Pavements of Pleasure:
Walking choreographies, visual illusions and emotional landscapes of waiting
The Bartlett School of Architecture,
University College London, UK
Pavements are the most banal and ubiquitous form of the urban fabric.
Literally outside the typologies of street furniture and soft landscape design, pavements (sidewalks
or footpaths) are crudely defined as the artificially covered and raised walk surfaces for pedestrians
at the side of the road. However, as the foremost physical platform of support for locomotion, and
thus a connecting element of mapping between body and landscape, pavements could be considered
as experiential constructions of urban exploration. For the urban nomad, here suggested as co-
producer with the place-maker, pavements can be the canvas for the city everyday rituals and
narratives, the stage for emotional topographies.
Using the site-specific traditional mosaic systems of the Portuguese sidewalks as reference, this
paper will discuss the possibility of a walking notation for urban pavements. Three diverse but
linked conceptual frameworks will be considered: 1. conceptions of aesthetics of mobility and of
disappearance; 2. principles of optical art, anamorphosis and visual illusions; and 3. theories of
playability and pleasure.
It will be argued that pavements can deepen the poetics of any given place, in particular the
uninspiring spaces of mobility and travel like transport nodes, where spatial practices such as
walking and waiting are embodied by the tempo of empty and negative times of boredom.
Pavements; Portuguese sidewalks; walking choreographies; visual illusions; playability.
Within environmental design disciplines, hard landscape design usually refers to the built work of
paving design, landscape enclosures and landscape/street furniture (Lisney and Fieldhouse, 1990).
Fundamental to hard landscape design is the principle of construction (techniques and materials),
and also the functional detailing of spaces between buildings where pedestrian movement occurs.
This means that the formal and technical qualities of urban settings are utterly related to human
scale, activities and movement. This is certainly the case of paving design and ground surface
forms, which are typically associated with transport or road infrastructures and pathways’
maintenance (repairs, resurfacing and cleaning) but are in fact one of the most important landscape
Spatially speaking, pavements refer to all the durable surfaces of an area intended to sustain either
vehicular or pedestrian traffic. These paving forms are generally connected with the lateral areas of
ground on either side of a roadway. More common in modern urban areas, pavements are also
defined as sidewalks or pathways, which are (foot)paths designed for or by pedestrians (i.e.
unexpected trails). Artificially covered with concrete, tarmac, asphalt, brick, stone or even wood,
pavements are constructed as raised walk surfaces that run alongside a thoroughfare (street, way,
road). Perhaps due to their prosaic flat quality, they are usually not considered as part of urban
furniture typologies (e.g. sitting, lighting, information, planting, enclosing and sanitary fittings).
However, as the foremost physical platform for locomotion, pavements are an integral part of every
urban fabric and one of the key elements of support of people’s basic modes of travel and
movement – i.e. walking and way-finding. Following Tim Ingold’s (2004) proposition of a “culture
on the ground”, this paper discusses a more grounded approach to human movement, landscape
design, and embodied skills of pedestrian engagement and way-finding perception. Often taken for
granted, pavements are more than just the standard finishing of interior floorscapes or outdoor
patchy groundscapes. Programmatically, the physical ground of urban landscapes is normally
entrusted only with service functions (circulation, access, sometimes parking or storage, etc.). All
the same, in a rather poetic way, the ground pavement can be considered as the stage of everyday
life practices and a valuable built-environment instrument in which to design more emotional
topographies (engaging sceneries, playful settings, and expressive features).
In this sense, it is argued that the science and art of paving forms reveals two important
conceptions regarding the human-environment relationship: firstly, pavements are the connecting
points or interstitial layers between body and landscape; and secondly, they function and are
experienced as mapping constructions in people’s urban explorations. These two conceptions
suggest that pavements might then deepen the poetics of any given place or particular urban
experience. This can be the case of the frequently disjointed, monotonous and grey spaces of travel
such as stations, terminals and gateways; and especially, if to inhabit these landscapes of mobility
implies frustrating way-finding experiences and the empty and negative times of boredom and
By considering exploratory work done outside the liminal scenario of a suburban train station, this
paper proposes the use of pavements as canvas for urban design. For this purpose, the work draws
on two important spatial systems: the site-specific traditional mosaic systems of the Portuguese
sidewalks as illustrative reference; and, the typographical schemes of notation systems (e.g. dance,
movement and music notations) as basis for a walking or way-finding notation at spaces of travel.
