This paper is an attempt to
develop categories of the pedestrian’s tactile and kinaesthetic experience of
the city. The beginning emphasizes the
haptic qualities of surfaces and textures, which can be “palpated”
visually or experienced by walking. Also
the lived city is three-dimensional; its corporeal depth is discussed here in relation
to the invisible sewers, protuberant profiles, and the formal diversity of
roofscapes. A central role is ascribed
in the present analysis to the formal similarities between the representation of
the city by walking through it and the representation of the tactile form of
objects. Additional aspects of the “tactile”
experience of the city in a broad sense concern the feeling of their rhythms and
the exposure to weather conditions. Finally,
several aspects of contingency converge in the visible age of architectural
works, which record traces of individual and collective histories.
architecture, city, materiality,
One of the major problems when dealing with tactility
concerns the imprecision of this notion.
Tactility is usually considered synonymous with haptic sensations; as
such, it refers primarily to the experience of touching with hands and feet,
but includes any other active or passive epidermal contact. Moreover, touch registers sensations of
pressure, vibration, and tickling, and provides information about an object’s
surface, its consistency, and form. However,
in a broad sense, tactility may be used as an umbrella term for epidermal
sensations, including proprioceptive sensibility, the thermal sense, and sensations
of pain. The interpretation proposed
here will follow this broad definition. Accordingly,
the aesthetics of the tactile experience of the city refers to the potential of
cityscapes to produce a pleasurable physical and somatic experience in the
The city has always been a fertile ground for cultural
metaphors. The critics of modernity
compared it successively to a machine, a wild beast, an asphalt jungle, or an
Meanwhile many architects and urban planners manifested a predilection for
organic metaphors with positive connotations.
The isomorphism between buildings and cities, on the one hand, and human
bodies, on the other hand, has a long tradition that dates back to Vitruvius. However, these organic metaphors differ from what
might be called the skin of the city in at least two respects. First, they often transpose the natural order
into the socio-political one, as in Plato, Locke and Hobbes. And secondly, the terms of comparison have
been made either with sense organs and body parts or, more recently, with the
cardiovascular system and bodily fluids.
On the contrary, the following “footnotes” on the
tactile aesthetic remain on the literally superficial level of the urban
epidermis. In some respects, they invert
Michel Serres’ metaphor of skin as “carte d’identité” and “carte moirée”
and invite one to “caress” the skin of the city map by strolling through it. To begin, we will highlight the imaginative
potential of material qualities and textures; then we will move on to consider
the vertical stratification of cities, from the sewers to the profiles of
buildings and roofscapes. The kinaesthetic
sensations of walking through the city are doubled by the feeling of the urban
pulse and microclimatic atmosphere. Finally,
patina may be said to objectify a site’s memory and archive the multiple traces
left by the touch of weather, people and history.
The tactile experience of cityscapes implies touch not
only directly but also indirectly by means of synaesthetic correspondences, as
when we see tactile qualities or when the loud echo of the steps inside a
building make us feel cold. The
intertwining of vision and tactility has inspired several aesthetic analyses,
from Herder’s theory of feeling (Gefühl)
in architecture and sculpture to Alois Riegl’s conceptualisation of a “tactile
look” in ancient Egyptian art, and from Bernard Berenson’s eulogy of the
tactile values of sculpture to Merleau-Ponty’s concept of vision as a
“palpation” with the eyes.
The pedestrian, too, “palpates” the surface of buildings, feeling their size, shape and firmness, protrusions and edges.
It goes without saying that the urban skin is an ideal
screen for the projection of images and messages, from anonymous drawings to
cryptic graffiti and garish advertisements.
The semiotics of the urban skin reveals walls to be places on which
personal and collective history come together and repressed feelings spring
into the light. However, it is the
“physiology” which comes to the foreground in the urban “dermatology.” In Bachelard’s footsteps,
the matter matters as a source of sensory richness and material imagination.
