AHRC Sensory Cities Network

Workshop in Barcelona – first reflections


DSC03887We want to thank everybody that participated in the third and last AHRC Sensory Cities workshop in Barcelona. The event brought together over 30 academics, urban professionals and museum curators across Europe to discuss the links between power and sensory experiences in the urban planning of cities, in the ways urban identity is represented in branding and in the ways urban life is represented and curated in museums. Central to the discussion was how to research and represent these often ephemeral sensory power relations to a variety of audiences. Our discussion was framed around Barcelona and in particular the neighbourhood of el Raval, yet is applicable to many other urban contexts. While we’ll be publishing an extensive report that summarises the key ideas and methodologies developed during the next fortnight, below we want to share a first idea of how presences and absences (Frers 2016) of different social groups can be mapped through photography and observation in a public space. This mapping exercise (graphic by Manuela Barz) can provide an initial idea of how the use of public spaces is partly managed and controlled through urban design and architecture, yet also shows how such spaces are appropriated in a variety of ways by different social groups. Researching and paying attention to these sensory traces provides a practical tool to assess the subtler tensions and negotiation at stake in the use of public spaces in the city. The group focused on children aged 13-16 and the report will further outline experimental methods to engage this particular group in exploring and expressing their own sensory experiences.

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While this is only a first, initial, ‘taster’ design we hope to collect, interpret and rework the discussions and methodological approximations of our three workshops over the next few months to develop a digital toolkit that will provide food for thought, ideas, suggestions on how we can start researching, representing and curating the role that sensory experiences play in framing the everyday public life of contemporary urban life.

Frers, L. (2016) Confronting absence – Relation and absence in the Affective Qualities of Heritage Sites in Guttormsen, T. S. and Swensen, G. eds. (2016) Heritage, Democracy and the Public: Nordic Approaches. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Ltd

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