“The Perceptual Dimensions
and Urban Design”
M . M a s h h o o d A r if
U r b a n Pla n n e r
Perceptual means the process of becoming aware of physical objects,
phenomenon etc. through senses. Thus the perceptual dimension in urban design
embraces the images, experiences and meanings that people attach to the built
The Perceptual Dimension of urban design explores how people perceives
environment and experience places
This chapter is divided in three main parts:
• Environmental perception
• Construction of place in terms of place identity, sense of place and
• Place differentiation and place theming
―Environment perception is a way in which an individual perceive the
Environment has great impact on us and we have to perceive by our all senses.
There is a marked distinction between sensation and perception which
represents environment stimuli.
Sensation refers to human sensory system which could be all four senses or the
sense of heat, balance and pain.
Perception is far more much than just sensing the environment. Perception is
socially and culturally learned while sensation may be stimuli to everyone
Lang (1994:226-7) suggests an alternative that rather than focusing on removing
negative concern the focus should be on increasing positive. E.g.: Birds‘
sounds, children voices and the crunching of autumn leaves etc. He emphasizes
that sound scope contributes as much as visual qualities. eg. waterfall, fountains
can counter negative sounds like traffic noise.
It was proposed by Lynch that environmental images were the result of two way
process between the observer and the environment.
Thus place image is a combination of place identity and how the place is perceived
by the individual (it includes the individual set of feelings about and impressions of
Environmental images require three attributes according to Lynch:
According to Lynch, cities have districts, landmarks, paths, nodes and edges that
were easily identifiable and easily grouped into an overall pattern that lead to what
we call ―image ability‖
Image ability – it is the quality of a physical object which gives it a high probability
of evoking a strong image in any given observer.
BEYOND THE IMAGE OF CITY
Mental understanding of the essence of the city that every individual
creates after one is directly or indirectly colliding with the environment of
the city. Projection of the distant images of the city that where built during
often collisions in the past with the environment of the city that only partly
are kept in the memory.
It includes various steps of visual survey. A visual survey in urban design is
an examination of the form, appearance and composition of a city as well
as evaluation of its assets and liabilities. Here these are in terms of area
which is working and functioning well and that area are not functioning well.
We need to be improved it.
Comparing Milan and Room, Milan was constructed by clearly connected
paths relating to their city‘s radial street pattern whereas Rooms was
constructed around land marks and edges associated with the city‘s
historical buildings, its hills and the river Tiber.
LYNCH‟S FIVE ELEMENTS
• District: These are the medium-to-large areas which observes mentally enter
inside of and have some common identifying character.
• Edges: These are linear elements either not used or considered by observers as
paths and often forming boundaries between areas or linear breaks in continuity.
• Pathways: These are channels along which observer move like
streets, walkways and transit etc. Path could be important feature in city
images for several reasons including regular use, façade characteristics
• Nodes: These are point references and which are the intensive foci. Nodes
may be primarily junctions. Distinctive physical form is likely to make the
node more memorable.
• Landmarks: Some landmarks are distant and are typically seen from many
angles and from distance. Spatial prominence could establish some
elements as landmarks by making the element visible from many locations.
Champs Elysees: Certain paths are
significant in supporting clear mental
maps of cities or parts of cities.
Weymouth England: the sea edge is a
powerful organizing element for
coastal towns and cities.
ENVIRONMENTAL MEANING AND SYMBOLISM
―Symbolism is the practice of representing things with sign and giving them
The symbolic role of buildings and environment is a key part of relationship
between society and environment.
Reading an environment involves understanding how different things come
to different people and how meanings change.
As society changes, so does signification.
Economic and commercial forces are highly influential in creating the
symbolism of the built environment.
SENSE OF PLACE
Sense of place takes into account ―the social and geographical context of
place bonds and the sensing of places, such as aesthetics and a feeling of
Term ‗place‘, as opposed to space, expresses a strong affective bond
between a person and a particular setting. In other words, place is mixed with
human values and principles. As a result, place is a particular space which is
covered with meanings and values by the users.
Places play an essential and vital role in human life. Each place has its own
unique character that is an important issue in social science.
The absence of quality of being distinctive and meaningful place is called
placelessness. Lacking of a proper place for people, things etc., lacking of a
• with mass communication, and increasingly high technology, places
become more and more similar, so that locations lose a distinctive ‗sense
• Essentially, placelessness is the loss of a unique sense of place and
• When space is filled with cultural meanings, places (cultural, varied,
relative) emerge. But when landscapes are not used by people who live in
them placelessness results.
