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11th Nov 2013

Smell and the City with Victoria Henshaw

Last Thursday, led by urban smell specialist Dr Victoria Henshaw from the University of Sheffield, we put our sense of smell to the test as we sniffed out metropolitan scents, whiffs and stinks. From fumigated pollution filled streets with whiffs of fast food, to bus stop ad campaigns, and floral community gardens - we began with a smell walk around UCL's surrounding areas where there was plenty to sniff. This led into a short talk about the science behind how we smell; from scented car parks and perfumed fountains through to drainage systems, eye-watering food odours and phantom city stinks. The walk and talk session really did get our noses twitching, tickling our trigeminal nerves with a truly stimulating our sensory imaginations. 

Smell and the City at IOM

Dr Victoria Henshaw is a lecturer in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Sheffield and author of 'Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments’ (Routledge 2013). Her work focuses upon the role of the senses, smell specifically, in experiences, perceptions and the design of the city. 

It is well known that supermarkets and fast food restaurants, such as KFC, pump scents to the front of stores to encourage those passing by in to purchase. Pizza Hut has taken it one step further, and has begun as an advertising probe with the aid of Facebook, the first 100 likes onto their page would receive a sample of their margarita scent. In response to popular demand, Pizza Hut are now looking into production options.

Pizza Hut scent

When parking your car in a multi-storey car park, you often have to contend with the fragrant staircases often filled with urine (not a pleasant scent). Recently NCP found this to be an issue and has actually deterred their customers from using said car park at all. In order to overcome this, NCP conducted a survey of our favourite smells; now, if you stroll into the stairwell of an NCP car park you may have a whiff of freshly baked bread or fresh cut flowers! 

Marketing and advertising often uses just one of our senses - the visual - but one campaign ad in San Francisco caused quite a whiff at the Bus Stop. A smell emitting bus stop ads for 'Got Milk' pumped the scent of cookies to evoke the memories of cookies and milk, but after only 24 hours it was removed due to a. due to the possible health problems and b. it was making the homeless feel hungry. Similarly here in the UK, in actual fact there was one outside Goodge street station, McCain's did a scented bus stop to advertise their oven jacked potatoes. The stall holder next to the bus stop found he was getting constant headaches and was feeling unwell, after several letters to get it removed after 4 weeks it was removed! 

Victoria brought along a specific scent, AndrosENONE also known as 'Cave man small', which can tell your genetic smelling capability. Generally everyone can smell something (particularly the alcohol), 90% of people will smell body odour, and of that percentage 10% will be physically repulsed by it! In our group we did find some of these super-smellers, a couple actually work here at the Institute of Making!!



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