The recent history of design is likely to indicate the
revival of interest in new materials. After
the 1970s focussed on new functions, the 1980s on aesthetic aspects, and the
1990s on emotions, we face at present “the challenge of new materials.”
In the last decade, publications and databases
have emerged specialising in new and innovative materials, the so-called
ultramaterials, extreme textiles, architextiles, and smart or intelligent
materials. Also designers’ guides to
surfaces focus on a knowledge of materials which is “hands-on” in the strict
sense of the word. All these tendencies
show that material structures and surfaces have assumed primary importance in
If we now take two trivial examples, the wall and the
street, it turns out that no sooner do we switch our perceptive mindset to a
“tactile look” than we discover innumerable examples of tactile features, such
as textures, fissures or membranous surfaces.
It is undeniable that this perceptive shift often involves anthropocentric
projections. Demolished houses resemble
corpses, whose missing windows – hollow orbits – evoke unmistakably pain and
death. Dirty, musty, humid façades,
covered in blue mould, suggest associations with rare skin diseases. And natural processes of decay lead in the
long run to what might be called exfoliations
or desquamations of walls, when their plaster is sloughed away. On the contrary, exceptional and deliberately
artistic are the cases of material transplant
in architecture. For example, Daniel
Spoerri “cut out” in 1975 a corner of his restaurant in Düsseldorf and transferred it to Milan, where he opened a
new restaurant called Restaurant du Coin
du Restaurant Spoerri. Some walls
are impenetrable and solid, like crusts and carapaces, others, light and
transparent, are almost liquid.
Strictly speaking, every wall is a “skin,” a borderline between the
private and the public space. Each conceals and presents at the same time,
and presents by concealing its interior or by masking its support structure. The façade means “the face under which
buildings mask themselves in order to achieve a public look and prestige (Ansehen) and to play a part.”
However, the epidermic
reminiscences are particularly strengthened by the membrane structures. Examples
include not only Christo’s and
Jeanne’s architectural wrappings, but also the so-called
“airtecture” of roof structures (e.g. textile
As for paving works, one of the priorities of recent
years was to facilitate barrier-free movement across the city for disabled
people, which is in the first place a tactile-kinaesthetic task. Also new pavement patterns have been
developed, whose diversity delights both eyes and feet. Previous theories have emphasized the origins
of streets, along the initial “route of the ass”
or following the model of animal pathways. Other approaches focused on intercultural
comparisons between the spatial patterns of the street network
or dealt with pavements as media of social interaction and “togetherness.”
Nevertheless, ways are also material
mediums of movement; in this respect, they may be made of natural simple
materials (waterways, airways) or imply a complex of different artificial
layers (highways). According to Walter
every street consists not only of a solid, stable body covered with a hard and
even surface, but includes also the empty air space above this, without which
no free movement would be possible. Only
this duality makes of the street a tunnel cut out of the city and a corridor
From an etymological perspective, the “route” is a
“broken way” (vulgar Latin, via rupta),
that is, a road that removed any obstacles in its way. Thus from the outset, the psycho-geography of
the street implies a certain violence, which is obvious also in the
homogenisation of the earthly substrate by building a road: “What counts on a street is not the specific
character of the terrain, but only its higher or lower degree of suitability
for the circulation, the ‘physical condition’ of the street, its gradient,
The better the street, the more can its material consistency be disregarded and
its circulation speed be focused upon. For
Heidegger, the street is merely the “instrument of going” (Zeug zum Gehen) and epitomizes the inconspicuousness of the
ready-to-hand. This epidermic character of the pavement,
meaning the perception of its materiality, usually becomes evident only when
the medium fails to serve its purpose, on poorly “mended” streets that let you
feel their unevenness or even put your life at risk by their holes.
