The Sensory Experiencing of Urban Design: The Role of Walking and Perceptual Memory
Experience is conceptualised in both academic and policy circles as a more-or-less direct effect of the design of the built environment. Drawing on findings from a research project that investigated people’s everyday experiences of designed urban environments in two UK towns, this paper suggests at least two reasons why sensory encounters between individuals and built environments cannot in fact be understood entirely as a consequence of the design features of those environments. Drawing from empirical analysis based on surveys, ethnographic ‘walk-alongs’ and photo-elicitation interviews, we argue that distinct senses of place do depend on the sensory experiencing of built environments. However, that experiencing is significantly mediated in two ways. First, it is mediated by bodily mobility: in particular, the walking practices specific to a particular built environment. Secondly, sensory experiences are intimately intertwined with perceptual memories that mediate the present moment of experience in various ways: by multiplying, judging and dulling the sensory encounter. In conclusion, it is argued that work on sensory urban experiencing needs to address more fully the diversity and paradoxes produced by different forms of mobility through, and perceptual memories of, built environments.