The Portuguese sidewalks – Calçada Portuguesa – are marked by a simplified and suggestive
technique of black and white visual game of stone paving tessellation (black and white small cube
forms of calcareous, basalt and granite). This traditional paving art is used in most pedestrian areas
in Portugal, and it is usually found in almost every city sidewalks and urban plazas.
The art of paving is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia, where rocky materials were used
to cover the interior and exterior surfaces of constructions. Later adopted by Ancient Greek and
Roman civilizations, paving crafts were largely developed by the latter that used to pave all their
empire’s vias using the rocky materials of their surroundings. Introducing particular techniques of
foundation and surfacing still employed today in the Portuguese calçada, the Romans also applied
the paving methods to their building interiors. Here art forms such as the tessella (tessera) or
mosaic configurations were extensively used as remarkable decoration elements and also as an
expressive illustration of everyday reality and ways of living (Matos, 2004). Later, the Arabic
inheritance brought some substantial changes to the organizational and structural shape of the
public pavements, when techniques of draining and empting were developed to the complex crop
systems of dams and waterways. Consequently, the drawing of both the decoration (the arabesc)
and the construction preservation of pavements assumed a more public character, spreading the
interior decoration to the streets and giving more visibility to the paving craft as representation of
political, religious and art activities.
In Portugal, the traditional art of paving was further developed after the Renaissance; especially
after a series of significant earthquakes in the 16th and 18th centuries (e.g. Lisbon, 1751). As a
result, cities’ reconstruction would greatly advance urban planning and the modernization of
traditional medieval streets (Matos, 2004). In terms of urbanistic development and accessibility,
sidewalks began to be planned together with the adjacent architecture. Several important buildings
and urban squares in Lisbon (e.g. Rossio and Figueira Squares, Restauradores and Liberdade
Avenues) were amongst the first urban spaces and public walkways to be fully covered with large
tapestries of stone of black and white drawings. Following roman techniques of mosaic (i.e.
bedding and setting of stones), the artistic paving activity was performed throughout the whole
country and overseas’ colonies (e.g. Brazil) by hundreds of calceteiros craftsmen (pavers), who
were in charge of the construction of new streets’ pavements, novel techniques for tessellations, tile
patterns and aesthetic compositions. Particular motifs such as the “wide sea”, the “interwoven
ropes”, the Portuguese Discoveries’ caravels and numerous representations of daily practices,
became symbols of Portuguese culture and part of a pictorial language impressed upon the ground
(Bairrada, 1985). Traditional pavements soon became a mean of communication which told the
history of the place and the everyday narratives of its users, also promoting the pedestrian pleasure
of ‘going for a walk’ (passeio público). Artists and writers alike who lived and walked through
these stoned engravings literally praised the poetry of pavements’ chromatic games, the skill
process of laying stones and the embodied feelings of such painted topographies (Cabrera et al.,
1990; Matos, 2004).
Figure 1 – Portuguese sidewalks: pavers, pavements and patterns
Unfortunately, the art of paving slowly became restricted to conservation works in historical areas
or important top architectural projects. This was due to factors such as: the high cost and reduced
robustness of traditional paving (in comparison to concrete-based or bituminous materials); the
craftsmen’s arduous labor of laying stone by stone while squatting down; the scarcity of material
resources; the municipalities’ low budget; and also the present ‘barrier-free’ regulations for street
accessibility. However, despite economical and manufacture limitations pavements have recently
become a source of inspiration as aesthetic expression for several artists, who transferred the color,
techniques and mosaic composition to both the inside of architecture surfaces (e.g. Chiado) and the
exterior road surfaces of vast new urban interventions (e.g. the urban area of Parque Expo, former
Lisbon Park Expo’ 98). Although now subject to fewer applications or technological adaptations,
Portuguese pavements continue to be a strong cultural manifestation. The memory, culture and
urban landscapes of Portuguese identity will be forever immortalized in the artistic stoned
pavements of the sidewalks (Bairrada, 1985; Cabrera et al. 1990; Matos, 2004).
