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Award-Winning Designer Maps Newport by Its Scents

A Scotland designer has mapped the smells of Newport, which will be on exhibit Aug. 21 through Sept. 7 at the Newport Visitors Center.

Designer Kate McLean of Edinburgh, Scotland, has developed a method of producing portraits of global destinations by interpreting sensory experiences of them via the various distinct aromas indicative of each locale. McLean has chosen Newport as the flagship city for the United States, “mapped” for the first time by smell.

The task, part of McLean’s Sensory Maps project, takes an entirely fresh approach to cartography. Where traditional maps show travellers the highways, byways, landmarks and coastline of Newport and its environs, a Sensory Map collates the individual experiences of the city by way of the people who both live and visit here. Since McLean’s Newport research got underway in June, she has gathered data from contributors all over the city through “smell walks” and “smell bike rides.”

“When Kate first approached us with her idea, we all chuckled at the thought of a ‘Smell Map,’” says Cathy Morrison, VP of Operations at Discover Newport.  “We were a bit sceptical, but after learning more about her extensive research methods, we were delighted that Kate chose our city to be the first in the country. We love to be innovative here at the Visitors Center, and this map offers a unique destination experience for visitors.”

The smells of the city – the salty hints of the ocean, the sweet fragrance of beach roses, the scent of wood used in the construction of boats at IRYS and in the restoration of the city’s Colonial houses – have been bottled for sniffing and graphically represented, charting the overlapping aromas around Newport. 

“I started with the idea that each one of us constructs our own impression of a city that is made up of a personal combination of sensory perceptions. The original objective was to encourage visitors to a city to consider how their senses were affected by the place and to ascertain the sensory memories they retain and recall of the city in question. Smell has a high capacity to trigger memories; we have 100% recall through smell after a year whereas we have only 25% recall through sight after 3 months,” explains McLean.  “The idea then developed through research into location, emotion and the sense ofsmell.”

Currently a Designer in Residence at Edinburgh College of Art and Visiting Lecturer at the New England School of Art & Design in Boston, McLean won the Service Category of the New Ideas Competition, a national contest coordinated by the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, and is to present the Paris Smell Map at the 2012 International Design & Emotion Conference in London next month.

The Newport Sensory Map will be on exhibit August 21 through September 7, 2012 at the Visitors are encouraged to contribute their personal experiences by writing “SmellStories” in the book provided to further develop the city’s map.

Maggie Hepner August 15, 2012 at 06:33 PM
This makes complete sense to me! Having grown up in the Midwest, and owning a summer home near the Norman Bird Sanctuary, my life is filled with the memories of the island by all the wonderful smells. I lived there full time for years, and everyday relished in the fresh scents carried in on the morning's fog. Now I am back in the Midwest, and I ache for that magical place, my second home, which really is my first home when I think about it.
Kate McLean August 15, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Maggie - that is so interesting - you must have scents of the Midwest too and I am intrigued to know what they are. You can see the Newport Smell Map at http://www.sensorymaps.com/maps_cities/newport_smell.html I'd love to hear your thoughts
Sara Chadwick August 21, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Hi, Maggie. I'm a friend of Kate McLean's (she's actually a grad of The New England School of Art & Design at Suffolk University, where I've worked for the past 34 years) and I saw your response to her Newport smell map posting on the Newport patch. I could not believe my eyes when I read it as, of all the millions of people who used to live in the area and no longer do, I know you! I told Kate I couldn't believe how "small world" this is, that I only see you about twice a year at croquet at Lazy Lawn but there you were on the site (I told Lois Rogers last night and she was equally amazed). So, if you wish, email me back at schadwick@suffolk.edu. Art and I went to Kate's presentation at the Newport Gateway Center last night and it was VERY interesting. She had a great crowd and did a wonderful job of presenting her material. Very interesting! Hope all is well with you. Sara
Maggie Hepner August 25, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Kate, I had posted a rather lengthy response, but Patch didn't post it for some reason. I also sent you an email via your website. I'm back on the island Labor Day. Will you be in Newport?
pferd August 27, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Don't forget the stink and sewer smell on ocean drive and the end of Bellevue. It is so nauseating I don't know how any one can interpret that or ignore it

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