Communicating Through Aesthetics: What if we could use aesthetics to communicate the values of a place to one another?

For millennia we have turned to the aesthetic components of our environment to understand the world around us.  If aesthetics are a global and intuitive language that engage with our deeply-rooted, human instincts, how might we engage with aesthetics as a cultural tool to investigate and develop a communities’ sense of place?

I designed and led this workshop as part of my ongoing research into the role of aesthetics in our contemporary place-making experiences whilst in Singapore (November 2019). Inspired by the prevalence of formal aesthetic components imbued with symbology and meaning found across Asian design, I asked if it was possible to show someone what it feels like to be somewhere, through the power of colour, shape and composition.

The workshop provided a platform for people to reflect, discuss and re-imagine their individual and sometimes opposing impressions of place through the narrative of making and sending a postcard. The postcards acted as “mitigating objects” that supported both self-reflection and communication of complex personal, political and cultural insights.

Aesthetics of Place: Research Through Observation

“Aesthetics of Place”: the physical materials, rituals, artefacts and sensorial elements that have the power to communicate the cultural values of the people who live there.

In June 2019 I visited the historic hutongs of central Beijing. Amidst rapid socio-economic change as a result of mass migration to the city and ambitious political strategies for re-generation, the hutongs are a multifaceted and complex social environment. I met with some residents to discuss their opinions on the community’s culture. Despite a rich historic culture, the community was concerned not with what the culture used to be, but instead: What will the “future-culture” be?

How do the spaces we live in communicate our cultural behaviours to ourselves and to others? Could we use “Aesthetics of Place” to find an alternative understanding of the cultural values of these evolving, complex communities? Could we strategically engage aesthetics of place to mitigate social conflicts?