Urban Sensorium explores the future of cities through the lens of sensory experience. Using sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste, the project anticipates potential energy, ecology, climate, transit, and food scenarios for five major cities. Chosen for their projected growth and international influence, the featured cities include two global giants (New York and Los Angeles), two knowledge capitals (San Francisco and Houston), and an Asian anchor (Shanghai). The methodology for the project included “future mapping” and fieldwork to gain insight into possible futures for these five cities where we work, live, and design. 

Urban Sensorium was exhibited at SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco from August 30, 2017 - March 1, 2018 and will be featured at Urbanspace Gallery in Toronto from January 7, 2019 - January 26, 2019 as part of the city-wide DesignTO Festival.

It was researched by Emily Schlickman and Anya Domlesky of XL Lab and supported by SWA Group and Noah Christman, SPUR Public Programming Manager. The exhibition in Toronto was designed by Paul Wehby.

Sources for the exhibition include: NASA, NOAA, U.S. Bureau of Transportation, U.S. Geological Survey, Federal Highway Authority, Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China, Caltrans, State of California, Harris County, City of Houston, Shanghai municipal government, Shanghai Meteorological Bureau, New York City Department of Transportation, University of California Berkeley, San Jose State University, MIT, University of British Columbia, New Mexico State University, Peking University, The Brookings Institution, Climate Central, American Medical Association, and World Wildlife Fund.


The innovation lab at SWA Group is aimed at addressing emerging complexities from a think tank-like platform called XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism. As our cities and environments become more complex and face unprecedented challenges, we think it is no longer sufficient to design for aesthetics alone. The practice of urban design, landscape architecture, and city planning requires foresight, research, experimentation, and advocacy, plus collaboration outside design fields.

XL is co-led by Emily Schlickman and Anya Domlesky. Find us on Instagram and Twitter @xl_experiments