Sense of the City: An Alternate Approach to Urbanism Edited by Mirko Zardini.
Lars Müller Publishers, 2005. 352pp. £32.50
Sense of the City is the book of an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) which runs until September 2006. It aims to counter an emphasis on the visual when cities are discussed or planned, by highlighting the role of our other senses when it comes to experiencing them. But its approach is hardly systematic.
It falls into five sections, the first of which deals with cities at night by focusing on the dual role of artificial light in providing safety, but also surveillance. Then follows an interlude on the seasons, exhorting us to 'embrace ice and snow' rather than retreat to hi-tech cocoons. Subsequent chapters consider soundscapes of cities, their surfaces (the homogenising spread of asphalt), and their air quality.
Barely linking these various parts is the assertion that 'there has been a continuous erosion of the perceptual sphere, by sanitisation on the one hand and standardisation on the other'. A few attempts to reverse that trend, such as a lighting scheme in Brooklyn, are included.
At the CCA, apparently, the exhibits do engage more than the eye, though a reviewer in the Architect's Newspaper complained that 'the result is not nearly noisy, stinky, dark, tasty or gooey enough to give us a real sense of the city'.
The book, of course, can only be visual, and while its images are disparate and sometimes surprising, the result can't but be one-dimensional. It tackles an important subject but in a sketchy, provisional way.