The Sensory Experience and Perception of Urban Spaces

The need for urban planning and design in cities
Photo by Thomas Peham on Unsplash

The human perception about the place develops on the basis of various tangible and intangible attributes related to various interactions. The perception of space is described by Truax as competence or tacit knowledge of the structural relationship between a sensory environment and activity within that environment. The senses have a vital role in perceiving the space and, they help in experiencing the place and the city. The sensory experience is a multisensory understanding of the environment.

Culture and climates differ all over the world, but people are the same. They’ll gather in public if you give them a good place to do it.

-Jan Gehl

Humans, that is the users of the urban space, are of primary importance when we discuss urban planning and therefore their perception is of paramount importance, the interaction being critical to understanding one’s perception. As described by Truax, perception is the knowledge of the symbiotic relationship between the environment and the activity within it. Our senses are one of the major tools via which we are able to perceive the environment; a complex created via a blend of sight, sound, texture, and so forth. These experiences help in strengthening the connection between the person and the place.

Multisensory Experiences:

The fast-paced life of the city wherein we encounter numerous individuals and spaces, be it urban spaces or city activities, we are bombarded with information that sometimes may be overwhelming to process sometimes, this being referred to as a multisensory experience. The quality and our ability to experience a public space get affected by features that include senses which enhance place identity, comfort, and sense of place.

Based on these experiences, certain categories have been made:

  • Smellscape: The sense of smell can be used to create an experience based on prior experiences. For example, the foul and hazardous smell of chemicals may create a sense of discomfort but the pleasant smell at a flower garden may lure an individual in.
  • Viewscape: It focuses on elements like district, edge, pathway, nodes, landmark, form, color, volume, size, order, diversity, imageability, and legibility, etc.
  • Soundscape: It focuses on the properties of sound like keynote sounds, sound signals, sound mark, reverberation time, sonic dimensions,
  • Touchscape: It includes elements in terms of dryness, coldness, roughness, and hardness, etc.
  • Tastescape: It includes elements in term of sweetness, sourness, saltiness, the bitterness of food

To sum up, what this essentially means is that humans always perceive experiences based on their past vocabulary of sensory experiences; the same being pre-cursors to inducing a pleasant/unpleasant experience in any urban construct.


In order to sensitize ourselves towards architecture and the role it plays in defining the lives of the people that interact within it, we have to develop mature thinking that takes into consideration the emotional as well as the sensory experience that we have to take into account when humans interact with built spaces.


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