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 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?

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

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.

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.

Description

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

Programme

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.

Presentation slides

Mapping the Atmospheric Experience

I presented this article on 25th November 2016 during a Doctoral Symposium at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. The paper is in English and the presentation in French except for fieldwork notes (notes de terrain) and original quotes, which remain in English, the language used during the research.

ARTICLE

Abstract. Atmosphere, the pervasive yet elusive soft space that resonates with our senses, is known to effect the way we feel about a space, the self and others. Yet, despite its influence on everyday lives, Boch (2014) reminds us that this phenomenon isn’t always consciously recognised and we may not be aware of the positive or negative impact the urban environment has on us. So it becomes pertinent to investigate atmosphere in order to better understand the correspondence between spaces and people. The More London Estates in London, UK, is an example of uncompromising urban design where the spectacle of architecture and the culture of an ideology appear to shape human experiences. It offers a distinctive atmospheric encounter and this project puts forward a set of evaluative fieldwork methods to investigate how design decisions within the site contribute to the formation of atmosphere and underline how atmosphere can effect behaviour. The interest of the fieldwork, situated at the boundaries between spatial and ethnographic practices, lies in its ability to illustrate the elusive, to delineate atmospheric conditions and corresponding behavioural culture.

Keywords: atmosphere, sentient, environment, experience, affordance

Thematic
This project is driven by a desire to articulate the perceptions of atmospheres, to better understand how the characteristics embodied in a man made environment provide, by design, a stage for multi-sensory experiences that define people’s actions and interactions. It explores methods of documentation that uncover insights into the perceived environment and corresponding behavioural culture. Architect Joy Monice Malnar and artist Frank Vodvarka (2004: 51) explain that we perceive by sensing environmental messages around us. This qualitative information is then filtered through our mind and transformed into mental images. Therefore, we make sense of the world through our senses and, according to Professor of Philosophy Gernot Böhme, atmosphere is thus ’experienced as an emotional effect’ (2014: 46). Architect Peter Zumthor also indicates that the perceptual process is visceral and biological when he tells us that ‘[w]e perceive atmosphere through our emotional sensibility – a form of perception that works incredibly quickly, and which humans evidently need to survive’ (2006: 13). Therefore, the link between atmosphere and the way we feel is potent. According to Architect Juhani Pallasmaa atmosphere has ‘a forceful impact on our emotions and moods’ (2014: 20) and accordingly, corresponding actions. Yet, even though atmosphere permeates the environment, it remains intangible. Architect Rochus Urban Hinkel (2008) speaks of spatial software and Social Anthropologist Tim Ingold (2011: 132, citing Berleant) of a fluid medium.  Thus the visceral, emotional and elusive characteristics of atmosphere denote that we don’t always consciously recognise its influence even though it has a profound effect on our lived experiences. It is tempting to say that when enriched, atmosphere fosters well-being, positive interactions and inclusion and that when impoverished, it fosters ill-being, social disconnection and exclusion. However, experiencing atmosphere is far more complex and nuanced that a simple enriched-impoverished duality.  According to Philosopher Tonino Griffero, as atmospheric qualities embodied in the environment resonate with our senses, a form of ‘spatialised feeling’ (2010: 6) connects us emotionally to our surroundings. We expose ourselves to the atmosphere and experience the impressions it makes on us. Pallasmaa explains that, when ’[…] we enter a space, the space enters us, and the experience is essentially an exchange and fusion of the object and the subject’ (2014: 20). Böhme also speaks of a ‘co-presence of the subject and object’ (2014:45). Consequently, atmosphere doesn’t just influence the way we feel about a space but also the way we feel about ourselves, and others around us. So developing knowledge of this correlation helps provide new insights into the culture of a place. Experiencing atmosphere is meaningful, potentially transformative and certainly social. Therefore, alongside a spatial analysis, this study uses methods associated with ethnography to facilitate the documentation of atmospheric experiences and explore the correspondence between environment and behaviour.

