Tactility, Movement and Time


“We behold, touch, listen and measure the world with our entire
bodily constitution and existence, and the experiential world is organised and articulated around the centre of the body.”[1]
– Juhani Pallasmaa

The primary observation that I made as I analyzed my research material was the importance of my body in seeing and understanding the space. This 'seeing' went beyond visual impressions and included many other sensations at once; touch, sound, smell, the heat of the sun, the cool feel of the wind on my skin as I turned a corner. This sensation of the space was all-encompassing. According to Ken-Ichi Sasaki, "The most profound knowledge of the city is a tactile one. But it excludes neither vision nor intelligence. Tactile knowledge requires merely that our body is involved."[2]


Tactile knowledge which engages all of our senses works to create 'atmosphere' or an overall feeling or mood from the many physical sensations, feelings and thoughts our body receives at once. This atmosphere is not something we can create without the sensorial experience. Juhani Pallasmaa stated; "We feel atmospheres immediately and without being conscious of the process"[3], or consider, even more poetically, Anton Ehrenzeig's description of the atmospheric moment that is possible in a tactile experience. "There comes a voluptuous moment when the senses and the whole skin tingle with a sharpened awareness of the body and the world around."[4]

︎Images that show Atmosphere

Sound  & Smell

We not only see a cityscape with our vision and touch, but we will also sense its tactile qualities through the sound of our feet on pavement, the echoing of cars and trams off of buildings nearby, the smell of the wet pavement or the heat radiating off of a dark-painted wall. These tactile sensations give us far more information than we acknowledge. Non-visual sensed impressions were critical in my experience of the space, although they are not evident in the photographed images. (They are more apparent in the video and written narratives). From my subjective point of view, some images captured the sensations or atmosphere that I was feeling. 


Considering the image of this passage, we can also understand that we see in a tactile manner. We 'see' the coolness of a dark passageway from street to private space and sense it even before we arrive, the mood or atmosphere already being created in our mind. In this same way, we may also see and can visualize texture even before the touch. A photo of my feet on the ribbed concrete,shows the textural surface of the ground, and without physically touching it is possible to understand the way it would feel if you run your foot over it. This seeing of tactile qualities is referred to as synesthetic correspondences, the intertwining of vision and tactility. Madalina Diaconu discusses this concept in her essay: Matter, Movement, Memory, referring to Merleau-Ponty's idea of vision as "a contact over distance" and as a "palpitation" with the eyes, further stating: "The pedestrian, too, "palpates" the surface of buildings, feeling their size. Shape and firmness, protrusions and edges."[5]

︎Images that show Texture

These textural impressions are essential in allowing us to understand the structures and surfaces around us and many of my photographic images focused on this very tactile aspect of the urban space. Juhani Palassma reflected on the importance of texture in architecture: "Buildings should be pleasant to touch… Texture is the means to achieve the right tactility, not just to the touch but to the eye as well."[6] It is a reminder that the surfaces we encounter in our urban space invite us to look closely, touching with our eyes and when possible our hands, feet and body.

Our bodies are not standing still in space, and so hand in hand with this tactility and physicality is the impact of time and movement on the experience. We are not just moving through the urban space we are immersed in it and each movement; however slight changes the experience or view.[7]During my walks, a step forward might bring me into a shadow and change the appearance of a surface, which moments earlier had been yellow, to brown or moving away from a busy street might allow me to hear birds where before there was only traffic.

Freedom of Gaze

Physically moving through the space also allowed almost complete freedom of gaze, and the ability to move around the viewed object or scene to frame it in different manners. With each step, decisions could be made on how to proceed. Walking forward created time narratives as well, stories that had beginnings and endings. Illustrating this idea, figure 14, shows an image glimpsed from a mirror discarded in an entry passage of a building, a banal image but nonetheless an image which has a story of surprise at finding the mirror and then in moving to see my image and finally composing a new image. This image would not have been visible without being able to move my body into a non-public area, illustrating both freedom of gaze and time narration.

︎Images that show Freedom of Gaze


This movement, through space and time, has not only an impact on the changing view it also established a rhythm and a pace. Sometimes the experience was slow as I stopped many times to write and think, and at other times, I quickened my pace to match those of my fellow walkers on the sidewalks. "Cities can be recognized by their pace just as people can by their walk"' wrote Musil. This "one great rhythmic throb," can hardly be measured, but only felt by immersing oneself in the city; therefore, it implies once more a metaphorical tactility”.[8] My impressions of rhythm were most apparent in the videos of my feet walking where I heard and felt the pace of my body. Moving on to a major street would bring the rhythm of trams and other walkers into the picture. In one sequence of images and videos, I captured the ceaseless rhythm of bikers returning from work around 5:30 pm – a constant whizzing by as I sat quietly in the center of the road.


Repeating elements were also a constant part of the urban experience, whether seen at once or discovered over time through movement. This repetition became obvious the longer I explored Klybeck. Certain elements, which I had seen on one street, appeared again in a slightly different configuration a street over. For example, the cigarette machines, unremarked at first, reappeared over and over. The mailboxes repeated one after another down the street or the flower boxes and awnings creating patterns with their shadows. or a building which spanned an entire city block with the broad stripes of orange paint, each swath of color creating a repetition that defined the visual image of the street.

︎Images that show Rhythm, Repetition and Pattern