In their recent work Groundscapes, the architectural team Textbild proposes: “analogous to a plan
stretched out on a drafting table, the ground is programmed as canvas of a picture that can be
grasped as a whole […] to organize space” (Ruby and Ruby, 2006). Extending the architectural
drawing into the horizontal surfaces of the ground, the authors suggest the conception of “inscribed
ground”. The inscription of an image into the ground transforms the lines, points and surfaces of a
simple drawing into a topographical relief with several urban structures and programmatic
elements, which users in turn tend to “experience haptically, crawling like ants across its surface
while attempting to grasp its meaning through touch” (Ruby and Ruby, 2006). This ‘touch’ refers
not just to the sensory ability of hand tactility, but to an embodied experience of pedestrian
movement, thus including the visual, auditory and locomotion body perception.
Challenging the “groundlessness of modern metropolitan dwelling”, Ingold argues for a more
grounded approach to spatial perception, in which pedestrian experiences and walking activities
should not be reduced to short intervals between other vehicular movements and to which feet are
considered as mere “stepping-machines” (Ingold 2004). By proposing a balance of the senses as an
alternative to the typical visual and manual modalities, Ingold suggests restoring the haptic and
kinesthetic sensations of touch through the feet (albeit mediated by footwear), which are literally
people’s foremost continuous points of contact with their surroundings. Hearing with the feet,
observing through a continuous itinerary of movement or feeling the ground through the whole
body are just some of the challenges that a new pedestrian touch may reveal. Undoubtedly that the
study of pedestrian behaviors, spatial navigation processes and “walkability factors index” (Stonor
et al., 2002) are crucial for forecasting pedestrian flows and modeling pedestrian movement in light
of changes in urban configurations. However, one is more interested in the ‘intangible notation’
defined by everyday walking choreographies (i.e. steps arrangements, sequences and directions;
movement routines and designs; feet pressure and intensity; way-finding dances and pauses).
A walking choreography happens, for instance, within everyday practices of coming and going in-
and-out spaces of travel like train stations. Here, pedestrian operations such as lingering, stopping
or temporarily pausing, occasional standing, fidgeting, stalling ‘time’ and disconcerted walking
often occur. These practices define, one argues, the contemporary emotional landscapes of waiting.
As with fingerprints, pedestrians’ density, cross-currents and feet pressure ‘leave behind a trace’ of
feetprints and motion uses that subliminally are impressed on to the groundscape. Hypothetically, if
pavements could then act as ‘living organisms’ and capture, react or change according to these
ground imprints, a walking notation or a way-finding system of pedestrian touch could be bodily
sketched. A pavement walking notation is like stepping or drawing on sand; or creating endless
ephemeral stencils that overlay each other; or even gently pressing electroluminescence conductive
materials that change color or pattern with pressure touch and temperature. Since walking involves
motion perception, a temporary notated language as such could follow some of the principles of
dance, music and movement notations. Hence, comparable to Portuguese sidewalk typologies, its
graphical representations would become the motifs of the pavement drawings and ever-changing
Aesthetics of disappearance and of mobility
This time-based body impact of motion perception and the pedestrian process of (de)codification
(walking notation) are to some extent analogous to Paul Virilio’s notion of “aesthetic of
disappearance” (Virilio, 1991). This refers to both the experience of change under speed (e.g.
watching the landscape quickly ‘passing by’ through a train window) and to its insubstantial or
fleeting visual representation. This ‘dematerialization’ of the visible was explored, for instance, in
kinetic art where the disappearing movement was registered through a series of momentary
postures and ‘freeze-frames’, introducing contemporary explorations of ‘trace forms’ in dance
notation. Although originating in the arts, the aesthetic of disappearance is an interesting design
strategy for the ground level of landscapes of waiting, where the deliberate organization of a way-
finding path and the topography around it may turn motion perception into an aesthetic experience.
Depending on walking and waiting time intervals and durations, objects and terrains can be
experienced as multi-sensory perceptual artifacts, varying in the degree of focus (e.g. details such
as pavement textures fading or changing with pedestrian movement) and meaning.