Context
The project is set within the public pedestrian areas of the More London Estates located in London Bridge on the south bank of the river Thames. Completed in 2003 this self-contained business development incorporates offices and a few commercial units (figure 1). It’s carefully planned architecture, seemingly claiming its place as an extension of the City of London situated directly opposite across the Thames, makes a powerful statement about London as a thriving international financial centre. Developed in only 5 years, a total conception of spatial unity, it is shielded from empirical change by an environment controlled through design and human monitoring. The site, regularly patrolled by a maintenance team, is immaculate and repairs are carried out immediately. Man made materials dominate. ‘In order to defeat the cyclical times of days, seasons and years, shiny, hard, immutable surfaces are employed to shrug off the effects of weather, dirt and accident’ (Till, 1999: 3). The logic of perfection creates an environment where an appreciation of time and past human occupancy experienced through the weathering and patina of materials is impossible. Thus the estate offers the perfect image aligned to the culture of its high profile tenants. However, ‘the atmosphere of a city is not the same as its image’ (Böhme, 2014: 48), and the site documentation sets out to establish the ecological coherence of the architecture. It raises the following questions. How is atmosphere experienced in this ocular centric paradigm? What is the correlation between atmosphere and behaviour? Is the More London Estate experienced as a space or a place?


Figure 1. Main pedestrian axis cutting through the site

Two key concepts underpin the study. The first structures the taxonomy of the investigation and borrows from principles Zumthor (2006) tells us contribute to the making of atmospheres. They encapsulate: the perceived presence (or body) of the architecture, materials and their relationships, the sound of the architecture, temperature, objects, movement, thresholds, scale and distances, light and shadows. The second relates to Gibson’s (1986) description of the environment where medium, substances and surfaces afford perceptions and animate movement. For instance, air, the medium in which we move allows the transmission of light and vibrations so we can see and hear, as well as chemical diffusions so we can smell. Substances refer to the solid elements such as building materials and the body, while surfaces are the intermediary elements between substances and medium, including the human skin. Accordingly, the mindset created by the notion of the meaningful environment is essential to our understanding of spatio-sensory experiences.

Methods
Anthropologist Albert Piette (2009) emphasises a focus on the documentation of lived experiences rather than on epistemological debates. Thus, the research process is inductive, drawing on an interpretative analysis of the documentation to elucidate the interrelationship between the atmosphere of the site and its occupants. The investigation is site specific and its outcome represents an illustration of a social and cultural context not a universal conclusion. Nevertheless, the methods and techniques used are transferrable to other sites of enquiry. Fieldwork follows an auto-ethnographic style methodology influenced by the work of Sarah Pink (2015) on sensory ethnography. The documentation, conducted from the perspective of the active participation of the researcher immersed in the site, places the reflexive sensing body at the centre of the experience and analysis (Pink, 2015: 12). This mode of enquiry was chosen because ‘[a]tmosphere emphasises a sustained being in a situation, rather than a singular moment of perception; atmosphere is always a continuum’ (Pallasmaa, 2014: 20). Thus, the site documentation took place over a period of two months and visits were conducted at different times of the day and week to verify the appropriateness and relevance of the data. Tools and techniques used included: photography, audio and video recordings, mapping drawings, observation and reflective (self-observation) notes. An evaluative visualisation of the data into mapping drawings and diagrams enhanced its legibility and supported the analysis of the site. The following paragraphs, illustrated by visuals of the documentation, summarise observations and underline conclusions drawn from the study.

Observations
An initial survey shows that the spatial composition of the estate is structured around an assertive diagonal pedestrian axis cutting through the site. It has a public square at each end, one adjacent to Tooley Street and the other with spectacular views of the river Thames. The main axis affords striking sight lines and the 21st Century architecture of the Shard at one end contrasts sharply with the Victorian architecture of Tower Bridge on the opposite side. There are also two transversal thoroughfares linking the main axis to Tooley Street and the Thames respectively. The immediacy of the experience of being in the environment brings about a feeling of formality and stiffness (figure 2). The atmosphere lacks congeniality and although the location feels safe, a perceptible feeling of distance between people and the site permeates the environment.

Figure 2. The formal environment.

