The Sensory Cities THiNK-KiT makes a case for the importance of interdisciplinary and cross-professional investigation of urban sensing. It brings together methods and resources for researching, designing, curating and representing the senses in the city, drawing on the reflections of an Arts and Humanities Research Council UK funded “Sensory Cities” international research network, which involved academics, artists and urban professionals across Europe to discuss and exchange methodological approaches.
This site does not contain findings per se, but offers a range of practical approaches and suggestions to researching urban experiences that emerged from discussions in the network. It is above all a 'think-kit' to frame the exploration of the urban sensorium and the design and implementation of research for planning, curation and education.
You can navigate the site either thematically, by professions or by cities. We suggest that you start with a taster of the cities which exemplifies many of the methods trialed and then follow your own interests. In the ‘public’ section we have some suggestion for making your own sensory walk which requires no prior knowledge.
10 things to know about the senses in the city
1. The city is experienced and mediated through the senses.
2. The senses are cultural
Senses are not only biological but cultural in character. Different societies, social groups and historical times encourage particular forms of sensing and associate specifics meanings and values with different senses.
3. Sensing is learned.
Cultural factors, as well as professional training shape what sensory experiences we filter and how we evaluate them.
4. There are more than 5 senses.
The common division of the senses into vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch is based on the Aristotelian principle of matching a sense to a visible sense organ. But it is only one of many ways of counting the senses based on scientific or cultural classifications.
5. Sensing is multi-modal.
While each sense establishes a unique relationship with its surroundings we tend to sense by combining our sensory information. The particular form sensory perception takes is mediated by the particular activity we are engaged in: whether we are shopping, sightseeing or looking after a toddler.
6. The Senses are social.
Bodies and subjectivities differ greatly and age, dis/ability, ethnicity and gender deeply influence how bodies sense and are sensed.
7. The senses are political.
Who is heard, seen, smelled or felt in the city is connected to questions about who or what is included or excluded in our experience of urban places.
8. The Senses are ambiguous.
Inherent in the senses is a latent ambiguity, in that their meanings and experiences are constantly open to change, a caressing touch can quickly turn into a threat.
9. The Senses structure the city geographically and temporally.
Each sense shapes in particular ways our spatial and emotional understanding of the city. Senses order space and structure our ‘sense of place’ within temporal timeframes: memories, present experiences, future expectations. It is helpful to think of the city in terms of layers of sensescapes to highlight that senses are temporally and spatially ordered as well as place related.