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40CE - Sensorial Architecture's Role in Successful Urban Renewal

08 May 2015 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM

1.5 ConEd Learning Hours

Course Outline

Successful urban renewal requires work on the part of those who design urban spaces and, just as importantly, those who inhabit them. Placing the role of renewal solely in the hands of designers might lead to unnecessarily overhauling existing urban spaces, which can be disruptive, expensive, and unethical. But there are other ways to renew that are less problematic and highly effective ― for example, renewing citizens' way of engaging spaces. Spaces are often designed to engage our sense of vision. Unfortunately, visual spaces turn us into passive spectators because they distance us from the world around us and separate us from our sense of agency. Multi-sensory spaces, conversely, connect us to the world through multiple sensory dimensions, which helps us feel present. When we feel present in a space, we care for it. A citizen body that cares for its spaces, I argue, is at the heart of urban renewal issues. I suggest that urban renewal often merely requires minor architectural adjustments to make a space more sensorial, and more sensorially astute citizens.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the false dichotomy between active and passive engagement
  2. Understand how urban renewal is shared work between those who create spaces and those who use spaces
  3. Understand the role that multi-sensory engagement plays for the active space-user
  4. Understand some ways to design space that encourage active use


Jonathan Silver is a philosopher (MA, University of Toronto) with a particular interest in phenomenology of architecture and environment. He believes that successful solutions to architectural and environmental problems require interdisciplinary creativity and innovation. To communicate with specialists in other disciplines, he strives to share his philosophical research in a clear and down-to-earth way. 

Jonathan also believes that thinking about architectural and environmental problems is only part of the work that needs to be done; another part is to perform actions that are informed by this thinking (and yet another part is to return to one’s thinking based on discoveries made during practice). That is why Jonathan is currently working on two philosophically informed practical projects. First, he leads blindfolded walking tours of Toronto’s streets and buildings to help participants learn to appreciate their city using non-visual senses like smell, touch, and even taste. Motivation for this project is that multisensorial awareness of urban landscapes and city buildings is a crucial ingredient for urban renewal. Second, he runs Coffee in the Park, a project designed to help participants experience for themselves the link between the coffee they drink in Toronto and the rainforests this coffee helps or harms. Directly experiencing the connection between our actions and their effects is a step towards personally understanding it and therefore changing how we act.