School is bringing together a community of leading researchers, artists and PhD candidates from the fields of architecture, dance, geography, fine arts, performance, sound art and linguistics to explore, collaborate and experiment new practices of interdisciplinary and practice-based site-specific research entitled:
“Gestures of here & there: la fabrique sensible des lieux”.
During the week participants had the opportunity to experiment, discuss and share interartistic and interdisciplinary practices of site specific research. Specifically, centered on the question of the memory of a place, this research intensive week aimed at investigating the site of the Bouchayer-Viallet which has many historical layers: industrial, eco-cultural and artistic. This site held a strategic position in the hydroelectric sector in the early 1900s and is now reconverted as a development zone by the city of Grenoble. A nearly 3000m2 steel and glass factory building is now the home of Magasin les Horizons, a Center for Arts and Cultures which is where the school was based.
Throughout the five-day intensive doctoral school, participants had the opportunity to attend a series of workshops, seminars and events facilitated by an international group of researchers and artists. The mornings were dedicated to collective activities workshops, readings and seminars while the afternoon sessions focused on practice-based art and research platforms with smaller groups. Participants were encouraged to experiment with sensory based research practices and to re-enact the collective and individual gestures which wove and continue to weave the multi-faceted identities of this historical site.
Erin Manning (Concordia University, Canada) / Brian Massumi (Université de Montréal, Canada) / Helen Paris (Curious UK and Stanford University, USA) / Rebecca Schneider (Brown University, USA) / Anne Volvey (Université d’Artois, France)
Organizing committee: Gretchen Schiller (Maison de la Création & UMR LITT&ARTS, UGA), Nataliya Grulois et Anne-Claire Cauhapé (Maison de la Création, UGA), Claudine Moïse (LIDILEM, UGA), Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary (PACTE, UGA), Anne Dalmasso (LARHRA, UGA) Martin Givors (doctorant LITT&ARTS, UGA); Rachel Thomas (CRESSON, UMR 1563 AAU, ENSAG), Inge Linder-Gaillard (ÉSAD, École Supérieure d’Art et Design •Grenoble •Valence), Béatrice Josse et Camille Planeix ( Magasin des Horizons, Centre d’arts et de cultures), Marie Roche (Centre de développement chorégraphique Le Pacifique), Rachid Ouramdane et Erell Melscoet (CCN2, Centre chorégraphique national), Matthieu Warin (Maison des habitants de Bouchayer-Viallet).
This was a complete departure from my usual ways of working. I tend to work alone when carrying out research or with participants. In the doctoral school, we worked in groups of 8 participants and there were 4 groups across the school in total, with 2 workshop leaders in each group. We also had a couple of people who worked in the school who came in and out of the sessions. People came from all over the world. In our group: UK, Canada, Belgium, Turkey, Australia, France, Spain who were artists, performers, academics, architects, philosophers.
Each day started with a somatic practice organised by Germana Civera. Amazing! A most emotionally invigorating activity. Every day for 5 days, a great way to start the day. Then we would take part in thematic workshops and there were also two seminars with Erin Maning and philosopher Brian Massumi. The day would end with a conference. We started the day at 9am and finished at 8:30pm. Everyone would then meet for dinner into a restaurant booked by our organisers, a different place each day. We ended the week in a beautiful guest house in the woods outside Grenoble for a celebration and final goodbyes.
The theme for my group was Mapping Lost Gestures and the workshops were run by Gretchen Schiller and Helen Paris, both a pleasure to work with. They made everyone feel welcome and very soon, it became clear that we had excellent group dynamics where everyone was happy to participate, and no one was making judgements on others. In the thematic workshops, we were required to mostly express ourselves through bodily gestures. It felt very awkward for me at first because I didn’t know what I was doing but I soon learnt from observing others more familiar with performance and by day two, I became more attuned to bodily gestures, and by day three it felt like a completely natural way of communicating. All the activities we took part in in the first 4 days were designed to help us prepare a 40 minutes performance to present to the other groups and tutors on the last day. The group worked incredibly well and we were all able to make a contribution and enjoy ourselves in the process.
This week -long research school was the most uplifting research event I have been to. People connected in a very positive way. There was a degree of freedom and an ability for us to take some ownership of what we did which means that we achieved a lot and it was also a pleasure to do it. The organisers recently sent us the link to a website where they posted filmed interviews of the people talking about the activities they organised. Watching the films brought back very fond memories. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to apply performance to my research since I started by doctorate, my work is about embodied experiences, including bodily movement and gestures, so there may be opportunities in the future to integrate performance led experimental interventions into my practice.
 Attiwill, S. (2011). Urban and Interior: techniques for an urban interiorist. In R. U. Hinkel, (Ed.), Urban Interior – informal explorations, interventions andoccupations (pp. 12-24). School of Architecture and Desing, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. Baunach: Spurbuchverlag.