Sunday, 12 February 2017

Urban experience by exploring various possible visualities in designed urban environments: learning from Whitworth Art Gallery
by Ankshita Makhija 

Many pre-existing literature assumes the relation between the urban citizen and the urban environment. In numerous debates of how urban design in the North is shifting, the developing significance of urban design is highlighted: that is, the generation of visually and spatially articulate urban structures and spaces is by all accounts progressively integral to urban change. (Degen, Desilvy and Rose, 2006). Urban design codes in United Kingdom have turned out to be more widespread as a method for giving urban improvements an organized `look' and intelligible structure (Carmona and Magalhaes, 2006; Carmona et al, 2002; Madanipour, 2006). While there are numerous approaches to comprehend this move, the contention has been that, as such, a lot of has been accepted about how the general populations who possess and utilize those composed spaces respond to them.
I like Lathamand McCormack (2004, page 709), refuse ``to write or read off the feeling, style or atmosphere of a particular place as the `effect' of some already determined relations. ‘The expressive quality of urban materiality is not necessarily a cynical aesthetic veneer that needs to be stripped away to get to reality'', they argue. `The expressiveness of place is a constitutive part of its mix, the event of its moving materiality''(page 709).

According to, Degen, Desilvy and Rose G. (2006) significantly less consideration has been paid to the encounters of the general population occupying and utilizing such composed spaces of urban design and in theory, such experiences between human subjects (users) and urban environment are lavishly different and capricious, few studies have inspected this observationally and learnt theoretically from these experiences. The aim in this article is to strengthen and support Degen, Desilvy and Rose (2006) the contention that more work should be done in investigating how urban spaces are really encountered with users (objects) of the urban designed space. To support the argument; a centered-consideration was paid at recognizing different kinds of visual experience and demonstrate that visual encounters are a great deal more unpredictable and diverse than more `traditional' conceptualizations permit. Consideration was likewise centered around answering these questions: how profoundly outlined urban spaces are visually experienced and how they may be functioning in contemporary urban designed spaces.

To investigate assorted potential outcomes of visual experience Whitworth’s art gallery was put under an ethnographic examination with member ethnographic and photographic documentation to document the experience and encounters of between users and gallery, in relations to who was utilizing these spaces and how they were focusing so as to utilize them by concentrating on bodily behavior and movements. Exhibition was experimented with, short ethnographic observation and “research” journals and photographic record.

The ethnographic experiment on the gallery recognized five key characteristics to this reworking of the visual experience. In the following sections, we turn to the gallery to work through five specific aspects of our approach: first, constant focus on one particular interest understanding of view: second, we suggest a multimodal and sensuously embedded understanding of vision; third, a engagement-centered understanding of the environment; fourth, a recognition of view of ignorance of building’s function/purpose and fifth, a need for a self-reflexive understanding of the researchers' position in the fieldwork.
Rethinking urban experience 1: Focus on Interest
It was observed during the ethnographic experiment that users experience same urban space differently; that is they react and see the same urban space in different manner. This first visuality can be explained as a depth of relation that is experienced by both living individual and by its non-living occupants, which may end up having a deeper relation as a consequence of their interaction. Two kinds of users explain and experience this visuality, (a) first are users who deeply relate themselves to a piece of art in the gallery. A certain depth of relations between objects and people was very obvious, however users experiencing this visuality get so lost in piece of art that the background becomes disctinct and there’s little recognition of space or location. The form and details of anything else but the piece of art becomes unnoticeable. An example of experience of such visuality was encountered when a women was observed deeply lost in this piece of art in the gallery; she din’t seem to notice cry of baby in that space or be aware of space in itself. She even failed to notice people coming and sitting next to her and leaving.
Fig 1. User lost in piece of art

(b) Another type of users that experience this experience of being so lost and dedicated that surrounding becomes blur are sketchers and photographers. When asked women photographing the art pieces named Rose “what did she find interesting in the exhibition” she said, “Understanding these (pointing at the art piece) is the most interesting part of exhibition. Gallery is the best place to find an inspiration for my next project, it’s a constant search of never ending inspiration.” Photography is not the only activity that results to such experience, sketching also interacts with gallery in similar manner where sketchers build a deep relation with space or part of exhibition that interests them the most and where everything else but the “inspiration” or the object of interest becomes blur or unnoticed. Visuality of “center of interest” is where users’ focus is centered on their interest, inspiration, motivation or aesthetic pleasure. It was interesting to notice that this visually is a way of looking where “not looking” plays an important role. For example the surrounding of an “interested object” was not looked at.
   Fig 2. Photography                                     Fig 3. Sketching

