Ground-breaking in the world of landscape architecture, Multisensory Landscape Design is something all designers should think about incorporating into their work.Ground-breaking in the world of landscape architecture, Multisensory Landscape Design is something all designers should think about incorporating into their work.Read MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

Ground-breaking in the world of landscape architecture, Multisensory Landscape Design is something all designers should think about incorporating into their work.

Stone wall, steps and a planter in a colourful, landscaped garden. Photo by jorgeantonio /Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Last November, while attending an evening landscape presentation, Daniel Roehr, an associate professor at the UBC School of Landscape Design, and I were speaking when he asked if I would be interested in reading his recently published book, Multisensory Landscape Design — A Designer’s Guide for Seeing.

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He mentioned that it has been well-received and has been quite groundbreaking in the world of landscape architecture, and something all designers should think about incorporating into their work.

Roehr is a registered landscape architect in B.C. and in Berlin. At Askham Bryan College, in York, England, he earned a higher national diploma in horticulture and landscape technology. He received his BA (Hons.) in landscape architecture from Heriot-Watt University at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.

He has practised extensively in Asia, Europe and North America and was the project architect of the innovative water-sensitive-loving roof of the DaimlerChrysler green roof project in Berlin. Roehr has, understandably, been the recipient of many prestigious awards.

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Multisensory Landscape Design — A Designer’s Guide for Seeing, by Daniel Roehr (Routledge). Daniel Roehr discusses multisensory experiences at the University of B.C. Claire Hicks

He is currently an associate professor at the UBC School of Landscape Architecture. His latest research and teaching is in the area of visual and multisensorial listening, something that is becoming a critical component of design.

I read his book and had the chance to interview him. I asked Roehr to describe the essence of multisensory design. He said it’s very important to learn about and better understand our own senses and apply them to how we observe, analyze and interpret all this into a visual identity. The key is to include all our senses into the design process for a potential landscape site. This procedure helps ensure a more inclusively designed space that integrates all aspects of the world around us. Roehr believes that a well-designed space will touch all the senses and will be far more engaging.

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I love his explanation of multisensorial literacy. He points out that observing is “the cognitive act of hearing, tasting, touching, smelling and seeing.” Perception, however, is the “synthesis of memory, emotion and feeling experienced in tandem with these new sensorial experiences.”

During the design process, it’s critical to be mindful of how observation and perception need to work together synergistically to help us better interact with a designed space. Observation alone, he says, will result in an “incomplete” ability to understand the essence of the space to be designed.

He goes on to expound upon the function of all our senses, to better understand how we need to fully use them to appreciate an experience. Roehr also points out how the senses are interconnected and involve our detection, reactions, emotions and memories. Understanding these connections will help us all to have a better awareness and perception of any space we are experiencing.

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Roehr is a strong advocate of what he calls “site immersion”, where designers need to become far more engaged with any potential site using the multisensory approach. This, he believes, will provide a far better understanding of the scope of each project. He also feels that individual sketches of each area help bring out the essence of each site, something that photography simply can’t do.

Of great importance to Roehr are what he calls “sense walks.” He takes his students to numerous locations and gardens around the world to provide them with a better understanding of varying cultures, their connection to the environment around them, their approaches to design, and their connection of design to their history and surrounding geography.

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Using his multisensory approach, he is able to provide his students with a far deeper understanding of what they’re observing.

I asked Roehr, once they begin to adopt the multisensory approach, how his students learn to incorporate those principles into their own designs. He places a lot of importance on the sketching process, but he adds another layer called “analytical sketching.” The purpose of this type of sketching is to make the invisible, visible. He likens it to an X-ray machine that helps us see bones, muscles and tendons not visible to the human eye. Analytical thinking and sketching also takes into account critical but often overlooked components. It’s like an investigative tool.

The times of day, especially the contrasts of light and darkness, are critical to the design process. Weather is a factor. Seasons are a factor. I loved his term “wind-play”, which implies many things, from plant movement to the stability of trees, buildings and structures, and to people moving within the space.

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The connection to our senses plays a critical role. What specific smells does a site produce, and what emotions do they evoke? Our noses can detect 50 trillion odours. What sounds do a site emit, both pleasant and unpleasant? Sound also transforms how we “see” a site. Touch is one of the most critical elements. Not only do our hands “feel” but our feet touch on so many different surfaces.

All of this is important, but even more so to folks who are either sight or hearing impaired. Their other senses usually become more acute so a well-imagined multisensory landscape design suddenly takes on appreciably greater importance.

Roehr’s new book, published a year ago, is having a significant impact on the world of landscape architecture, especially in the training of new students. It’s now required course reading in many such schools around the world. In this article I have only touched briefly on the concepts of the book, which is very well-written, and of great interest to both professional designers and to those of us planning our personal surroundings.

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When we look at our own landscaping, or if we’re thinking about creating a new design, this multisensory approach to design will make a major difference to both our outdoor and indoor spaces. It’s connective, inclusive and reaches us on a very personal level.

This is an outstanding book and although it’s written on a professional level as an invaluable teaching aid, it has so many applications to any creative process. I have learned so much about understanding my own senses and how to use them in an even better understanding of nature.

Multisensory Landscape Design — A Designer’s Guide for Seeing is available online through <a data-evt="click" data-evt-typ="click" data-evt-val=" The Province.

” href=”http://routledge.com”>routledge.com.

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