Sensthetics: a crossmodal approach to the perception, and conception, of our environments


This dissertation counters the visual bias, and the simplistic approach to the senses, in architectural thought, by investigating the connections among different sense modalities (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch). Literature from the cognitive sciences shows that sensory modalities are connected perceptually; what we see affects what we hear, what we smell affects what we taste, and so on. This has a direct impact on the perceptual choices we make in our day-to-day lives. A case study conducted in an urban plaza investigates the perceptual choices people make (or what they attend to) as they explore their physical environment. Results show that people construct subjective and embodied mental maps of their environments where sensory impressions are integrated with cognitive concepts such as emotions or object recognition. Furthermore, when one sense is muted (such as closing the eyes) other senses are prioritized. A theoretical framework termed as the "Sensthetic Model" is developed illustrating the interdependence of sensory, kinesthetic and cognitive factors, and the hierarchical and lateral relationship between sense-modalities. The latter is the focus of studies with architecture students in abstract thinking exercises: a) Hierarchical: Students perceive a hierarchy of senses (sensory order) when they think about different places. Vision is primary, but not always. Touch, classically relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy, is often higher in the hierarchy and coupled with sound. b) Lateral: Students associate colors with different sounds, smells, textures, temperatures, emotions and objects and cross over modalities conceptually, with a degree of consistency. There are more associations with emotions and objects (which are not constrained to a single sense-modality), than with purely sensory images. Finally, the theoretical model is further developed as a tool to think "across" modalities (crossmodally) based on the identification of sensory orders and sensory correspondences. By focusing on the sensory modalities (nodes) and the relationships among them (connections), the model serves as a conceptual tool for professionals to create sensory environments. This dissertation is an initial step beyond the aesthetics of appearance, towards the Sensthetics of experience

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This paper was published in Texas A&M Repository.

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