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Explorations in Sensory Design


Project: Explorations in Sensory Design

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant


This research program asks: How can we best analyze, and gain a critical purchase on, the flowering of the senses in contemporary design? This new trend was consolidated by “"The Senses: Design Beyond Vision"" exhibition, curated by Ellen Lupton and Andrea Lipps, at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2018. In addition to showcasing recent advances in the multisensory design of a wide array of consumer goods and playful artworks, “"The Senses"" exhibition foregrounded the key role played by the notion of ambience in the design of spaces. The ambience of a space is constituted by its architecture and the objects and “"scenarios of activity"" that go on within it. The materiality of the space, and the properties of the objects, are treated as a dynamic whole, mediated by the senses. Our research team, which is comprised of scholars in history (Classen), anthropology (Howes), design (Cucuzzella), communication and performance studies (Dokumaci), marketing (Grohmann, LeBel), and psychology (Johnson), aims to explore and enhance the practice of Sensory Design by interrogating it from the robust, socially and ecologically attuned, multi- and interdisciplinary perspective of the emergent field of scholarship known as sensory studies.


David Howes (PI)
Constance Classen
Carmela Cucuzzella
Arseli Dokamuci
Bianca Grohmann
Aaron Johnson
Jordan LeBel

Research Assistants:

Aristofanis Soulikias
Golriz Farzamfar

Prompted by Juhani Pallasmaa’s assertion “Whereas the hand drawing is a mimetic moulding of lines, shades and tones, the computer drawing is a mediated construction”, Aristofanis Soulikias employs hand drawing for establishing his physical relationship with the built environment and, through a mimetic re-enactment, draws animated instances by hand, transferring thus the outdoor sensorial experience onto film.

He is currently exploring the Urban Park and the Shopping Mall, as part of the Explorations in Sensory Design project, supervised by anthropologist Dr. David Howes. The film animation clips below are probes into these space, the first showing a bird’s eye view of footprints in the snow, and the second, showing an exploration of existing and possible future decay of the Rockland Shopping Mall in Montreal.

For the sensory design project, supervised by anthropologist Dr. David Howes, Golriz Farzamfar conducted a literature review about the human senses and hominess in hospitals. It aimed to show the theories in those realms and put the three subjects beside each other to understand their relationship better. Regarding the human senses, she did another study on acoustics in hospitals. In the study, noise and its side effects on patients were mainly discussed, as well as sound therapy’s healing benefits. As the third probe, she described her professional experience with the social and sensory aspects of hospital design. It revealed that the social and cultural context of the society directly impacts the users’ needs and behavior. In addition, national standards may be revised based on the local users’ requirements.

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