Somehow related to a metaphorical tactility of the
street is the rank growth, that is, the vegetation which, without being planned
or in spite of planning, makes its way through the fissures of the pavement or between rails. Landscape architects and urban planners seem
to have changed lately their attitude toward unexpected weeds and learned to
appreciate them as symbols of the vital power and creative disorder (entropy)
of nature. Such a turnabout may well
be understood as a reaction against the present overregulation of public space;
instead, nature has to be respected by the architect as a design partner
endowed with its own will. Old wild
gardens, whose patina has emerged in time through uncontrolled natural growth,
irradiate atmosphere and have a specific expressivity. The unpredictable in general has also an
emotional value. In sum, we have to
learn to practise the letting-be of the "otherness of nature". Unpredictable vegetal growth proves that
architecture is an ongoing process that continues also after the completion of
the building, whose main purpose is less to build works than to enable others
to use them. From this perspective,
architects have to build in such a manner that would allow their work to “grow
3. Depth: Porosity, Profiles and Roofscapes
The epidermic structure is also implied by the porous
character of architecture, from the potholes of the construction sites to the
fine sieve structure of the ground and pavement that allows rainwater to
infiltrate the earth. In addition, now
and then, orifices in the urban skin open to the sewerage network and hint
discreetly at the invisible city beneath our feet. Even if we refrain from thinking of this
subterranean urbanism in ontological terms, such as Merleau-Ponty’s concept of
a “porous being” (être de porosité),
one still can hardly suppress any analogies with the psychology of unconscious. The sewers represent the viscera of the
metropolis, its entrailles or
“L’intestin de Léviathan” or even “the conscience of the city,” in which all
things merge together and confronts each other, where there is darkness, but no
secrets any longer.
The evacuation of residues is essential for the health of a city, just as
repression is a condition of psychical health; urban hygiene and human psychic
hygiene go hand in hand. Le Corbusier’s
functional, completely conscious and rational city turned out to be an insane
utopia: an idealistic “radiant city,”
without pores, depths or shadows, would be suffocating. The waste materials beneath the skin of the
city belong to life itself; accordingly, the tactile aesthetic states that one
should put up with the real-life conditions.
Also the natural experience of edifices is multi-perspectival,
while architectural photography prefers the frontal view of buildings,
conceived as secluded units. Some
“faces” of buildings or façades have asperities or protuberances, others are so
smooth that the gaze almost glides along their surface. By contrast, the view in profile is mostly
unspectacular on those streets that respect the building line; the flatness of
the façades and the continuous front of buildings effaces here any possible
individual profile. However, a different
picture of the street seems to have been the rule for the pedestrian of the
medieval city. Building protrusions
included then “counters that projected from shops and the awnings that
protected these counters from the weather, external stairs, […] bridges between
buildings, balconies, and cantilevered upper stories or jetties,” oriels,
bow-windows of shops, shutters, hanging shop signs and swinging street signs.
All building projections and swinging or free-standing signs along the footways
were successively prohibited in England between the 17th and the 19th
century. Also in Italian and German
cities building ordinances regulated the permitted number, size and location of
jetties and limited ornamentation. Some
of these restrictions had practical reasons, given that protruding objects
impeded traffic and endangered passers-bye.
Other regulations, mainly the preference given to classicist flat
façades and the predilection for an undeviating building line, had aesthetic
motivations. It might even be assumed
that the recession of tactility in architecture, dictated by urban authorities,
is interdependent with the historic process by which the primacy of look
emerged in modern philosophy and science.
The only protuberances that survived in modern
domestic architecture are balconies and loggias, but even then only for
hygienic reasons (the need for fresh air).
However, contemporary architecture, with its free-standing edifices of
an irregular and almost sculptural form, appears to have rediscovered the
pleasures of the tactile look. Sometimes
a small detail is enough to enhance tactile impressions and physiological
analogies, such as the “tentacles” of the Kunsthaus in Graz.
