Sensory Synaesthesia: Combined Analyses Based on Space Syntax in African Urban Contexts

Abstract

The organization of past urban space continues to be an important focus of archaeological research in sub-Saharan Africa where the methods of space syntax now offer new interpretations of the built environment. Traditionally, space syntax uses access analysis graphs for buildings and axial maps for towns to represent and analyze the configuration of space as a network. Using perspectives from neuroscience and the social sciences, this paper presents several case studies to illustrate how space syntax can be adapted to provide a multisensory “synaesthetic” perspective on African urban environments while also addressing their cultural contexts. These case studies, which focus on historic towns from East and West Africa, incorporate analyses of visibility and movement as tactile perception to examine house layout, street networks, and the socio-spatial role of urban quarters. This demonstrates how the graphic representation of space syntax analyses can help us better understand spatial partitioning and material dimensions of urban space as cultural heritage that affects sensory perceptions such as vision and kinaesthetics.

Résumé

L’organisation de l’espace urbain historique continue d’être un axe important de la recherche archéologique en Afrique subsaharienne où les méthodes de syntaxe spatiale offrent de nouvelles interprétations de l’environnement construit. Traditionnellement, la syntaxe spatiale utilise des graphiques d’analyse d’accès pour les bâtiments et des cartes axiales pour les villes pour représenter et analyser la configuration de l’espace en tant que réseau. En utilisant les perspectives des neurosciences et des sciences sociales, cet article présente plusieurs études de cas pour illustrer comment la syntaxe spatiale peut être adaptée pour fournir une perspective «synesthésique» multisensorielle sur les environnements urbains africains, tout en abordant leurs contextes culturels. Ces études de cas, qui se concentrent sur les villes historiques d’Afrique de l’Est et de l’Ouest, intègrent des analyses de la visibilité et du mouvement en tant que perception tactile pour examiner les plans des maisons, les réseaux de rues et le rôle socio-spatial des quartiers urbains. Cela démontre comment la représentation graphique des analyses de syntaxe spatiale peut nous aider à mieux comprendre le partitionnement spatial et les dimensions matérielles de l’espace urbain en tant que patrimoine culturel qui affecte les perceptions sensorielles telles que la vision et la kinesthésie.

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Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Cameron Gokee and Carla Klehm for inviting her to contribute to the “Spatial Approaches in African Archaeology” session organized at SAA conference in Washington, D.C. in 2018.

Funding

This paper was written with the support of the author’s project “Comparing urban morphological transformation in pre-colonial to colonial urban traditions” (No.20-02725Y) awarded by the GACR -Czech Science Foundation and is based partially on data generated during her Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Global Fellowship (No. 656767 - TEMPEA).

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Baumanova, M. Sensory Synaesthesia: Combined Analyses Based on Space Syntax in African Urban Contexts. Afr Archaeol Rev 37, 125–141 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-020-09368-9

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Keywords

  • Space syntax
  • Visibility
  • Sensory archaeology
  • Synaesthesia
  • Swahili
  • West African Sahel