Despite their generous proportions and the provision of furniture, planting and water features, the public squares are under populated in contrast to the density of occupancy in surrounding areas. Few people occupy the site for extended lengths of time; it is mostly used as a thoroughfare. When visualised into a motion sequencer diagram (figure 3), data shows, predictably perhaps, that the density of occupancy is higher during the week than at weekends and fluctuations in density and speed of movement map to office hours. The site is busiest in the morning when people arrive at work, peaks again at lunchtime and again early evening when people go back home. These are also the times when people walk the fastest, with little focused attention given to their surroundings, including others around them.

Figure 3. Inspired by the graphic interface of a music equalizer, the Motion Sequencer diagram is designed to show the levels of occupancy and velocity through the site’s main axis over a period of 24 hours (in this section, between 5am and 2pm). The higher the curve, the higher the levels of occupancy. Red shows high levels of velocity, orange medium and green low. The top curve represents weekdays and the bottom one weekends.

Most activities recorded through observations – people walking fast, smoking, chatting on their phone, talking to friends – are common to many other urban locations. Context however adds a layer of interest. It isn’t so much what people do but how they do it. In this instance, most activities are performed while walking when people appear absorbed into, and even protective of, the micro-scale of their immediate surroundings. This behaviour denotes a degree of familiarity with the site that marks people as either seasoned Londoners or office workers from the estate but could it also be linked to the scale and materiality of the environment? By contrast, visitors and tourists distinguish themselves by walking at a more leisurely pace and through a higher level of attention directed towards the macro scale of the architecture. By the third visit, perceptual distinctiveness between different parts of the site revealed themselves and accordingly, it was divided it into five areas, based on three criteria: the degree of enclosure, perceptual thresholds (such as transitions from light to dark) and the primary activity afforded by the environment (whether it is considered a square or a street). Dividing the site into sections brought clarity to the process of documentation and facilitated the evaluation of similarities and differences between its constituent parts. The documentation was structured as a sensory journey and recorded personal spatio-sensory experiences, annotating immediate impressions as they occurred while moving through the site. The sensory journey data was organised using Gibson’s (1966) classification of perceptual systems (visual, haptic, taste-smell, auditory, basic orienting) and Marina Panos’s sensory chart (in Malnar and Vodvarka, 204: 281). It was essential for the researcher to move through the site while carrying out the documentation. Gibson (1983: 66) explains, ‘a point of observation is never stationary, except in a limiting case. Observers move about in the environment, and observation is typically from a moving position.’ Atmosphere is temporal and dynamic, and as we move through the environment, our perceptions adjust to new conditions. Thus the researcher’s grasp of atmosphere occurs in motion, through a gradual perception of stimuli.

Visual representations help synthesise the evaluation of the data collected during the sensory journey. A map (figure 4) provides a visual reference of atmospheric qualities across the site and a sensory flow diagram (figure 5), inspired by Malnar and Vodvarka’s Sensory Slider (2004: 248), highlights levels of intensity across perceptual systems.

Figure 4. An illustration of atmospheric qualities recorded within the site during the Sensory Journey. The drawing shows an overlay of two isometric plan view of the pedestrian areas.  The information depicted references Gibson’s (1966) perceptual systems: visual, auditory, smell/taste, haptic/temperature and basic orienting.
Figure 5. The Sensory Flow diagram shows levels of intensity of perceived sensory stimuli across the five areas identified within the site. The curves reveal similarities and differences between each area more easily than text would allow.

