LA+ SENSE invites contributors to reflect on the many ways we come to understand our world through various senses, sensors, and sensibilities.
Visuality is often privileged in landscape architecture, not only because the discipline emerged within a Western European epistemology where vision reigns supreme but because design happens largely through image-making. Yet designers have long concerned themselves with sensations that cannot be represented in images – the scent of flowers and soil, the sound of water and wind, the “feel” of different materials underfoot. These qualities contribute significantly to our memories, and designs that pay careful attention can create a “sense of place.” Similarly, preservation and museum studies are expanding beyond material and text-based records to incorporate the “intangible heritage” of sound and smells into accounts of the past. However, our senses are not limited to the five-sense sensorium of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste — a classification attributed to Aristotle and still taught to school children. Developments in neuroscience place the number of senses somewhere between 9 and 33. And that’s just the human sensorium.
More and more technologies are being created for sensing our environment, and much is being learned about how animals and plants sense theirs. We often think of these tools as extending our capacity for sensing what is not available through natural human perception. But what is “natural” about human perception? Not as much as was once believed, it turns out. Though our senses have a biological basis, they are not simply intermediaries through which we gain empirical knowledge about our world. As artist and critic Jonathan Crary wrote, “Whether perception or vision actually changes is irrelevant, for they have no autonomous history. What changes are the plural forces and rules composing the field in which perception occurs.” The senses, too, have a history.