Architecture Research Group

Landscape Design for Multisensory Experience

Investigating the Application of Ethnographic Observation-based Research Paradigm and Design Methodology in Undergraduate Landscape Architecture Studios

Landscape Design for Multisensory Experience

The challenge

To cultivate an empathetic approach to landscape design among undergraduate students, where both the outcome of proposed landscape interventions and the process of site investigation and design decision making are sensory enriching.

The Approach

The approach of ethnographic observation-based research paradigm and design methodology was applied in teaching two undergraduate landscape architecture modules in Leeds School of Arts: “People and Place” and “Design with Materials” in Spring 2020. The implementation of this approach happened through two main consecutive phases. First, the research phase where students made several site visits and worked on comprehensive survey and analysis. During the process, students learned to capture much more than what they simply see under the theme of “Use your Senses to Know your Site”. They learned to pause, watch, listen, smell, touch, taste, feel, reflect, and systematically document their observation-based findings. They mapped out the physical, spatial, environmental, temporal, occupational, and emotional qualities of their context. By employing this approach, students were able to identify existing challenges, reveal hidden potentials, and foreseen design cues. Most importantly, they grew unique empathetic awareness of their context existing reality.

Second, the design phase where students learned to investigate the unseen sensory potentials of landscape architecture materials by taking a methodical, yet non-mechanical, approach to the selection and application of softscape and hardscape materials, including living, non-living, tangible, and nontangible mediums. Accordingly, students worked on different modes of exploration and design, including Sensory Materials Palettes, Physical Models, Materials and Sensory Analysis. Throughout the process, students designed to stimuli senses and evoke positive emotions. Meantime, they consistently related to their observation-based findings and emotional status during their filed investigation. By employing this approach, students were able to self-evaluate their design and material selection from the lens of multisensory experience while formulating a clear understanding of the prospective impact of their projects on human physical, psychological, and emotional responses.

Beauty, grandeur, impressiveness in any way, from scenery, is not often to be found in a few prominent, distinguishable features, but in the manner and the unobserved materials with which these are connected and combined. Clouds, lights, states of the atmosphere, and circumstances that we cannot always detect, affect all landscapes, and especially landscapes in which the vicinity of a body of water is an element, much more than we are often aware.

Olmsted, F. Law Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England. New York: George P. Putnam & Co. 1852

The Impact

The overall findings demonstrate the high potentials of applying ethnographic observation-based research paradigm and design methodology to teach undergraduate landscape architecture students to think about material as a positive stimulus to evoke sensory and emotional responses, in addition to its structural properties and construction detailing.

Experience is a cover-all term for the various modes through which a person knows and construct a reality. These modes range from the more direct senses of smell, taste, and touch to active visual perception and the indirect mode of symbolization.

Tuan, Yi-Fu Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1977

Work in progress research paper

First year landscape architecture students

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