Atmosphere
Adjacent to a busy main road, the public square near Tooley Street is noisy. However, once inside the site, the combined height and mass of the buildings creates a protected environment. The sounds of footsteps and conversations reverberating across hard surfaces envelop the body and reduce the auditive scale. As the site widens on its Thames side, the auditive scale increases when it becomes connected to the visual depth afforded by the view over the Thames. Although the mass of the buildings protects people from unwanted noise, it also blocks sunlight and at its core, the site remains devoid of sunlight for most of the day, especially in the winter months. Combined with the strong winds channelled from the Thames through the main axis and the cool tones of the glass and metal surfaces, the environment feels cold, even on a sunny day. Temperature also impacts on other haptic perceptions and this feeling is exacerbated when grey metal meets grey sky, which in London is often. Limited use of textures, large expanses of glass and metal, surfaces that are hard and cold to the touch, reflect people away rather than invite them in. The transversal spaces are mostly deserted despite offering protection from the wind. One has a sunny disposition but seating is uncomfortable and the atmosphere is dominated by the repetitive rhythm of an authoritative metal pattern. The other is dark and mostly featureless, yet offers enticing vistas across the Thames. However, low level of details across large vertical areas give the location a desolate feel. Seating is also uncomfortable and overlooked by diners in a restaurant nearby, while, at the time of the study, an unpleasant smell of cooking oil permeated the environment around meal times. The resulting atmosphere channels people through the site in a continuous flow and rhythm of linear motion.

Nevertheless, the idiosyncrasies of human behaviour cannot be entirely restrained and although appropriation is rare, it sometimes occurs in spite of the efforts of the maintenance team to keep an orderly environment. It transpires that a water feature provides the ideal site for acrobatic roller blading once candle wax has been surreptitiously applied to its long edge. Other forms of appropriation include a family using part of the site as an impromptu living room (figure 6) and children playing with one of the design features, a thin hollow of water cutting through the length the main axis. Such ephemeral moments temporarily shift atmospheric conditions. In the first instance, a small crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the spectacle and the mood became more relaxed and convivial. In the second and third examples, the intimacy of the situations simply softened the atmosphere. The site also integrates interesting reflections into its design. Although this appears largely unnoticed by most people who tend to look straight ahead, towards the ground or at their phone, looking up exposes a view of clouds moving across the glass panels of the buildings. The organic textures and reflected motion of the clouds across the smooth glass surfaces alleviate the feeling of rigidity embodied by the perfect man-made material even though these glimpsed natural qualities have to compete with the sharp soaring edges of the buildings. At ground level, the intensity of visual stimuli is enriched in parts by reflections across the numerous glass panels of the facades and by mirrored views of some of London’s landmarks, notably the Tower of London, Tower bridge and City Hall. Together, these embellishments could provide grounds for poetics and human narratives as they permeate the atmosphere.


Figure 6. Spatial appropriation. A family brings a sense of domesticity to the site.

Conclusion
The meanings embodied by the architecture of the More London Estates express a highly rational intent. The site functions extremely well and is accessible, creating a convenient link between Tooley Street and the River Thames. Its powerful architecture and spatial composition display high levels of legibility. The high calibre of the architecture is undeniable. Even so, the investigation reveals an atmosphere programmed towards the production of an image, a man made representation of an ideology though not an ideology made for man’s sensuous spirit. The uncompromisingly Cartesian architecture, with sharp edges and hard reflective surfaces, and a forceful identity resulting from the repetition of form, materials and patterns, create a geometry that dominates the body. The diagonal forces that constrain the ground intensify the perception of perspective, which, further emphasised by the monumental scale of the buildings, suggests masculine strength. The spatial composition, including furniture and landscaping, is ordered, organised into small areas and the rigidity of the layout offers little opportunities for meandering or serendipity. The site is designed to control movement and condition behaviour to predetermined activities, resulting in low levels of interactions and little scope for alternatives. It is a ‘[p]erspectival space [that] leaves us as outside observers’ (Pallsamaa, 2014: 38), a low affordance environment. In his theory of affordances Gibson explains that ‘[t]he perceiving of an affordance […] is a process of perceiving a value-rich ecological object’ (1986: 140). So affordances relate to the values and meanings embodied by the site and how they inform people’s actions. Consequently, in spite of a few poetic encounters, the dominant forces, embodied by a design conceived independently from the body and where intimacy is ruled out, foster an atmosphere whose divisive effect reduces opportunities for thriving social interactions. The atmosphere is, by design, assertive and powerful, and the behaviour thus becomes regulated by efficiency and transience. The culture engendered by the atmosphere minimises opportunities for human interaction. It is then possible to determine whether the location is perceived as a space or a place. According to Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan ‘[s]pace is transformed into place when it acquires definition and meaning’, through experience. Sociologist E. V. Walter takes the notion of experience even further by making places ‘the locations of experience and as such evoke and organise memories, images, sentiments and meaning’ (In Malnar and Vodvarka, 2004: 233). Thus, in order to become a place, the estate needs to embody qualities that are dependent on its occupants’ actions and emotions. However, the outcome of this study shows that, aside from a few poetics and instances of appropriation by individuals, the atmosphere of the estate doesn’t foster such intimate relations and as such, this low affordance environment cannot truly be experienced as a place.