Similar to this aesthetic of disappearance, Ossi Naukkarinen proposes a ‘moving field’ of aesthetic
mobility (Naukkarinen, 2005). This refers to the aesthetic and/or artistic aspects of mobility and
change, which relate people’s ways of moving with aesthetic approaches and choices. He states:
“our everyday mobility consists of various ways of getting about, and sometimes our approach to
them is aesthetically colored: we pay attention to how beautiful, ugly, fascinating or enthralling a
walk, a drive, or a route is”. Naukkarinen suggests that these ‘sensuous’ and structured acts of
moving about offer intense kinetic, visual and auditory experiences, which imply that mobile
activities can often be considered as aesthetically rich phenomena.
Beyond the primary purpose of moving (i.e. to get somewhere else), the search for aesthetics
experiences and environments is often one of the reasons for travel. However, arguing against the
contemporary mindset obsessed with speed, mobility and efficiency, it is also important to consider
the notions of ‘temporary occupancy’ and ‘momentary stillness’. Ultimately, the final purpose of
walking or moving is to stop. While traveling, and in particular before and after a journey, there are
usually occasions of interruption, pauses between moments of mobility. Those are normally the
first moments of encounter with the space traveled from and to. For instance, at train stations when
leaving the train to encounter the city ahead or vice-versa. This means that a mobile aesthetics, an
aesthetic of mobility or even of disappearance, are also defined by a waiting discontinuity. Both
bodily motion and stillness help to determine people’s perception and appropriation of
environmental features – i.e. the ‘appearance’ of the world (Ingold, 2004). Certainly, there is a
difference between moving about by oneself and observing movement or mobility from a
standpoint, either standing still outside or moving inside a vehicular capsule (Naukkarinen, 2005).
These mobile variances shift pedestrians’ aesthetic valuations as the experience of sensory
perception unfolds and changes through these diverse choreographies.
What is interesting here is that the pedestrian, mobile or at rest, participates in the construction of
its surroundings through multiple paths of observation, motion and emotion (Ingold, 2004). While
on foot, with strides and pauses, a walking choreography is the primary act of ‘transformation’ of
the territory/landscape. As Francesco Careri proposes, walking is an “aesthetic practice”, but also
an “aesthetic instrument of knowledge” (Careri, 2002). Ingold supports this interrelated notion
between aesthetic perception, cognition and locomotion, by suggesting that “walking [is] a form of
circumambulatory knowing” and that people know as they go, not before they go (Ingold, 2004).
These conceptions focus on the embodied process of moving per se and its transitory and
transformational states, rather than on the contemporary modality of vehicular mobility. In this
context, one argues that the experience of pedestrian touch is not just marked by the modern
nomadic lifestyle of accelerated mobility, constantly being ‘on-the-move’ or ‘in transit’; but, is
instead defined by the pedestrian ‘slow-motion’ rhythms of everyday life, by the ‘stop-motion
animations’ that happen in between.
Animating anamorphic topographies and visual illusions
Following Ingold’s proposition that perception is a function of movement, it is possible to infer that
what people perceive in their surroundings depends on how they move through them. This simple
conjecture can provide paving design some directions and allusions. A walking choreography
through a landscape [of waiting or not] is informed by a sequence of distances and projections (e.g.
images in perspective, sounds in distance), which people construct as they go based on their
sensory perception or pedestrian touch. Contrarily to graphical perspective, this motion through
paths and ‘lines of sight’ implies multi-focal and multi-direction connections. In theory, this
‘cubist’ construction of circumambulatory knowing would (arguably) provoke ‘momentary
distortions’ similar to that of a kaleidoscope or mirrors’ room; but, in reality these multi-focal
juxtapositions rarely occur. Nevertheless, one could ask: what if a distortion of a sensory
perception could be captured within the surroundings; what if pavement landscapes could be
squeezed and stretched in sensory illusions as if through anamorphic lenses?
There are several types of sensory perception distortions (e.g. optical, auditory, touch illusions),
which are ‘misinterpretations’ of a true sensation perceived in a distorted manner. Each of the
human senses can be ‘deceived’ by illusions, but visual phenomena and optical trickery are the
most well know. Optical or visual illusions exploit errors of perception (phenomena of illusions) or
assumptions made by the human visual system (usually their basis is in the visual pathway and not
in the optics of the eye), into incorrectly perceiving what is present or perceiving something that is
not present at all (Coren and Girgus, 1978). There are physiological illusions that occur naturally
(e.g. afterimages and perceptual aftereffects), and cognitive illusions that are caused by a
misapplication of perceptual knowledge to interpret or read sensory signals (Gregory, 1997).