After the flattening of facades, the last refuge of
the tactile look was up on the roofs. Roofscapes
frequently maintained their irregularity and diversity, consisting of pitched,
scaly or plain surfaces, greenery, chimneys and mechanical equipment. This almost bird’s eye view makes the
transition from the pedestrian’s perspective to the cartographic or aerial
view; at the same time, the panorama of roofs still entails the tactile embracing with the eyes of the
corporality of buildings, pointed extremities and domes, sculptures on the top
of buildings, and hanging gardens. The
movement of eyes may even become physical:
the classic film scenes of chases across rooftops can be located only in
cities. They make people involved become
aware of the real limits of their condition as pedestrians, while looking into
the urban precipices induces in them a feeling of vertigo. The city is not a map, but a
three-dimensional lived space.
Monotonous broad and straight avenues with long vistas
invite you to adopt a nimble walking pace, whereas crooked streets and small
spaces slow down your pace and invite you to bend, sit, or squat. Le Corbusier was aware of this when he
opposed the straight artery as “streets of work” and high speed to the winding
“streets of rest” in the garden-cities.
The circulation speed through the city responds not only to the topography and
the spatial order, but also to the material substrate of the road, as well as
to design elements, such as carefully designed façades and even the height of
the steps of stairs. From the
convergence of all these factors emerge different styles of walking, from the
waved mass movements on the smooth but wide stairs of the underground stations
designed by Otto Wagner in Vienna to the energetic and steep individual
ascension into the towers of cathedrals.
But who can describe all the existing manners of
walking? Balzac tried in 1853 to classify them scientifically and failed.
In the 1980s, Lucius Burckhardt made another attempt, namely to lay the basis
for the Spaziergangswissenschaft or Promenadologie.
Even though his project was not without irony, the new “science” was introduced
into the curriculum of the Art University in Kassel; and his former students
are still engaged as “Spaziergangsforscher” in organizing and documenting city
But first of all, strollology (in Burchkhardt’s translation) implies a logic of
perception that manifests strong analogies with the tactile experience.
For example, Lucius Burckhardt was guided by the
question of how we mentally construct the image of a landscape. His answer was that this representation
emerges by connecting perceptive sequences as in a chain or string of pearls,
that is, in an incomplete synthesis. It
is interesting that Erwin Straus had described in a similar way the tactile
experience from a phenomenological perspective:
“When I am touching, I feel only a piece, but as a piece. Touching the border of the armrest, I am
going along, experiencing the arm rest piece by piece, one moment after another. The momentary character is essential to any
tactile impression, ‘moment’ being understood both in the temporal and the
The absence of a closed horizon, the succession of
moments and the urge to go further, by which Straus characterizes tactility,
can be applied also to the experience of walking. In the particular case of the cityscape, this
implies that the route to the destination influences the perception of the
final point and helps to understand it. This
was indeed the case in the past, when the encounter with a building was
“prepared” gradually by walking toward it.
In other words, the meaning of an edifice was relational, depending on
its location within the city. This
contextual kind of knowledge, Burckhardt argues, has become somewhat blurred
nowadays: the passenger may pop up
directly from the metro and find herself in front of the building. To compensate, new buildings would have to
provide by themselves, without any support from the environment, a context and
a story. One might say, their façades
have to be talkative.
To sum up: physical movements are the condition of
tactile feeling; open representations,
its form of knowledge; and narrative, its method of description. And indeed, how can a “cityscape” (conceived
as an unity) be more accurately
portrayed than by sequences of words, images and sounds, that
is, by means of literary or cinematic narrative
techniques? What may be called “tactile
knowledge” is thus dynamic and fragmentary.
The phenomenon of flânerie has inspired several
artistic projects (Benjamin, the Situationists), anthropological theories about
the language and memory of places (Certeau, Augé), initiatives of “urban pilgrimage,”
not to mention gender approaches (Meskimmon) or training methods for architects
(ironically named by Bogdanović the “Johnnie-Walker method”).
What possibly could have been left unsaid?
