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Using digital technologies to understand the sensory experience of urban spaces

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

This research project aims to bring together digital technologies with ethnographic methods to examine how we can better map human perceptions and experiences of the built environment.
Common everyday maps typically show static architecture and exclude the people who inhabit and create the place. This research project attempts to remedy this by creating an innovative methodology that combines advanced digital technologies of 3-dimensional mapping and ethnographic methodologies to investigate the human perception and experience of space in the built environment. Digital technologies have a widespread application in architectural design and the production of the built environment, providing insightful potential to create urban planning tools for mapping the unseen. Ethnographic methods of understanding the experience of the community that uses the built space reveals patterns and reflections beyond the purely visual. For place-making practitioners and urban planners, this information of the unseen, the embodied experience of the built space remains unchartered territory, especially in the early planning and public consultation stages where the input of the community becomes the vehicle for successful and people-friendly urban spaces.
In mapping the unseen, we use the hypothesis that different cultures actually see the world in different ways as evidenced by everyday rituals, concepts in their language and needs in the use of the built environment. A key difficulty is that subjectivity is interpreted without taking into account the many forms it takes in the graphic image. The potential of 3-D mapping and the immersion of different kinds and levels of subjectivity can provide a critical solution to document how these experiences can be reflected in forms of digital space. The focus of the research will be on digital media that are interactive, pervasive, multimodal, physical and social.
Interactivity allows the map-user to drill down, beyond the subjective view of cultures and sub-cultural groups, to the view of the individual. Within a hierarchical tree of information, users could change their subject of attention either by clicking on any visible point to bring it to the centre or by dragging a distant part of the information landscape to the central position, most detail being allotted to the centre, least to the edges. In this way topics that are more of interest to the user are prioritised while others fall away towards the fringes. This kind of topic map is visually sensitised, not only to the subjectivity of the individual but also to the temporal dimension of the moment.


First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree, or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject

How good is research at University of Reading in Architecture, Built Environment and Planning?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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