• Appreciation of placelessness provides a framework of reference for urban
design. The factors which contribute towards contemporary sense of
placelessness are globalization, mass culture and loss of social and
It is multi-faceted process in which the world is increasingly inter connected
with centralized decision making exploiting efficiencies and economies of
scale and standardization.
Now a days people all around the world follow the same standards as
uniformity. There is no much heterogeneity in the standards and design which
should show our cultural values and tradition.
These are formulated by manufacturers, governments and professional
designers and are guided and communicated through mass media. Uniform
products and places are created for people of supposedly uniform needs
tastes, or perhaps vice versa.
China town in many cities across the world is the example of mass culture. In
which the people of same place builds and adopts the architectural design of
LOSS OF TERROTORY:
Due to emerging modern design concepts, people no longer care and
practice their own architectural design which causes loss of territory for them.
Loss of territory means that in a certain place of territory the people don't
practice their own ancient architectural design, but adopt the modern
Place differentiation means to create a new place which represents the whole
city. It becomes identity of the city. Place differentiation distinguishes one
place from other. Historical places conserve the identity of the city.
Physical landscape is more responsive and amendable to bring new changes
as compare to economic structure of city. Important dimensions are place
marketing and city branding in city development. Iconic buildings provide
iconic identity to city. Similar buildings with similar design losses the distinction
and identity of the city.
Imagineering-manufacturing place identities-involves deliberate use of
symbols/themes (often drawn from existing places) to enhance place distinctiveness.
At a large scale, this is termed as place marketing.
Place marketing involves developing such images for tourism and economic
Use of images in place marketing has a number of recognized problems, including
mismatches between images and reality.
Place marketing involves attempts to:
Change the perceptual place image in the minds of target audiences through
advertisement and place promotion campaigns.
To carry out physical changes to place through real estate development, external
rehabilitation and establishment of new attractions, activities and events.
This may be done by the help of icons.
Place theming can be defined as designing and decorating
restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, casinos and even small towns to
exaggerate stereotypes and recreate lost places.
Depending on extent of existing source material, place theming can involve
reinventing or inventing places.
Reinventing places start from a basis in reality, but involve a significant
change, distortion and loss of authenticity. Whereas, inventing places spring
from the creative minds of authors, artists, architects, designers and
Place theming can occurs in a variety of settings including shopping
malls, historic district or tourist destinations.
Invented place is a purposeful thematisation which is now
widespread, extending from shopping malls to festival markets to urban
• Merit and Demerit:
No doubt that invented place, is a welcome correction to modernism‘s
obsession but it also caused forgetting of the past and starting over a clean
On the other hand its merit is that it creates reality out of fantasy in many
ways. It is successful because it adheres certain principles of sequential
experience and storytelling, creating an appropriate and meaningful sense of
place in which both activities and memories are individual and shared
The Palace in the „New” Old Town
PRINCIPLES OF URBAN ENTERTAINMENT DESTINATION:
Hannigan (1998) discusses a particular kind of invented place—the urban
entertainment destination (UED) or fantasy city. Its principles are:
• Aggressively Branded
• Open day and night
CRITICISM OF PLACE THEMING AND INVENTED PLACES
Invented places and place theming provides opportunities for urban design and placemaking, but the practices raise a number of place-making issues and there has been
such critical comment:
• Destroys real place identity
• Place‘s intangibility has been widely exploited
• Real places with their full freight of art and memories are devalued and destroyed
• Architectural fetishism, Harvey(1990: 77)
COMMODIFICATION OF PLACE:
• Outside inventions rather than expression of local culture
• ―Economic space‖ invades ―lived space‖
• Places commercial Exploitation rather than its authentic development
SIMULACRUM AND THE REAL:
• Public‘s inability distinguish between what is real and what is not
• Simulations and reality are two different things
• First order simulation are obvious copies of reality
• Second order simulations are copies that blur the boundaries between
reality and representation
• Third order simulation (simulacra) are imitations of things that are never
• In first and second reality exist while in third it doesn‘t
The value of the perceptual dimension of urban design is the emphasis placed on
people and how they perceive; value and both draw meaning from and add
meaning to the urban environment.
Places that are real to people invite and require involvement- both intellectual and
emotional-and provide a sense of psychological connectedness.
Urban designers thus need to learn how to make better people places by
observing existing places and through dialogue with their users and stakeholders.