First, as has already been pointed out, flânerie takes
place not only on the horizontal, by strolling along streets, but also up and
down stairs and elevators, as well as by crossing the porous, perforated
buildings through passages and inner courtyards. The
tactile-kinaesthetic perspective enriches the flâneur’s bi-dimensional extended
space with the exploration of depths and heights. The city is three-dimensional and corporeal. Moreover, the pedestrian or cyclist interacts physically with the uneven
topography of the city. The tactile
experience, which is “the most profound knowledge of the city,” implies multi-modal bodily involvement and physical condition. The interactive character of “tactile
knowledge” means also reciprocity: one
cannot touch without being touched. The
subject of vision could be imagined as being placed outside the world observed;
the tactile subject, on the contrary, is necessarily connatural with his
environment, tangible and exposed to the touch of others. The voyeur secretly enjoyed the power of his
incognito “studies”; in contrast, the “tactile” pedestrian experience retrieves
the “dialectics of the flanerie,”
that is, its double movement, the concomitant psychical distance and physical
nearness, perspicacity and empathy, lucidity and exaltation of the senses.
Another feature of the view à plain pied and of the corresponding on-site knowledge is that
they remain local. A well-documented example of this is the
historic change in the perception of cathedrals. Camillo Sitte
argued that, in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, these were partly leaning
against other buildings, so that they could suddenly take one by surprise just
as one turned a corner. Whereas their front looked into an opened piazza, seen from behind, they dominated
narrow streets and blocked the view, as if they were stopping any movement. The cathedral was obviously the final
destination of all human routes. Only in
the nineteenth century, municipal governments in several European cities
thought that they would improve the view of cathedrals by clearing the space
that surrounded them. However, by
converting them into free-standing buildings, they extracted them from the
urban fabric. Moreover, in the Middle
Ages the size of the cathedrals, the fact that there was no higher building,
and the crowded space in the city made impossible any full-view of them from
within the city and implied a play of
plural and even contradictory perspectives.
Moreover, tactile space is essentially relational; form and size are a matter
of proportions. Therefore to “read” the
space means to measure it first bodily, with fingers, palms, elbows, arms, or
feet, before converting these into numbers.
Thus each thing is understood in relation to others and translated into the
body-based units of measurement, from what is too small to be felt (the
infinitesimal), to what can be held in the hand or embraced, until to what
cannot be grasped, neither perceived, nor conceived. he house of God inspired awe because its size
transgressed any relation to the scale of the human body and embodied the absolute limit of what can be grasped only
in a negative way: the inconceivable. In this respect, Herder was right to take the
sense of touch as the basis for the experience of “colossal figures” in sculpture
At the opposite pole stands Roland Rainer. This architect considers that enormous
residential projects and broad wide boulevards are unfriendly, lack any
proportion and scale, and cannot be grasped or understood.
Instead he praises the human scale of the historical urban centres, of old
oriental cities, garden-cities, and allotment gardens. Like Camillo Sitte before him,
Rainer gives preference to narrow, winding streets, low buildings, large tree
crowns, and inner courtyards that protect one from rain and heat and transform
urban space into half-closed spaces. Upon
closer inspection, his ideal of living coincides to a large extent with
Bollnow’s: both reduce the meaning of
habitability to feelings of security (Geborgenheit),
protection, confidence, self-expression, and enhanced identity. Moreover, both Bollnow and Rainer support their
interpretation by the Heideggerian discourse on dwelling. But whereas Bollnow almost misanthropically
mistrusts any other people than one’s own family, Rainer dreams of transforming
public space into a domestic one. Here the
“Nordic” inwardness meets the “Southern” culture of living on the streets. In spite of this, Rainer sacrifices the
Parisian flâneur’s curiosity about other people in favor of the confidence in
the familiar; his inhabitants stop walking, their sensory drunkenness is softly
appeased. Instead of drifting like
Rimbaud’s “drunken ship” in search of diversity and adventure, the residents of
the garden-city Puchenau (in Upper Austria), who exemplify Rainer’s positive
standard, live happy, healthy (and supposedly sedentary) lives in their homes
as in their castles. The debate between
the apologists of vast housing estates and those of garden cities that
integrate rural character into the suburbs is still running.