Cognitive illusions are commonly divided into: ambiguities, or ambiguous illusions, which are
pictures or objects that elicit a perceptual change between the alternative interpretations (e.g. the
figure-ground Rubin vase); distortions, or distorting illusions, which are characterized by
distortions of size, length or curvature (e.g. the Mueller-Lyer ingoing and outgoing arrow-heads
illusion); paradoxes, or paradox illusions, that are generated by paradoxical or impossible objects
(e.g. the Penrose triangle); and fictions, or fictional illusions that are defined as the imaginary
perception of objects by a single observer such as delusions and hallucinations (Coren and Girgus,
1978; Gregory, 1997; Wade, 1990).
Inspired by the optical characteristics of the eye and the laws of visual perception, optical illusions
were adopted, explored and manipulated by the 1960s artistic movement Op Art. Through hard-
edge and abstract compositions Optical artists explored the arrangement of serial structures and
geometrical forms or patterns to create striking visual effects of movement and vibration, with
impressions of flashing, swelling or warping and hidden images (Wade, 1982). By sharing
academic theory about the relationships between body, time, space and movement, Optical art was
developed in parallel with Kinetic art in the 1960s and 70s, which underlying principles of chance
and randomness are based on real or illusory, mechanical or random sequences of movements.
Also exploring mathematical and physical rules of perspective and visual perception, there are
anamorphoses or anamorphisms. These are unconventional perspectives or unintelligible
distortions of elongated or swirled smears of shapes and lines that only reassemble themselves as a
coherent image when viewed from a particular extreme angle, or in a convex or trapezoid mirror
(Baltrusaitis, 1977; Warner, 2004). Since the Renaissance, the geometrical technique of
unconventional perspective through anamorphosis has been largely explored in painting and
printmaking, which designs are based on visual compositions of deformed, doubled or
hidden/secret images (Leeman et al, 1976). A particularly well-known example is the oblique
anamorphosis of a skeleton distorted image in the painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein,
1533. In anamorphic art, the images do not make sense unless the viewer knows how or where to
place the ‘eye’ or move either the image or himself around it. To some extent, that is the case of the
‘anamorphic’ designs of road markings. In order to be viewed by road users from moving and
shallow angle positions, some road markings vary the vertical dimension of the lettering (e.g.
stretching technique), exploring the apparent shrinking effect (foreshortening effect) of visual
perception when the observer is moving at speed.
A common element present in all these perceptual illusions and visual allusions is the ‘distortion of
reality’ or ‘changing perspective’, either graphically represented or physically embodied by the
observer’s movement. By exploring this element of embodied movement, it is argued that the
design of paving landscapes can ‘play’ with sensory perception illusions as to create physical
anamorphic topographies. The following images show some proposals for paving design and mock-
up explorations of flat and 3D anamorphic constructions, which use ‘weaving’ techniques and
optical, auditory and touch illusions as design techniques for the pavements way-finding
Figure 2 – Design explorations: weaving pavements and anamorphic topographies
Playability and pleasure
This paper argues that playability can be explored as design criteria, fostering imagination,
immersion and enjoyment. As a theoretical concept, playability is difficult to define since it
comprises a wide range of practices of learning, leisure and free-time. Usually, it refers to ‘non-
serious’ activities of recreation and enjoyment, or any other entertainment activities that act as
work antithesis. More frequently, playability is associated to the degree and quality of an activity
that is structured and goal-oriented such as ‘to play a game’. However, in lay terms, the concepts of
play and playability are intrinsically related to experiences of ‘having fun’ and thriving on
satisfaction achievements – also known as gratifying playful pleasures.
The notion of pleasure was greatly explored by the anthropologist Lionel Tiger (1992), who
defined not a universal explanation for the concept but rather a framework of four interrelated types
of pleasure. Firstly, there are the physio-pleasures, which are related to the body and the senses,
deriving from the sensory receptors and including feelings of sensual and sexual pleasure.