References

Böhme, C. (2014) Urban Atmospheres: Charting New Directions for Architecture and Urban Planning. In: Architectural Atmospheres – On the Experience and Politics of Architecture Basel: Birkhäuser, 2014, pp. 42-59.

Borch, C. ed. (2014) Why Atmospheres? In: Architectural Atmospheres – On the Experience and Politics of Architecture Basel: Birkhäuser, 2014, pp. 7-17.

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

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hove: Psychology Press.

Griffero, T. (2010) Atmospheres: Aesthetics of Emotional Spaces. Farnham, UK; Burlington, USA: Ashgate Publishing.

Hinkel, R. U. (2008) Spatial Hardware and Software. In: Architectural Design, Vol. 78 No. 3, May/June 2008, pp. 82-87.

Ingold, T. (2011) Being Alive. Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. London; New York: Routlegde.

Malnar, J. M. & Vodvarka, F. (2004) Sensory Design Mineapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pallasmaa, J. (2011) An Architecture of the Seven Senses In: Weinthal, L. ed. Toward a New Interior. An Anthology of Interior Design Theory New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011, pp. 40-49.

Pallasmaa, J. (2014) Space, Place and Atmosphere: Peripheral Perception and Existential Experience. In: In: Architectural Atmospheres – On the Experience and Politics of Architecture Basel: Birkhäuser, 2014, pp. 18-41

Piette, A. (2009) Phénoménographie de la tranquilité at anthropologie de la présence. In: Salomé Berthon, Sabine Chatelain, Marie-Noëlle Ottavi et Olivier Wathelet (éds), Ethnologie des gens heureux, Paris, Editions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2009, pp.161-169.  <http://www.albertpiette.net/medias/files/phenomenographie-de-la-tranquilite-et-anthropologie-de-la-presence.pdf> (Accessed 10th August 2016).

Pink, S. (2009, 2015 ed.) Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: Sage Publications.

Till, J. (1999) Thick Time. [Internet] <https://jeremytill.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/post/attachment/23/1999_Thick_Time.pdf> (Accessed 16 September 2016)

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

Zumthor, P. (2003) Atmospheres Basel: Birkhäuser.

PRESENTATION (pdf)

La programmation de l’atmosphere_Valerie Mace

Residual Ambiances

Residual Ambiances – An Illustration of Urban Heritage as a Sentient Experience

Archesat: Ambiances, tomorrow3rd International Congress on Ambiances Volos, Greece: 21 – 24 September 2016

This paper is based on a project I carried out while a student on the MA Interior Design at the University of Westminster and the site visit this account relates to was initiated by the Course Leader, Dusan Decermic, whose inspiring vision, constructive comments and persistence gave me the confidence and commitment to push the boundaries of my knowledge and abilities.

Abstract. 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 illustrates a unique perceptual encounter between the abandoned interior of Poplar Baths in London and the author, while subsequently, the emotive affect of the sentient experience is synthesised into a performed scenographic narrative. The interest of the project lies in its ability to articulate how sentient experiences activate a deep empathetic connection between body and space in the context of urban heritage.

IMG_1262

The full paper is available from UAL Research Online and Academia.edu

The project also includes a short performance available from vimeo. The film of the performance was shown at the congress while simultaneously playing on a loop at an exhibition of staff research work at the London College of Communication (LCC) as part of the London Design Festival and LCC’s public programme.

