Public places are open and accessible to people. The importance of public places includes social interaction sharing cultural and political views. In the present time, the public spaces of the Indian cities have been heavily influenced by Rapid urbanization. The Industrial Revolution has changed the whole scenario of urban design. The focus was shifted to vehicular access in cities from the pedestrian.

“Public spaces are a window into the city’s soul.” -Sharon Zukin

Relations of human senses with public spaces - Sheet1
Sadar Bazaar, Jodhpur_©

Observing architecture features to understand the identity of the city becomes a conscious effort but the vibrancy of the cities happens on unbuilt parts. cultural values of the society get reflected in public spaces.

The unbuilt spaces are usually observed and used at eye level, though the structures are generally taller. Spaces and human behavior in those unbuilt places define the functions of the city. Many Indian spaces are crowded, chaotic yet they have a peculiar kind of order in apparent disorder.

Relations of human senses with public spaces - Sheet2
National War Museum _©

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Jane Jacobs

According to Jahn Gehl, “Cities for people”, no matter what technical innovations are taking place, human beings have not changed. They still need casual contact with other human beings. As the public spaces consist of various human activities, they cannot be designed with the consideration of built forms only. It is supposed to cater to the needs of human activities. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between human activities and designed spaces.

Relations of human senses with public spaces - Sheet3
Scale model of Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin_©[email protected]/This-scale-model-of-Le-Corbusiers-Plan-Voisin-marks-the-turning-point-where-city-plans

This model has marked the turning point where city plans as constraints on the individual initiative are replaced with architectural design at the scale of millions of inhabitants. (Le Corbusier, 1964)

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs critiqued the short-sightedness of urban planners in the 1950s and argued that their assumptions about what makes a good city are detrimental to the human experience. 

Public socialization and human experience in public spaces is a complex and multilateral subject. Human behavior and social interaction as a result of the process of the mind that is influenced by physical and cultural features of the public space.

The environment of the public spaces affects the visitors’ physical sensation and behavior. Forms can be observed from the size and shape of the forms in the simplest way. Proportion refers to the harmonious relation of one part to another part of forms.

Public places are open and semi-open spaces that are surrounded by built forms. Built forms having certain functions influence human decisions in unbuilt spaces. Every space has an environment, a “feeling” or a “vibe” that is defined by each existing tangible and intangible element. Humans achieve an overall feel of the space through unconscious perception without noticing every element. In this process of unconscious perception, there is always the dominance of the eyesight sense to the other sense.

Relations of human senses with public spaces - Sheet4
Viewing Angle_©

The five basic senses are often studied as visual, auditory, taste–smell, orientation, and haptic sensations, these senses are interconnected. Since urban images are based on human perception, they are greatly influenced by sensory elements of urban form, especially the visual elements. Such visual dominance makes sense or, at the very least, can be explained or accounted for neuroscientifically (Hutmacher, 2019; Meijer, Veselič, Calafiore, & Noppeney, 2019).

Relations of human senses with public spaces - Sheet5
Heilig (1992) ranked the order in which he believed our attention to be captured by the various senses. According to Heilig’s rankings: vision, 70%; audition, 20%; olfaction, 5%; touch, 4%; and taste, 1%_©

The human senses are an important consideration of designing and dimensioning all forms of building layout and public spaces and to understand human perception of spatial conditions. Humans interact with their environments based on their physical dimensions, capabilities and limits.

“Architecture is the art of reconciliation between ourselves and the world, and this mediation takes place through the senses.”

-Juhani Pallasmaa, Eyes of the Skin

Human movement is by nature limited to horizontal motion at a speed of approximately 5kms/hours. The senses are fundamentally frontal-oriented. The horizontal visual field is wider than the vertical visual field.

Smell: The relatively weak odours from people can be noticed at less than 1 meter. Perfume and other stronger smells can be perceived at 2 to 3 meters.

Hearing: The ear is effective within a range of 7 meters. At a distance of approximately 35 meters, it is possible to hear. But it is not possible for an actual conversation.

Sight sense: It is possible to notice objects that are far away like stars and planes. In connection with other people, there are some well-defined limitations. One can see others and perceive that they are humans at a distance from ½ to 2 kilometres depending on various factors.

At approximately 100 meters, the figure becomes a human individual. This range can be called the social field of vision. At a distance of 70-100 meters, it is possible to determine a person’s sex, approximate age, etc. at the distance of 30 meters, facial features, a hairstyle can be seen. With a distance of 20 to 25 meters, most people can perceive their feelings and moods. At a distance of 1 to 3 meters, at which normal conversation takes place.

Social field of vision_©


The conscious design of the public spaces considering the human senses impacts positively on the user perception of the city. Social mixing, participation, safety, recreation, and many social values can be achieved through well-designed public spaces. It can also be beneficial to the environment, economics by offering benefits to environmental sustainability and public health improvements.

Indian public spaces have more dimensions than physical ones such as emotional, cultural, social value, and public dialogue interactions. This ethos should be nourished while designing public spaces to cherish and celebrate life. Indian public spaces have the potential strength to absorb changes as demanded by occasion and time.



  1. Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. First Edition, Washington, DC 20009, Island Press, 2010.
  2. Gehl, Jan. “Life between Buildings.” Prerequisites for Planning: Senses, Communication, and Dimensions,
  3. Updated ed., Washington, Island Press, 2011, pp. 63–72.
  4. Hall, Edward. The Hidden Dimension. Reissue edition, Anchor, 1990.
  5. Lynch, K. (1997).The Image of the City. The MIT Press


  1. Biber, James. “The Importance of Public Space.” Biber, Biber Architects 2020, 2020,
  3. Burke, Stephen. “Placemaking and the Human Scale City.” Project for Public Spaces,
  4. Project for public spaces, 11 Jan. 2016,
  5. scale-city.
  6. Jacobs, Allan B. Great Streets. 1st edition, Cambridge, The MIT Press, 1993.
  7. Wagner, James. “Creating Your City’s Image.” Washington DC: National Leaguer of Cities., 1981,
  8. Hutmacher, F. (2019). Why is there so much more research on vision than on any other sensory modality? Frontiers in Psychology10, 2246.
  9. Meijer, D., Veselič, S., Calafiore, C., & Noppeney, U. (2019). Integration of audiovisual spatial signals is not consistent with maximum likelihood estimation. Cortex119, 74–88.

Online sources

  1. 2021. Human scale – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

Kishan Thakkar is an architect based in Ahmedabad exploring creative outlets and entrepreneurship. He is an avid learner who has a penchant for research, analysis and understanding different fields within the architecture and aspires to promote sustainable development. Discipline is the key to balance his diversified interest and work routine.

Write A Comment