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The Sensory in the Marketplace: a Comparative Study

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  • Design
  • Economics
  • Mathematics
  • Psychology


This paper uses the Sensory Notation methodology established by the Multimodal Representation of Urban Space research group in order to discuss the marketplace. The market is a fundamental site of human activity – not only economic, but also social and cultural.The approach is strongly associated with the work of psychologist James J. Gibson, whose Senses According to Perceptual Systems forms a prototype for the attendance-led approach taken by the notation. One other influence on the notation was Christopher Alexander, whose Pattern Language suggested the construction of an alternative set of patterns based upon the whole sensory experience of the environment. Attempts to find commonalities across similar forms and functions are, however, frustrated significantly by the marketplace typology.This indicates that the approach needs to look beyond typologies and conventional morphology towards a consideration of the cultural specificity of each site.Sensory audits of markets in Daegu (Seomun), South Korea, are compared with those found in Rome (Via Cola di Rienzo), Jakarta (Serpong), Montreal (Jean Talon), and Glasgow (Barrowlands). The comparison serves to underline some common themes, but also the breadth of sensory experience available in the market. Such approaches are revealing of the deeper commonalities and surprising differences between places which often occupy formally and geometrically similar places.The paper builds on the work of Sensory Notation by developing its use as a critical tool and analytical framework for interrogating the broader sensory experience of the spaces.Informal spaces of accretion, ad-hoc development, and marginal activity are often much more sensorially active than the controlled, corporate shopping environments of globalised city centres. By understanding the complexity of the bricolage present in the marketplace, one can find ways to preserve instances where this occurs in the urban environment, design new sites with this sensibility in mind, and also to extend the right to space beyond the visual and into the aural, haptic, thermal, olfactory and gustatory environment.

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