Design Engineering
Showcase

Aesthetics of Place

Student
Jessica Riley
Course
Global Innovation Design
Supervisor
Jack Mama
Theme
Breaking Barriers

How might we empower communities to uncover, understand, and augment their collective culture through aesthetics?

This project explores how we might use the colours, materials, objects, and behaviours we see in our shared spaces as a lens to explore collective cultural values and community aspirations. Building on theories of Environmental Aesthetics and existing community engagement practices, I’ve designed an adaptive methodology and participatory workshop materials to help communities uncover, define and shape the aesthetics of place that make their place, feel like theirs.

Addressing the existing visibility gap between diverse communities and the external powers that shape our shared spaces, it offers external parties a method to more sensitively understand and respond to the current and future aspirations of the diverse community they represent. This new way of seeing has the potential for impact through encouraging a deeper sense of place for the community involved, providing accessible tools of engagement, and encouraging social cohesion through shared understanding.

I am looking for opportunities to take Aesthetics of Place forward by working with related projects, particularly those with a focus on urban development and placemaking, aiming to create social impact. Please feel free to contact me to find out more.

 — Aesthetics of Place
Aesthetics of place can be defined as the colours, materials, objects and behaviours manifest in our places that we perceive reflect and affect the socio-cultural character of the place and people that inhabit it.

Process

Having defined the challenge here in London through consulting various design, public realm and local government experts, I started by breaking the research question down into three core phases; to uncover, to understand and to augment. I explored different design research methods to address each phase.

To define the aesthetics of a place I carried out visual ethnography, identifying key aesthetics of each place through photography. I delivered a public campaign of Social Media Cultural Probes, exploring people’s perspectives on things like the best and most divisive things in their neighbourhoods and gathering visual data on what these things looked like to them.

I developed a participatory workshop that is suitable for both physical and digital facilitation, designed to help people communicate in a visual and so non-threatening way whilst encouraging personal and critical reflection. The aim of the collage workshop was to facilitate people assigning aesthetics of place to key values of their community and then consequently visualising what they imagine their community values to look like in 10 years’ time. Accompanying each collage output, the participants provided insights into their choice and reasoning. This workshop was tested with members of the public both in person and remotely.

Outcomes

I visualised aesthetic summaries using the outputs from the participatory workshop. In this example, you can see a representation of what people perceived in the area as meaning “safe and caring”. You can see vibrant colours, patterned brickwork, and sloped walkways representing accessibility as being “evidence that we care about each other”. These visualisations are designed to facilitate conversations with external partners around what a community perceives their shared spaces to mean and what they want them to say. These can be used to inform the design and planning proposals for development projects to support community-led augmentation of the spaces we share.

Through a methodological framework and participatory workshop materials, this project proposes a new way of seeing and shaping the spaces we share. Acting as a foundation for future research, development and public awareness this approach to community-led, aesthetic “place-shaping” could be developed to encourage places and communities that are inclusive, complex and resilient.

 — Aesthetics of Place
Indicative aesthetic summary illustrating community values of "safe and caring" from the community's perspective. (Based on participants contribution from Sandy, Bedfordshire).

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