Researching the City: Take Your Senses on a Walk Through Shanghai

The relationship of the Sensual City Studio to Jacques Ferrier Architecture is based on the premise that the architecture firm exists to realize the futuristic visions of the lab’s projects.

Chlo̩ Vadot Chlo̩ Vadot

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Architects constantly search for alternative ways to apply knowledge and research for the good of urban development and design innovation. The Sensual City Studio is an experimental research laboratory that works hand in hand with French architecture firm Jacques Ferrier Architecture. At its beginnings, the studio was founded “as a forum for thought creation, the long journey required for project design and execution,” explain the founders, Jacques Ferrier and Pauline Marchetti, to Architizer.

The challenge for the studio was to question the way that city planning could be rethought and reinvented. “The idea is no longer to focus solely on technical potential, but instead to put people back at the heart of architecture and urban planning,” they state of their mission. “To do that, we take the senses seriously,” addressing an aspect of human experience that they find has been ignored in the climate of contemporary city planning.

The starting point for the Sensual City Studio stemmed a decade ago, at a time when Jacques Ferrier Architecture was working on the French Pavilion for Shanghai’s Universal Expo. Expo 2010 Shanghai China was designed around the theme “Better City, Better Life,”which inspired the architects to explore the city to its depths, “an experience which was both liberating and intoxicating,” they explain.

Five years later, the research evolved into a project about creating a sensory representation of Shanghai, guided by a visitor’s senses. “Shanghai’s living, vibrant nature inspired us,” explain Marchetti and Ferrier, which led them to dedicate the first edition of the MindWalks guide to the coastal Chinese hub.

“We wanted to show that there is no single vision of the city, only urban atmospheres,” recounts the team behind the work. “MindWalks is an ambitious editorial project that illustrates this approach, [and] Shanghai is a wonderful example of it.”

“The idea was to immerse ourselves in a sector of Shanghai in order to absorb its atmosphere, its images and its stories,” begins the tale. Those urban atmospheres are then translated into graphic and narrative form, giving shape to a sequence of social landscapes that brings character to particular areas of the city and leads a visitor through a multitude of sensory experiences.

The result is “a cross between a lab notebook and art,” which reveals unique moments over a walking itinerary, providing he or she who follows the route with a curated perspective on this city, with all “its rich asymmetries, discontinuities and juxtapositions.”

The relationship of the Sensual City Studio to Jacques Ferrier Architecture is based on the premise that the architecture firm exists to realize the futuristic visions of the lab’s projects. Among commissions for exhibition scenography and occasional installations, the Sensual City Studio is an arm of the firm that holds a strong role in the firm’s commissions, applying past and ongoing research projects to the design process for Ferrier’s built work. They are currently collaborating on the development of a 21-kilometer (13-mile) strip of the Huangpu River in Shanghai into a continuous public space for the metropolis, the conversion of an old Limoux tile factory into a cultural center and the construction of passenger terminals in Sète.

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