"We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”.
T.S. Eliott. The Four Quartets
Urban space is one of the most significant visual experiences of our everyday life. These are the spaces we pass through daily, moving between life events, walking quickly to our jobs or school, smartphones in hand. We move purposefully through these streets, navigating, talking, planning; often not noticing the majority of the imagery and sensations that surround us.
Klybeckstrasse 5 views, 2019
We consider this primarily human-made space to be a functional backdrop to our lives, without the same romanticized beauty of the natural landscape. This space that we spend so much time in seems to be barely registered by the majority of the inhabitants of the space. The urban community, though, with its everyday details, is worthy of our attention. Within the sometimes mundane and banal areas that we pass daily are images that affect us and linger with us. There are moments of beauty, each turn or shift of the light can offer unexpected discoveries and overlaying all that we see are memories from a moment ago, a week ago, or much further back. Seeing these details depends upon a conscious effort on the part of the observer and their familiarity with the environment. Walking the same route day by day, we eventually become numb to it. If we can manage to force our attention, looking intently at these ordinary spaces can offer a rich, detailed narrative about where a person is situated in the world. This understanding of our space contributes to the individual's sense of place, which is central to the human experience. "In the fusion of place and soul, the soul is as much of a container of place as place is a container of soul."
However, urban space is complicated to visualize as it is perceived as much in our minds as it is through our actual physical experience. Juhani Pallasmaa, the Finish architect and leading voice on the meanings of space, elaborates on this; "Lived space is always a combination of external space and inner mental space, actuality and mental projection. In experienced lived space, memory and dream, fear and desire, value and meaning, fuse with the actual perception. (…) we don't live separately in material and mental worlds; these experiential dimensions are fully intertwined".
Unlike at any other time, our visual references constantly overlap as we walk through our urban communities. With a smartphone in hand, we can see images a world away while waiting for the bus or observe the facade of a restaurant on an Instagram feed as we stand in front of it. "In today's world of mass communication, we are ceaselessly bombarded by visual images. Italo Calvino refers to this experiential condition as ‘The unending rainfall of images."
At times it becomes difficult to understand what is the real, lived image of our space and what is the image generated by mass media. We begin to see our urban space in the manner suggested to us by the mass media and allow these images to become our reality. We have started to lose trust in our images. This ‘unending rainfall of images’ also affects our sense of place. The overstimulation of images and the "frenzy of the visible" can harm our interaction with the physical environment. "the viewer becomes passive to whatever appears in front of his sight, it creates a sense of loss, of not belonging to the space it is inhabited. It creates a feeling of alienation resulting in a sense of estrangement towards the close urban environment.”
"Images can not be trusted anymore. Not very long ago, images were telling stories, showing things, because they were connected to memory. Nowadays, they are only selling. They do not even know how to show anything anymore."
– Fritz from Lisbon Story, (1995)
Complicating further the perception of urban space are the published images and renderings of what our urban community is supposed to, or could, look like in the future. These computer-generated images and renderings are produced in an effort to convince the public of the merits of the change and generally show an idealized community with little basis in a lived reality. These images are somehow strangely foreign to the messy, layered and complicated experience we live daily and further distort the perception urban space.
These issues; our lack of attention to the details of our urban space, the cascade of outside images that overlay and even take the place of our lived images, the interaction of space through handheld devices, and a future vision of urban space that appears foreign or hostile to our current lived space, have left many unsure of what exactly is the experience of urban space or how to visualize and communicate it.
This issue gains importance as the population of the world settles in cities. Urban space is currently the daily visual reality for the majority of the people on this planet, 55% currently live in urban centers, and by the year 2050 or earlier 68% of the population will live in urban spaces. Marshall McLuhan commented on the urgency of perceiving our environment in periods of change such as the one we are in now;
"In an age of accelerated change, the need to perceive
the environment becomes urgent… New environments reset our sensory thresholds. These in turn, alter our outlook and expectations"
– Marshall McLuhan.
Creating images which capture the full experience of a community or place, real or imaginary is relevant in understanding how to move forward with change or preservation of urban space, making it a subject pertinent to anthropologists, architects and urban planners as well as the citizens of the urban community.
In this research, I consider how we can visualize the ‘real’ lived, multi-sensory experience of urban space, acknowledging that this question is vast and the possibilities for paths forward many; I have chosen to put emphasis on looking deeply and creatively, thinking poetically and being open to new ways of visualizing.
 Eliott, 2019 From the poem ‘Little Gidding’ published in 1942.
 Pallasmaa, 2012 p.157
Juhani Pallasmaa is a prominent Finish architect and philosopher, his writings are wide ranging, covering aesthetics and art, phenomenology space and place.
 Pallasmaa, 2007 p.17
 (Pallasmaa, 2011b) p.14
 (Moya Pellitero, A.M., 2007)p.64
From the movie Lisbon Story (1995) by Wim Wenders. As spoken by the main character, the movie director Fritz while voicing his frustration with the images representing Lisbon.
Figures compiled by the United Nations in May 2018 and reported on the CNBC Website. (Meredith, 2018)
This Marshall McLuhan quote was cited in the Book, Urban Future Manifestos (Noever & Meyer, 2010) p.23 by Robert Ransick with Blake Goble in their manifesto: A Manifesto for the Present. It originally appeared in the book, Mashall McLuhan Essays, Media Research: Technology, Art Communication, Michael A. Moos, ed. 1997