Sensing the City: An Embodied Approach to Urban Space Observation and Notation



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This thesis considers possibilities provided by dance improvisation and theory to enhance individual sensory experiences of urban space. Citing phenomenological capabilities of dance improvisation, it posits that the art form can bring forth new ways of observing and relating to the built environment. Central to this research is the design of a new notation system which draws from existing dance notation systems Feuillet and Labanotation, and urban design notation systems Motation and Ray Lucas’s Notation for the Senses. This new notation system provides a strategy for capturing sensory-based observational data. Through a carefully selected series of characters, maps, and written phrases, this notation system presents multimodal syntheses of the urban landscape. Three movement experiments are recounted, occurring at the Umass Fine Arts Center Plaza and Kendall Sports and Dance Complex. These 3-4 hour experiments bring together groups of dance students to participate in “movement explorations” in urban space, from which their observations are recorded using this project’s new notation system. Results from these experiments demonstrated dance improvisation’s ability to deepen urban space observation and provided feedback for further iterations of the notation system.



Architecture, Dance, Improvisation, Urban Studies, Phenomenology