Rethinking urban experience 2: Multimodal
People undergoing this experience of view usually do not decide their routes but are usually led by other human or non-human entity. This visually is generally a dependent on the other element for their experience of the urban space. There’s more interaction with urban space in comparison to function of building; to a point where function almost goes unnoticed (in this case function of building is gallery). Users acknowledge objects but do not engage in any depth with them. Two kinds of interaction were recognized to experience this visuality (a) Spatial view is a visuality where user depends on an urban space to decide their route by blindly following the space. Degen, Rose and Basdas (2010) claims that the design of urban spaces can affect people’s experiences of them, and even behavior within them is a claim with significant contemporary resonance. An old man blindly followed a wall in the room which led him to a space that seems like it was leading to different room but in reality was a space for the window. It was observed that man was more aware of the space than the gallery; there were more interest and interactions with the urban spaces than gallery’s exhibition.

Fig 4 Man tricked by blindly following the space

(b)Parenting- There is the `parenting look'. At the point when one is in the exhibition as a carer with kids, eyes and bodies are responsively sensitive to the bodies and developments of the youngsters. The gallery and its tactile incentives (windows, artwork, furniture) fall away from plain sight as the bodies of children are followed and the Whitworth exhibition's urban space transforms into (an occasionally perilous, different times fun) play area. Now and again it is conceivable nearly to see and sense through the eyes of the youngsters. We adapt our observations and views to those of a child and read another affordances of a space as we discover that an open figure in a gallery turns into a skeleton to jump on, the edge of a divider a running track. “Seeing” in this case is also affected by sound in space. For example baby’s voice can attract a view, which can be translated into visual opinion, or view resulting in a consciousness of visual clutter of space for people who are not even carers but are general visitors of gallery.
Subsequently it can be watched that the visual hardly works in separation from other tactile involvements and experiences with space. Visual recognition is not a solitary sense: it is constantly acquired through other tangible (sensory) incentives and interceded by subjective relations between human and non-human entities experiencing urban space (Simmel, 1971). This indicates that urban spaces are experienced through a wide range of visual modalities, affected through a wide range of other sensory registers.
Fig 5. Child playing with window in Whitworth art gallery

Rethinking urban experience 3: Engagement
The earlier visually were either engaging just with one particular element that interests the user or were engaging just with the space and not the gallery. This visually is about engaging with people, being aware of the gallery, interacting with space and the surrounding where most of the times every detail is observed by the visitor or user of the urban space. During the ethnographic experiment; it was noticed that users who came alone experienced this visually differently compared to the urban space users who came in groups to experience the gallery. For example (a) Users who came in-group were observed to generally walk slowly acknowledging every detail of the space, waiting for their partner or other people in-group would also slow them down. The partners were mostly seen to have a discussion, arguments or share their perception on a piece of work. It was also noticed that missing on detail was hard because the user might experience and observe the gallery in different manner compared to that of their partner and their discussion would help them see each other’s observation.  In this case the users were aware and discussing about the exhibition and space at the same time.

Fig 6. Women waiting for her other group members to finish reading wall inscriptions 

(b) Individual- Users who have come individually usually end up covering the gallery quicker compared to the users who came in groups or with their partners. Individual users will generally end up discussing the urban space and share the experience with volunteers, workers or other users. Discernment and practice ought not be viewed as isolated but rather informing one another says Frers (2007). Observation is molded in connection to the specific practice (for this situation getting included by conversing with the volunteer) one is occupied with. The specific experience that our body and mind are engaged in, advise our perceptual sensibilities and determine both the perceived environment and our bodily behaviors.
For instance the ethnographic experiment help us observe this woman named Sarah who got involved in conversation with the gallery’s volunteer about the art work and exhibition space, she even engaged us (ethnographers) by saying “this might interest you”, she said she’s an artist and believes in getting inspired by different opinions and perceptions on a same or similar project. She was reading the exhibition and understanding the exhibition in depth while conversing with volunteer. At the same time Sarah also seems to be aware of built environment and spaces as she going around the spaces and commenting on lighting of a project and giving her opinion about how she thinks the project should have been exhibited in the space. Sarah also said to volunteer, “If it wasn’t for you, I would have been lost.” Sarah and volunteer got familiar with each other and started to talk their opinions and then about their personal live. It’s interesting how their relationship developed so quickly over such short period of time from being formal to informal. The volunteer also ended up suggesting her to be a volunteer at the gallery. This instance perfectly explains this visually by interacting with space, exhibition and other users and volunteer (making friends).
Fig 7. Sarah discussing exhibition with volunteer