“Cities can be recognized by their pace just as people
can by their walk,” wrote Robert Musil.
The physical movement through the city finds here the counterpart in the inner
movement of the city itself. This can
hardly be measured but only felt by
immersing oneself in the city, and therefore it implies once more a
metaphorical tactility. The pulse of the
city can usually be perceived by watching the pedestrians’ and the vehicles’
movements, or it can be reproduced by cinematic means, like in Walter
Ruttmann’s Berlin. Symphony of a Great City (1927) and Dziga
Vertov’s The Man with the Movie Camera
(1929). The traffic and the people are “the
blood pulsing through the city.”
Or to quote Musil again: “Motor-cars
shooting out of deep, narrow streets into the shallows of bright squares. Dark patches of pedestrians' bustle formed
into cloudy streams. Where stronger
lines of speed transected their loose-woven hurrying, they clotted up – only to
trickle on all the faster then and after a few ripples regain their regular
pulse-beat (Puls). Hundreds of sounds were intertwined into a
coil of wiry noise, with single barbs projecting, sharp edges running along it
and submerging again, and clear notes splintering off – flying and scattering.”
This living city
that engages all the senses is the very opposite of the panoptic urban ideal
which achieves the highest level of visual order at the price of desolation. In spite of appearances, the “tactile” city
does not succumb to chaos but has a complex order and patterns of rhythm. The city overlays everyday rhythms and the
cycle of the seasons with its own calendar of holidays, festivals and sales
campaigns. In addition, the beat of the
city grows together as a kind of vector that results from the interweaving of
all the inhabitants’ routes and from the interaction of their kinetic, gestic
and verbal energies: “Like all big
cities, it consisted of irregularity, change, sliding forward, not keeping in
step, collisions of things and affairs, and fathomless points of silence in
between, of paved ways and wilderness, of one great rhythmic throb and the
perpetual discord and dislocation of all opposing rhythms, and as a whole
resembled a seething, bubbling fluid in a vessel consisting of the solid
material of buildings, laws, regulations, and historical traditions.”
At the same time vitality may express a juvenile joie de vivre or threaten to degenerate
into open violence. In any case, it
implies not only rhythmical regularities but also the chance or maybe danger of
unpredictable experiences, encounters or accidents, in one word: contingency.
Another aspect of contingency, which is directly
related to epidermal sensations, concerns the weather. Unlike the voyeur’s almost disembodied eye,
the pedestrian is exposed to sun and heat, wind and precipitation.
It is the rain in the first place that makes citizens become aware of the fact
that tactile sensations cannot be completely banished from the city, in spite
of all the technological devices that isolate humans thermally from their
environment, such as air conditioning or heated seats on public transport. All of a sudden, rain reminds us of the vulnerability
of our human condition. In addition,
rain has a disturbing effect on everyday order and imposes its own rules of
behavior: an unexpected torrential
shower temporarily suspends the imperative of efficacy, makes us change routes
and prefer to wait under a shelter until it stops. As a matter of fact, the historic beginning
of urban flânerie is closely related to the emergence of sheltered passages
that allow us to continue our walk even under unfavorable weather conditions.
Rain is also “a parentheses of good manners”
that not only breaks the rules of formal communication but also opens the way
for new contacts. Heavy rain and
snowfall make transport collapse. Floods
bring people together and make them regain their solidarity against a common
enemy. Puddles bring, all of a sudden, a
certain creativity into walking automata, constraining the pedestrian to make
leaps, improvise new routes, and adopt a “flourished” gait: walking becomes dancing. To put it another way, rain is anarchic and
As for temperature in the city, extensive meteorological measurements confirm that green spaces, water areas, and housing density produce
microclimatic differences and make it possible
to develop specific climate maps for cities. On the one hand, parks and green belts
are known to act as the “lungs” of the city; on the other hand, inner city and
other high density landscapes lack “porosity” and do not allow evaporation. These differences have
implications for the urban policy concerning the choices of planting and the
distribution of vegetated environments.
