Focus Scientific Research

Taste and Smell Design: Resources for the Creative Industries in Vienna

Univ.-Prof. James G. Skone, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Gerhard Buchbauer, Vass. Dr. Eva Heuberger, VAss. Dr. Ruth Mateus-Berr, Mag. Marie-Louise Oschatz

The city is a multi-sensory environment that addresses all of the senses. An interdisciplinary research team of art philosophers, chemists, botanists, designers and art educationalists from several Viennese universities will, from 2007 onwards, be working with two of these senses: smell and touch, as part of the research project ‘Touch and Smell Design: Resources for the Creative Industries in Vienna’, funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund.

Taking selected Viennese parks and gardens, public transport, cafés and public squares, antique shops and playgrounds as exemplars, the research team will use various methods to investigate which smells and tactile materials characterize Vienna’s specific sensory environments, and how Vienna’s inhabitants evaluate them. The initiators see the project as a contribution to "5D-design" or holistic design, which will use concrete analyses to research means by which architects, urban planners, garden and other designers can apply it, and what expectations of elaborated tactile and olfactory design there are of, and in, Vienna.

Smells and materials are qualities that mostly go unnoticed, but which connect us to a place, or make a lasting impression upon our memory of a city. Seasons, spaces and festivities are always associated with odors: the lilacs in May, the hot-dog stand, the Christmas markets, fragrances of coffee and cake in the cafés, even the horse droppings from Vienna’s cabs, or the smell of malt from the brewery at Ottakring form an olfactory city portrait, which does however not make it in to tourist brochures. These odors contribute to the atmosphere - or literally the ‘flair’ of the city of Vienna. However, there is hardly anything as ephemeral as a smell. How Vienna smelled in the past, can best be determined from the memories of Vienna’s older generations. Interviews with migrants will also serve to assist the research team in drawing up olfactory calendars and maps of Vienna - in addition to olfactometric measurements and analyses, in selected districts. As an alternative to the usual city tours, the project will work toward finding possibilities of organizing "fragrance Tours", whether to special places in Vienna, or through the experimental Fragrance Garden at the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences.

In addition to odors, sensory impressions of touching materials in cafés, on public transport or in playgrounds will be investigated. What does Vienna actually ‘look like’ for the blind and for wheelchair users? In what ways can the City of Vienna be made a better place to live? The project aims to create a database of the things that contribute to Vienna’s particular comfort and appeal, for the use of architects and designers.

The strength of the research team lies not only in its interdisciplinary character - between the humanities, natural sciences, art science and the ‘creatives’ of the creative industries - but also in the cooperation between established and young researchers: Univ.-Prof. James G. Skone, Director of the Department of Design, Architecture und Environment for Art Education at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, is a designer with over 30 years of experience in product development and design. He has received two Austrian national awards and numerous international design awards. University Prof. Dr. Gerhard Buchbauer is the author of over 350 scientific articles, including many on scientific aromatherapy. He has also worked in collaboration with VAss. Dr. Eva Heuberger, who has international research experience with the effects of fragrances on the nervous system, which shows the sensitivity and behavior involved. Together with students of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Vass. Dr. Ruth Mateus-Berr carried out projects on holistic design, and together with the Vienna University for Music and Performing Arts and the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, she initiated the lecture series ‘I-Sinne' (I-Senses), on intermedial senses. Mag. Marie-Louise Oschatz created an experimental Fragrance Garden at the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences.