Representing Sensory Experience in Urban Design

By Raymond Lucas and Ombretta Romice.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The urban environment is clearly an experience for all the senses. This multi-modality is rarely accounted for in inscriptions of cities. Even architects with a rich approach to the senses continue to use traditional mapping and drawing techniques which are grounded in the visual. In developing our attitude towards designing for sensory multimodality, we have identified approaches in the notation of space and movement from the likes of Kevin Lynch, Rudolf Laban and Christopher Alexander. This response is measured against traditional forms of orthogonal representation of urban space. The study is further grounded by texts on the senses including Maurice Merleau Ponty, James Gibson, Joy Monice Malnar & Frank Vodvarka and Tim Ingold. We shall demonstrate the results of our notational systems, grounded in the practice and theory of urban design. The aim for this system of notation is to allow both multi-sensory description of urban space and multimodality in design. Such a notational system must respond to issues of urban scale and density as well as the needs of the design process itself, balancing carefully between utility and completeness of depiction. Questions of accuracy, legibility and application have been carefully considered in the production of a suite of representational techniques for urban designers, architects and others. All this offers a phenomenological representation of experience itself.

Keywords: Modality, Multi-Modality, Senses, Sensory Modality, Representation, Urban Design, Sound, Smell, Taste, Touch, Movement, Thermal, Kinaesthetic, Drawing, Notation, Synaesthesia, Space, Place

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.83-94. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.589MB).

Dr. Raymond Lucas

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Architecture, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Dr. Raymond Lucas is currently researching ‘Multimodal Representations of Urban Space’ at the departments of Architecture and Building Science and Design, Manufacture & Engineering Management, University of Strathclyde. The research is part of the AHRC/EPSRC Designing for the 21st Century cluster. This project looks at the broad range of sensory experience and looks to find notations appropriate to this fuller description and design of urban space. Lucas has also been involved in research on the extent of the human voice in determining space at the university of Edinburgh. The Inflecting Space project was a collaboration between architecture and music supported by the AHRC looking at applications of sound design to public space.Lucas has a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Aberdeen with the thesis ‘Towards a Theory of Notation as a Thinking Tool’. This work examined creative inscriptive practices ranging from architectural drawing through movement notations to diagrams and painting. The thesis formed part of the AHRC Creativity and Practice Research Group. Lucas also has an MPhil by research on the topic of ‘Filmic Architecture’, and conducted research on the documentary pioneer John Grierson for the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network.

Dr. Ombretta Romice

Lecturer, Department of Architecture, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Dr. Ombretta Romice is a Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, a Registered Architect in Italy and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is also actively involved with IAPS, the International Association for People-Environment Studies, as a Member of the Board of Trustees ( Her work focuses on urban design, environmental psychology and user participation in design. She holds a PhD in architecture and psychology and a PostDoc in housing and regeneration sponsored by the European Union ( She is a founding member of the Urban Sustainability through Environmental Design Network (, an international network of urban design theorists and practitioners formed to research, co-ordinate and disseminate tools of sustainable urban design, with special emphasis on urban public space and its value in sustaining fulfilled lives.


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