Urban space is one of the most significant visual experiences of our everyday life. These are the spaces we pass through daily, moving between life events, walking quickly to our jobs or schools, smartphones in hand. We move purposefully through the streets, often not noticing the majority of the imagery and sensations that surround us. We consider this primarily human-made space to be a functional backdrop to our lives, without the same romanticized beauty of a natural landscape.
This space that we spend so much time in, though, with its everyday details, is worthy of our attention. Within the sometimes mundane and banal areas that we pass on a daily basis are images that affect us and linger in our memory. There are moments of beauty, and each turn or shift of light can offer unexpected discoveries. Overlaying all that we see are memories of things that happened or existed a moment ago or a week ago, or much further back. These ordinary spaces can provide a rich, detailed narrative about where a person is situated in the world, and this understanding of our space contributes to the individual’s sense of place, which is central to the human experience.
The difficulty in visualizing urban space is that it is experienced as a unique mental event. Our perception of a space depends on our bodily sensations and movement at that specific moment in time, as well as on what we choose to focus our gaze on, and finally, a layering in the mind of previous experiences – physical, virtual, or imagined. Further complicating this experience are outside visual references that constantly overlap as we walk through our urban space with a smartphone in hand, viewing images a world away while waiting for the bus or observing the façade of a restaurant on an Instagram feed as we stand in front of it. “In today’s world of mass communication, we are ceaselessly bombarded by visual images. Italo Calvino refers to this experiential condition as ‘The unending rainfall of images.’ ” *
The question of how to visualize urban space becomes relevant as the majority of the population of the world settles in cities, and urban planners create ever more new communities. Creating images which capture the full experience of a community or place, whether real or imaginary, is essential in understanding how to move forward with a change or preservation of urban space, making it a subject pertinent to anthropologists, architects, and urban planners as well as the citizens of the urban community as such. In my research, I consider how we can visualize the lived, multi-sensory experience of the urban space — acknowledging that this question is vast and the possibilities for any paths forward many, I have put an emphasis on looking deeply and creatively, thinking poetically and being open to new ways of visualizing.
*Pallasmaa, Juhani. (2011). The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture. United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons Ltd. p. 14