Exploring the Senses in the Alps

Barabara holds court at Grenoble

This past October, I was delighted to be invited to present a talk and workshop at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Grenoble as part of their Arts in the Alps program (see: <https://www.arts-in-the-alps.com/fall-conferences/2018-2/>). The talk, “Sculpting the 
Sensescape: An Embodied Approach to Design,” expanded on the sensory design concepts presented in my recent book, Creating Sensory Spaces: The Architecture of the Invisible (Routledge, 2017).  
The one-day workshop that followed the talk was titled, “A Puddle of Quiet,” and provided an opportunity for participants to explore and express the sensory qualities of place through such multimedia approaches as sketching, collage, poetry, digital animations, and movement. The morning session used the power of metaphor as a design generator to provide a deeper dive into the sensory qualities of place, focusing on our ability to experience, describe, and control the shape of sensory. Using Steven Holl’s metaphor of “seven bottles of light in a stone box,” we explored the contrasting characteristics of both halves of this image and then evaluated how well Holl’s design for the Chapel of St. Ignatius met his metaphoric goal. This example set the stage for the afternoon’s work. 
In the afternoon design charrette, participants worked in small groups to develop their own metaphor of sensory place exploring a sensory mode of their choosing, such as “Puddle of Quiet.” Each group then designed and communicated a place that embodied this sensory metaphor and presented it to the whole group via a variety of representational techniques. Groups were encouraged to consider the qualities of the sensory space they created, its illusory and temporal nature, and the means by which they would shape its location and qualities. For example, the metaphor of a “Puddle of Quiet” could represent a place that is sheltered from sound that one might unexpectedly come upon within a noisy environment. It would perhaps be a small space similar to a puddle and might be shallow or perhaps one would step down into it. It would not be bounded by walls, but just by a change in the sound level. The designers would have to work to shape the soundscape around it so that surrounding sounds were eliminated or significantly reduced when passersby stepped into this “Puddle of Quiet.”
The workshop was especially fun for me as it took the next step in moving this creative aspect of sensory design into the design studio context. Students at the École have a strong research focus so they welcomed the opportunity to play with these poetic, but tangible, concepts and enthusiastically jumped into the design exercise. 
I’d be happy to also offer this talk and workshop to SBSE member schools if you are interested in having it at your university. Depending on timing and circumstances I may be able to do it for just my travel expenses (but, of course, would not turn down an honorarium if offered!).—Barbara Erwine