Performance-slides02

Pool2

Volos Transects

I participated in Ambiances, tomorrow, the 3rd International Congress on Ambiances organised in Volos, Greece: 21 – 24 September 2016 by the International Ambiances Network.

ambiancedemain_TN2

Above: Poster of the Congress

More than 150 speakers presented papers on one of the six themes below:

1. Ambiantal experiences and experiments

2. Traces, notations and representations of ambiances

3. Projecting and manufacturing the ambiances of tomorrow

4. Ambiance, atmosphere, climate: theory, politics and criticism

5. Ambiances and territories in transformation

6. Ambiance as heritage of the future

More on the 3rd International Congress on Ambiances

More on the International Ambiances Network

Aside from a rich array of presentations, the congress included workshops and events, notably the Transects workshop, where teams of 4 researchers were invited to document a pre-selected route across Volos. Detailed information about the workshop is available on the congress’s website.

I worked with 3 other people (from Spain and Denmark) documenting route 5. Each of us had a specific role and mine was the cartographer. A fun and enjoyable experience, a great way to get to know people and a city.

FullSizeRender

Above: Map showing all routes. The black lines show pre-selected routes and the red ones the paths taken by the research teams. The objective was to remains as close as possible to the pre-selected route.

IMG_1210

Route 5 (my group)

IMG_1211

Route 5 close up. 

Sensing the Urban Interior

I presented her paper  ‘Sensing the Urban Environment’ at the [in]arch 2014 International Conference that took place at Universitas Indonesia, Department of Interior Architecture, Depok (Jakarta) on 10th and 11th September 2014, where I showcased techniques I developed to document sensory experiences in interior environments, to uncover a connection between the way we feel and our sense of belonging by investigating the correlation between the interior’s embodied atmosphere and its perceptual affect on the body. I participated in what was the first conference of its kind in Indonesia and attracted international researchers from South East Asia, the Middle East, the USA, the UK and Europe.

The full paper is available from UAL Research online and from Academia.edu

inarch-poster

I was able to engage in the many opportunities for discussions amongst conference participants for collaborations at a networking event at the end of the conference to discuss how to take new insights into design research forward including future conferences, disseminations through publications as well as the formation of an international network to include existing and emerging researchers in this new and exciting area of design research on interiority. This marks the start of a new research chapter for me across interior design, spatial design and interior architecture, one that links theory and practice and creates opportunities for the advancement of knowledge in interiority and wellbeing and, in the words of Professor Yandi Andri Yatmo “enrich our practice and pedagogy, experiment with concepts and ideas beyond the existing knowledge, and… establish further network and collaboration beyond the event of this conference.”

IMG_0790 IMG_0791

Project Visuals

Urban Interiors: Interior Practices in Urban Environments

The Spatial Communication and Contextual and Theoretical Studies Programme Group at London College of Communication invited me to present some of my projects, notably my thesis on Interior Practices in Urban Environments, to staff and students in the college campus. It was a unique opportunity to contribute to the programme events and provide an insight into perceptions and multi-sensory practices.

lcc-presentation

Re-imaging the environment

Abstract

This paper presents a study of selected visualisation and investigative methods that facilitate the exploration and expression of human emotions and perceptions within real world environments during the design development stages of a project, repositioning exploration and visualisation in spatial design education. It puts forward an outline for an iterative inquiry around human experiences in order to assess the value of alternative cognitive tools for spatial design students in higher education.

reimaging

Established tools such as orthographic drawings, axonometric projections or scale models equip spatial designers with the consistency they need to investigate and represent physical attributes of space but don’t always constitute the best methods to explore the perceived environment, even though it is a key contributing factor to the way we experience our surroundings. It is therefore in the interest of design educators to investigate complementary interpretations that enable students to consciously explore less tangible aspects of design such as emotions and multi-sensorial modalities.

Projects developed using tools and techniques ranging from digital 2D and 3D image making, photography, film, animation and performance provide an insight into the possibilities offered by existing visual technologies as dynamic study devices of human experiences and contribute to the generation of alternative processes in spatial design education.

 Full paper

Wiating-room

Middleground camera

See also post ‘Performing the Environment: the Perceptual Voice of the Interior’