Long Read: The Sensitive City

First Phase Architect in Residence #1 2024: Jacopo Grilli

22.04.24 Jacopo Grilli
If we want to design and experience better cities, we should observe and stimulate the sensations that certain spaces retain in their physical and emotional perception.
Jacopo Grilli
Preface: Bridging city and phenomena

The Sensitive City Research focuses on registering feelings generated by urban spaces and situations to sense and create a “compendium of atmospheres.” It separates intention from completion in the experience and design of the city. The city is seen as a sensitive space, a nest of atmospheres, situated between individual (subjective) and objective perception.

As spatial designers we should be interested in evaluating, if not observing the “causes” that the spaces we create can generate. This research is offering an humble attempt to bridge the field of urban thinking and design with the discipline of phenomenology and aesthetic.

Theoretical Background

Understanding atmospheres requires a deep dive into philosophical theory and aesthetics, with Phenomenology emerging as particularly insightful. Phenomenology delves into consciousness, emphasizing detailed descriptions and analysis of subjective experiences. Husserl’s method involves phases such as perception, memory, and signification to uncover the essence of phenomena. Techniques like bracketing and eidetic reduction aid in observing phenomena while suspending preconceptions.

The Phenomenological approach begins with subjective experience, contrasting it with objective reality. At the core of the intention to understand a phenomena, there is the essence of it, that it manifests regardless of the subjective/objective perception.

A tool for every human: SENSES
(The plug-in we forget to update)

Phenomenology, often explored in aesthetics and philosophy of art, seeks to understand subjective experiences and atmospheres. Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy emphasizes the importance of the ego and senses, categorizing sensory experiences from the physical to the spiritual, and offering insights into human perception.

There are degrees of attention directed towards the external world, categorized (from outer to inner):

Inner Senses (corporeal, objective experiences): 
Touch, Sense of Life, Movement, Balance.
Soul Senses (the boundary between subjective and objective): 
Smell, Taste, Sight, Warmth
Spiritual Senses (subjective):
Hearing, Speech, Thought
Sense of Self (subjective):
Ego (Ability to perceive the individuality of others as equal and identical, awareness of irreducible individuality, and empathy.)

Steiner states that senses cannot be isolated. Therefore, it becomes essential to intentionally choose certain “tools” to be used in the analytical phase of the project for the understanding of the city: The senses.

Urbanism; The Art of Creating Atmospheres

Considering urbanism as an art for creating atmospheres aligns with the idea that cities are not merely physical spaces but also environments that evoke emotions and experiences. The study of urban spaces and situations involves capturing the feelings they generate. By understanding the subjective experiences of individuals within urban environments, urban planners and designers can effectively craft spaces that resonate with people’s emotions, perceptions, and cultural contexts. In this sense, urbanism can be seen as a deliberate practice of orchestrating spatial elements and activities to draw out desired atmospheres.

What's next?

The research aims to compile a comprehensive collection of atmospheres, sparking inquiry and challenging conventional approaches to city living and design. Delving into the ambiguity of phenomenology and understanding spaces between subjective and objective perception are the next steps.

Identifying urban centralities like Havenstad and Mercatorplein will serve as physical locations for further exploration. The compendium of atmospheres will function as an analytical tool, artistic catalyst, and multisensory vocabulary for urbanism “Not to Leave Vagueness (but to Stay in it in the Right Way)” (T.Griffero, Atmosferolgy)

“Artists know that I am an architect, architects think I am an artist”
Luc Deleu
After study, meet the master:
Encountering Luc Deleu (TOP Office)

In another Benelux city with a river unspanned by any bridge, in a mystical street of Art Nouveau buildings, resides and works a wise master whom I am pleased to call a collaborator for the Arcam Residency: Luc Deleu. (TOP Office)

“Artists know that I am an architect, Architects think I am an artist” Encountering Luc Deleu has been an enriching experience and we had a profound conversation regarding common methodology, visual and physical representation techniques and the importance of exploratory research.

The Mentorship of Luc along the residency “Sensitive City” will be and already is a precious contribution for the artistic approach to study and understand the city.



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