7. The Touch of Time
The physical-material, natural-climatic, and historic
contingency dimensions of the city can be gathered together under the generic
concept of patina. This “skin” on the objects results from the
convergence of material, time, and touch and may be defined as the visible
surface of a temporal depth. What
distinguishes patina from other visual surfaces is precisely the slow
sedimentation of repeated local touches.
The long-running process by which it is produced is involuntary and
anonymous, a sort of “crystallization”
of the touch of weather, people, and history.
Patina makes visible not only the subject’s corporality, but it embodies
also a certain “vulnerability” of the material and its memory.
Traces and marks, scratches and fissures record
gestures, store time and save the city’s history (Geschichte) and its oral “histories” from oblivion. The material structure of patina is itself
that of a “geological” set of superimposed layers (Ge-schichte) and signs. For Michel de Certeau and Marc Augé
there were the names of streets and
metro stations that helped maintain the traditions of a community and added a
poetic, mythic, and imaginary geography to the physical space. However, not only names but also building
materials are able to create atmospheres, to evoke history, enhance the
habitability of a city and even reinforce the residents’ self-identification
with the city. In this sense, patina
stands for the ongoing process of the production of a lived space through the
physical interaction between people and architecture. In other words, patina transforms the
architectural skin of the city into a palimpsest that encodes both
micro-histories and events of History in materials.
In this way, patina converts time into a positive
aesthetic agent. Historical buildings
and places emanate a certain flair or atmosphere, which may disappear as a
result of restorative work in spite of the architects’ efforts to carry out
accurate reconstructions (or maybe precisely because of that). Weathering and age confer character to a
building; for this reason, some architects even recommend simulating the
effects of ageing, such as wear, discoloration or pollution.
The design of the urban skin has to navigate between the Scylla of performing a
superficial face-lift of the city and the Charybdis of the conservation and
restoration projects that transform the urban space into a museum and the skin
of the city into a lifeless crust.
To sum up, the tactile perception of cities is multi-layered. This refers in the first place to visible
tactile qualities, as when we “see” textures and fissures, virtually “touch” profiles
of buildings, or “embrace” the view of roofscapes. At a deeper level, tactility is inseparable from
movement as a condition for experiencing the three dimensions of the urban space: its volume, its porosity, and its heights and
hidden fundaments. The never-ending
process of experiencing the city has effects on its narrative representations: the character of a city is the sum of its
stories, which occasionally become visible as patina of the objects. Finally, tactility in a broad sense includes feeling
differences between the microclimates of the city, as well as its inner
movements, pulse and rhythms. This
catalogue of “tactile” categories may be extended, applied to several cities for
comparative purposes (for example, regarding their materials, rhythms and
architectural responses to the climate) or be adapted to specific types of
flâneurs (such as the blind). The
above-mentioned categories are not necessarily aesthetic, but they may develop
such values and enrich the poetics of city from the perspective of embodied
Dozent at the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Vienna. She has published extensively on issues of
urban aesthetics and authored monographs on the aesthetics of touch, smell and
taste, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and the ontology of art.
Published on January 6, 2011
Haapala (ed.), The City as Cultural
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corps mêlés 1 (Paris: Grasset,
1985), pp. 13–86.
Gottfried Herder, Schriften zu
Philosophie, Literatur, Kunst und Altertum, 1774–1787, Werke Bd. 4 (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1994); Alois Riegl, Problems of Style. Foundation for a History of Ornament (Princeton NJ: Princeton
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