Secondly, there are the socio-pleasures, which are associated with inter-personal and social
relationships, deriving from the enjoyment of being in the company of others – social interactions
and social identity. Thirdly, the psycho-pleasures are linked to the mind and derive from the
satisfaction and fulfillment of accomplishing a task. And finally, the ideo-pleasures which are
related to emotions and values, deriving from the appreciation of ‘abstract’ entities (e.g. art or
music), and also associated with the aesthetic principles of objects and settings’ environmental
perception (e.g. balance, harmony, complexity, and other Gestalt principles of organization).
The difficulty of generally defining what is and what constitutes ‘pleasure’ is due to the fact that
pleasures are so idiosyncratic, private and immeasurable; but, it is also this indeterminacy what
makes it so powerful and playfully intriguing (Tiger, 1992). To some extent, one could argue that it
is precisely this individual attitude towards the pursuit of satisfaction and the power of pleasure
that informs the level of pleasurability and playability people draw out of any given interaction.
Through captivating experiences of involvement, challenge, immersion, investment, internal
change and social interaction, people persistently explore the power of play and pleasure and the
ambiguity of playability.
In order to explore a ‘theory of playability’, a brief outline of the theory of play should be briefly
presented. Johan Huizinga’s (1938; 1998) seminal book “Homo Ludens” advanced play not as an
inconsequential and biological phenomenon confined to the sphere of childhood, but rather as a
cultural one – i.e. a special form of activity separated from everyday life with a social function
which involves experiences of great fun, pleasure and enjoyment. Another classic in play theory is
Roger Caillois’ (1961) work “Man, Play and Games”, which extended and in part disputed
Huizinga’s claims, by suggesting that the power of play is important to culture insofar as playthings
as games, toys and other entertainment gadgets are historical residues of culture and the foremost
triggers for playful activities. Caillois’ typology of play (competition –agon, chance –alea,
simulation –mimicry, and vertigo –ilinx) also yielded another valuable concept: the notion of a
continuum between free play or improvisation (paidia) and goal-oriented and rule-bound play
(ludus). This contribution about ‘freedom and rules’ is regarded as the first conceptualization of
play and game as complex systemic interactions, instead of straightforward leisure activities or
cultural practices. In terms of game theory (following from the mathematical theory of games the
study of strategies in a variety of situations), Brian Sutton-Smith’s (1997) book “The Ambiguity of
Play” contributed further to this view of structured games by developing notions of control and
system and thus proposing play as an exercise of voluntary controlled systems. The application of
pure play theory to game studies and its relationship with rules and computer game design is also
extensively discussed by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (2003) book “Rules of Play: Game
Design Fundamentals”, which reveals a contemporary tendency to associate the concept of play
with the word game-play, in particular in media studies, game theory and Human Computer
Interaction research. Ultimately, the concept of play can also be positioned within the post-modern
literary and philosophical domains of Deconstructivism, which uses play as a programmatic term
for the process of signification (semiotics) and the reconstruction of language and narrative
between the realms of the imaginary/fictive and real life. Similar to game storylines, the literary
text is the result of a process of fiction-making, to which play is the mode of mediation between
reality and imaginary worlds.
Conclusions: playing with paving design
Following the previous outline of play and game (i.e. activities of fun and playful satisfaction), it is
possible to draw a parallel between the previous conceptions of ambiguities, distorting realities,
paradoxical illusions, fictional worlds and embodied movements with the concept of playability
pleasures. Since the ‘playfulness’ and pleasure taken out of any given interaction is directly related
to the user participation, involvement, immersion, investment and satisfaction, it should be this
playful diversity of users’ experiences, capabilities and expectations that should inform the design
of our surroundings. This means, for instance, that the design of pavement landscapes should
involve the user as co-producer in ‘designing’ or defining a playful space.By suggesting pavements
of pleasure, anamorphic landscapes of illusions and way-finding walking notations, the experience
of space and time (e.g. when waiting or traveling) may be challenged, accentuated or enhanced. In
spaces of travel and landscapes of waiting, pavements as such may provoke playful experiences
and choreographies, suggesting new conceptualizations for aesthetic mobilities. Nevertheless, to
further assess these prepositions, more experimental design work in this area is needed.
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