This work explores Singaporeans’ relationship with their olfactory urban environment through a series of performative mapping activities by the local population in June 2015.
As humans we move our way through urban environments as sensory beings, gaining knowledge partly through the involuntary sense of olfaction. This project is designed to explore human ‘entangled lines of life, growth and movement… a meshwork of interwoven lines’ (Ingold, 2011) as experienced through smell. How do smell perceptions, movement, knowledge and description interweave to create textures across the city landscape?
Scents & the Scented – the Urban Fields of Singapore:
Singapore prefers not to smell, instead it scents.
The city’s warm outdoor streets are redolent with ubiquitous frangipani and jasmine. Whereas interior public spaces tend to be olfactorily-curated to the extent that a local (albeit pungent) fruit, the durian, is forbidden. Commercial environments are frequently scented and carefully designed to demarcate brands in a shopping space.
Sometimes it is hard to imagine the possibility of any perceptible presence of everyday urban smells. Singapore is an island city state with a diversity of cultures, a preoccupation with food and a groundhog day equatorial climate. On what would its ‘citizen sensors’ remark through scentwalking the city?
Eight neighbourhoods were picked by locals as a representative sample of the multicultural aspect of the city. To take into account the potential for different rhythms of daily life in the city’s smellscape I decided to run 2 walks every day – one in the morning and one at night. Participants registered for their preferred walk destination and time using a web sign-up which, along with some good local press, proved to be effective enough to solicit over 200 smellwalkers. Walks took place in Katong, Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Sentosa, East Coast Parkway, Gardens by the Bay, Little India, Orchard Road and Toa Payoh neighbourhoods.
Scentscape 06 . 2015 (aka ‘Scentangled’):
The scentscape of Singapore lingers as tiny droplets encapsulated in the warm humid air. For each walk the most commonly mentioned scent was selected to represent the neighbourhood. The smellwalk, crowd-sourced data were then checked in each of the remaining neighbourhoods to determine whether or not the scent was also perceived, and only if it did was it added to the map. This process reveals neighbourhoods that counter the commonly-perceived smell; Orchard Road is a notable counter-olfactory zone.
Concentric rings of dots represent an averaged intensity rating and the number repeats of the rings represent scent duration. The colour scheme was taken from participant choices for each of the neighbourhoods.
Visualisation reveals the olfactory vibrancy of Kampong Glam and Little India over the lightness of the Gardens by the Bay. The rings of scent droplets float across a page, entangling and layering upon each other forming a pressed thread ‘felt’ of smell.
Curiosity Scents (the deliciously weird anomalies)
A hard life
Broccoli / deep dark secrets
Episodic Scents (one taken from each neighbourhood)
Roti prata + curry
Shisha (an evening scent)
Herby, minty, bitter, dried
Salt, sea water & salty air
Background Scents (overall basenotes)
Spicy, smokey, hot
Scentscapes take the edge off the potential negative connotation of ‘smell’, very apposite for the city state of Singapore which is classed as one of the cleanest cities in the world. A further aim of the project was to gather data to explore the multiple temporalities of smell in the city. Future visualisations / experience design will investigate the sequential temporalities of the smellwalk, of the rhythms of quotidian life of the city, and specific temporalities evoked by scent-induced recall.