Sensing the City: an Embodied Documentation and Mapping of the Changing Uses and Tempers of Urban Place


Arts and Humanities Research Council




Dr Emma Meehan and Dr Natalie Garett Brown


Principal Investigator: Prof. Nicolas Whybrow (Theatre and Performance Studies, Warwick)

Co-Investigators: Dr Michael Pigott (Film & TV Studies and Theatre & Performance Studies, Warwick), Dr Natalie Garrett Brown (Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University)

Researchers/Post-docs: Dr Emma Meehan (Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University), Nataliya Tkachencko (Warwick Institute for the Science of Cities and Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, Warwick)

Commissioned Artist: Carolyn Deby, sirenscrossing, London

International Consultant: Dr Stuart Grant (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

Additional project team members: Impact Officer (Nese Tosun) Academic Technologist (Steve Ranford), Technical Specialist (Rob Batterbee).


The overall purpose of the research is to model a usable practice-based template for sensing the city, drawing on the city of Coventry (UK) as a case-study in the first instance. The template will offer a range of methodologies towards, first, engaging constructively and productively with urban sites using the sensate presence of the human body as the primary means of gathering data and, second, processing and presenting that data in innovative ways within a critical framework that assesses the city's habitability and sustainability. As such, the term 'sensing' has a dual application inasmuch as it refers to both the physical apperception of the city (how the body responds) and to an active sensitising or aestheticising of urban sites via the presence of the body.

Dr Natalie Garrett Brown & Dr Emma Meehan from C-DaRE will deliver the micro-project within Sensing the City called Moving & Mapping; knowing communities through dance practice.’ This micro-project proposes a series of research labs curated by enter & inhabit which draws together dance artists associated with C-DaRE and who have made work in the city landscapes of Coventry. The focus of the research labs will be to explore the ways in which dance practitioners and the moving body offer spatial, haptic and affective understandings of the city landscape, understood to be an evolving and dynamic landscape. Specifically, the project will use dance to engage with those that inhabit the city of Coventry and those that contribute to the public planning and social policy of the City. The project will draw on a variety of consultants such as dance artists expert in working in the City, enter & inhabit group members as curators, key arts stakeholders programming movement based art work in the city alongside scholars expert in the field of site performance.

The 4 principal objectives of the project are to establish the following:

  • how the sensate performing body can be developed and utilised as a form of living barometer to generate usable data relating to the perceived materiality and form of site, as well as to the atmospheric vicissitudes of urban life (including, for instance, taking into account the effects of factors such as time of day, day of the week, climate and weather conditions, seasons, natural and artificial lighting conditions);
  • how such 'embodied' or 'felt' data, which seeks to give validation to emotions, moods, rhythms and sensations, can be processed and re-presented in appropriate textual, oral, physical and visual documentary forms;
  •  how a sensate cartography of affect may contribute to an enhanced understanding of the way inhabitants use and respond to urban spaces and, therefore, what makes for a viable, liveable and sustainable city;
  •  how varied forms of disseminating the findings of the research can be devised by developing digital content for use via an interactive website and an app triggered to appear as a 'smart' device, mounting a public exhibition (incorporating live performance and visual presentation of material), with an associated symposium that draws in a range of academic and non-academic stakeholders with a scholarly, professional or civic interest in the life of cities.

Visit the project website here


The project has been conceived in such a way as to make its research processes and outcomes integral to both the present and future of the city of Coventry. At the same time the project has the aspiration to develop a template for documenting and mapping the changing uses and tempers of urban place per se, so it is expected that the research will be applicable to other cities across the world and, with the project's incorporation of an international consultative dimension, it has implicitly planned for a way to extend the scope of its initial focus on just one city in the UK. The research will be dependent in its development and in its findings not only on a collaborating group of academics - in themselves representative of different institutions and areas of scholarly and creative expertise, and at varying points in their careers - but also on artists, local arts organisations and the responses of the city's citizens in a variety of contexts, and to differing degrees, within the parameters of the 4 micro-projects (as outlined separately). These responses will include at an early stage the immediate ones of urban inhabitants witnessing - in some cases being invited to participate in - site-based practical exercises taking place in public locations. At a later stage they will extend, first, to the participatory interventions of visitors to both the performative website-as-urban-map and to making use of digital content that can be triggered to appear on a 'smart' device. These will emerge as principal outputs and will continue to be active beyond the three-year scope of the project itself. Second, responses will also be elicited from attendees of both the planned exhibition at the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre in the final period of the project and the associated one-day symposium which will cast itself as a public forum of high relevance to all present and future professional designers, civic planners, artists, cultural policy makers, local councillors and inhabitants of the city of Coventry (as well as academics).

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