The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 6

VISUAL PREDOMINANCE

Yonge Street, Toronto,
looking north towards
Dundas St.
PHOTO: THE AUTHOR

Environmental design is strongly focused on creating a visual experience.
This has been true at least since the documentation of linear perspective
in the early 15th century, and is most often accomplished at the expense
of other sensory stimuli. There are several reasons for this. First, a large
percentage of our brain is dedicated to vision. Second, and largely as a
result of this, our designs and presentations are invariably visual. Third,
painting, film, photography, and more recently, digital visual media are
highly visual and represent a huge part of our culture.
Last summer, I became stunningly aware of how important vision is,
not only to the appreciation of the finer points of design, but also to the
nature of walking and the total environmental experience. I had signed
up for a blindfolded tour of downtown Toronto. So, on a busy Saturday
morning, wearing an official paralympic blindfold and grasping one
end of an orange shoelace, I was urged slowly forward by my friend
and tour leader (literally) Jonathan Silver. More about this unusual
tour is described in the Locations column in this magazine. While the
tour awakened me to the important role of non-visual stimuli, it also made me aware
that spatial experience and the act of walking through the environment is made a lot
simpler when you can use all five senses.
WALKING AND MULTI-SENSORY EXPERIENCE

Because vision processing occupies so much of our brain, it tends to
spread out, overlapping here and there with other, smaller sensory
areas. As a result, our sensory inputs can get mixed up, creating stronger
perceptions, even though the multi-sensory aspect may go unnoticed.
In fact, it's largely true that, unless our attention is specifically drawn
to a smell, a texture or a sound, we stay focused on what we can see.
Often these other sensory stimuli are stealthily recorded in our sense
memory, only to be brought back later when the stimulus is repeated.
The nature of walking is strongly affected by sensory stimuli - touch
(irregularities and textures underfoot and at hand level, breeze, temperature, slope), sound (speech, music, water, nature, excitement), smell (coffee & cinnamon buns, nature, popcorn, spices), taste (indirectly suggested
by smells) and vision (attracters, distractors, intrusions, informers).3
A lot of our walking takes us only from A to B, on routes that are
unchanged from day to day. We typically endure these trips rather than enjoying them,
since they stopped providing any noticeable sensory stimulation long ago. We may
find these walks stimulating in other ways, since they allow us to disengage from our
environment and let our minds wander in creative directions. But at other times, we
may choose to walk for reasons of health or pursuit of adventure. In these cases,
sensory stimulation is appreciated and, conceivably, sought out.
Walking places us in immediate contact with our surroundings. What is the nature
of the surfaces we are in contact with? After all, on foot, there is a surface beneath
our feet that tells us something about how we should behave. Rough pavers or
cobblestones will slow us down in order to make us more observant, more cautious,
or more alert. A soft carpet will slow us down as well, but will make us feel more
relaxed and comfortable. When we are walking, we can reach out and touch things. A
smooth wooden handrail steadies us and gives us confidence when we are ascending
or descending a ramp or staircase.
Walking allows us to slow down - even stop in our tracks - to appreciate the
character of the spaces we move through. A lofty, generous space may make us
want to walk reverently, hesitantly, to enjoy the experience and absorb the feeling of
spaciousness, whether it's an architectural space or a natural one. Moving through
a low-ceilinged, noisy underground parking garage, on the other hand, might make
us feel uneasy, and will encourage us move quickly and spend as little time in the
space as possible. The presence of other people can be calming, as the murmur of
6 | Read The Right Angle Journal online www.therightanglejournal.ca

A temple walkway in Kyoto.
PHOTO: THE AUTHOR


http://www.therightanglejournal.com/

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018

Message from the Board
Walking
Integrated Building Design... and More
Feature Project: Guelph Market Square
Index of Advertisers
Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - Intro
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - cover1
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - cover2
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 3
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - Message from the Board
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - Walking
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 6
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 7
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 8
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 9
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 10
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 11
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 12
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 13
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 14
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 15
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 16
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 17
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - Integrated Building Design... and More
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - 19
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - Feature Project: Guelph Market Square
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - Index of Advertisers
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - Locations
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - cover3
The Right Angle Journal - Summer 2018 - cover4
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