Rethinking urban experience 4: Ignorance
Users who pay visit to gallery with different purpose to that of experiencing the space and exhibition (building’s function) fall under this category of visually. This visually involves a sort of concentrated ignoring that allowed people to direct their route through the gallery exhibition. This look often happens in known environments, when we navigate almost blindly.
For example (a) Destination-look: users, who come to eat in café, or students who pay visit for library space; completely ignore the purpose of Whitworth art gallery that is the exhibition. Users who usually have a specific destination in mind; it comes very naturally to them to ignore the interfering context (gallery in this case). When the final destination of our walk has reached;  `thicker', more occupied look emerges into play and our gaze experiences a focused-zoom on a person we expect to meet, a specific shop or a desired object. This can be explained as the `destination look'. In this users are unaware of surrounding entities and objects play as part of a route to be passed through unnoticed. “We sway from a `thinner', unfocused gaze that helps us to navigate around the shop to a `thicker', focused stare that involves visual and smelling, especially if the particular food has a distinctive smell.” (Degen, Desilvy and Rose G., 2008)

(b) Architecture: It was also noticed that users also came solely for aesthetic purpose of the building, to enjoy the ambience and the built environment (new construction). Example of such interaction with urban space could be seen all around the gallery like women sitting on bench chatting for hours, users sitting on bench in front of huge park view window using their phones or ipads. The exhibition space or gallery seemed to be ignored. During a conversation with one of the volunteer, he commented on the new added construction to Whitworth Art gallery by saying “This year the gallery attracted about half a million of visitors which I think is a direct result of the new building and the café, people using the park can see a bit of inside of gallery and café which further increases their curiosity to walk in and experience the building for themselves. It was shame how gallery wasn’t using park’s view earlier.” Architecture played an important role in this visually which ironically invited people to interact and experience the building but not it’s function.

Fig 8. Man engaged with his phone while enjoying the view

Rethinking urban experience 5: Reflexivity
Own experiences and encounters with urban designed spaces were observed.
Only limited number of Latour’s essays has paid attention on “body”.An essential proclamation in his essay ’How to talk about the body?’, in which he argues that ”to have a body is to learn to be affected, meaning ’effectuated’, moved, put into motion by other entities, humans or non-humans” (La tour 2004: 205; and see Hennion 2007). When I entered the gallery as an ethnographer, I instantly became part of visual field of Whitworth art gallery urban space by both being observed and observing. Personally I moved between different modes of looking as we took notes, texting, talking to volunteer, eating at the café or discussing the artwork. I was focusing more onto the architecture of Whitworth art gallery than the exhibition and most of time was taking pictures and noticing people. It can be said that the exhibition of the galley was mostly ignored and went unnoticed. While conducting the ethnographic experiment what came into recognition was that, as I observed, I was observed back at. The Gallery can be explained as a social gathering on the grounds that it is to some extent a visual event. Individuals pay visit to the gallery to observe and in return to be observed. I agree with Degen, Desilvy and Rose (2006) who propose that "reflexivity ought to be an inborn part of those understandings" as reflexivity help us to comprehend the different social engagements in the urban environment, and helped us to be part of the moments in which specific encounters were created during specific interactions between entities and the urban space.


The aim of this article was to investigate various types of experiences, visualties and encounters uses practice in a same urban space or urban environment. Ethnographic experiment was performed, and have managed to acknowledge complexities resulting in visual field in urban environment: complexities which contain the wide range of methods for looking, the multimodal way of looking, the sensory embeddedness of view, ignoring and through other element’s encounters. These were a few sorts of visuality saw from one ethnographic test, it can be contended that more visuality can be determines by performing longer ethnographic examination, studies or ethnographic test performed by various different ethnographers. It is obvious from resulted observations from ethnographic experiment conducted at gallery that there are several methods in which regular experiences are encountered in gallery. Latour suggests not: ”nothing in a given scene can prevent the inscribed reader or user from behaving differently from what was expected. The user of the traffic light may well cross on the red”, so how can an urban space have restricted pre determined experience of an urban space?
Built environment’s elements can highly vary, depending on how and what users are experiencing, their acknowledgement of and bodily effectuated with. Ethnographic experiment does not suggest “pre determined” conscious behavior of the complexity and variety of experience of human or non-human users in designed urban space.

To conclude I completely support Degen, Desilvy and Rose (2006) to make the point that “ways of seeing in an urban space are considerably more diverse and complex than the simple `hypnotic spectacle' model offered by many critiques of designed urban environments”. In the studies of urban design; there’s an obvious essential necessity for theoretical and methodological variety for articulating the vibrant urban spatialities and visualities (Borden et al,2001; Dovey, 1989). There is likewise a need to concoct different methods for understanding urban aesthetic and vitally, to possess other basic positions.

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