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The role of smell in urban design

Henshaw, V


V Henshaw



The dominance of sight in built environmental design and management is well documented with smell overlooked by built environment professionals, considered of primarily negative influence upon experience and perception. However odour has special characteristics, retained in memory longer than visual images, and can transport people back through space and time through recollection and association. As a result, it has an important role to play in urban place experience. Few dedicated studies have examined the role of smell in environmental experience and perception. As a result, important questions are raised: What odours are commonplace in contemporary urban environments? How are they perceived? What is the relationship between odour and place perception and experience? What tools are available when designing olfactory environments? What are the ethical implications when doing so? Drawing on evidence from smellwalks and semi-structured interviews with fifty-two professionals, licensees, community representatives and business people in Doncaster, accompanied by data involving eighty-two residents, collected in Manchester, Sheffield and Clerkenwell, London by the Vivacity2020 Project, smell is argued highly influential in place experience and perception. This empirical study is one of the first to evidence odour perception as related to place perception with individuals playing an active role in perception according to past experiences and olfactory perceptual state. A potentially positive role for odour is identified in restorative experiences of the city, gained from natural and non-natural sources. A range of tools are introduced, assisting in designing with odour without reliance upon scenting practices, themselves identified problematic due to perceived physical and psychological reactions. Through adopting a pragmatic approach to findings, where experiences of odour are considered on a site by site basis and within the context of local stakeholder engagement, a new model is proposed by which olfactory design can be incorporated into everyday urban design decision making processes.


Henshaw, V. The role of smell in urban design. (Thesis). University of Salford

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 14, 2017
Publisher URL
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Additional Information Funders : Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Award Date Aug 1, 2011