Scents and the city are academic for Kent designer

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IN A world of sat navs and smart phones, there is little need for an old fashioned map these days, even less so a good sense of direction.

And as far as using your nose to sniff out some good food and drink, it’s unlikely society will resort to going back to the basics.

But a Kent-based academic is using exactly that to map out famous cities, including Edinburgh, Paris, Glasgow and Manchester – and her hometown of Canterbury is next on the list.

Kate McLean, a senior graphic design tutor at Canterbury Christ Church University, is creating a series of ‘smell maps’, plotting major cities using only her nose.

Going on ‘smell walks’ with local people, Ms McLean records dominant, lingering scents in the places she visits.

She then bottles the recorded smells and places them at the appropriate place on the map.

The designer, who sold her last piece to the National Library of Scotland, said: “I love the exploration and discovery of smell mapping.

“When other kids had posters of pop groups on their walls, I had charts depicting world circumnavigations by famous explorers from Erikson and Magellan to Cook.

“During the past 15 years I have travelled to many places and become increasingly interested in cities, exploring and recalling them in unexpected ways. I find smells and scents compelling in that they have a power to evoke the ambience and atmosphere of specific places and times.”

Ms McLean, who has been lecturing at Christ Church for the past two years, collects her smells in different ways, from scooping up greasy chip paper covered in salt and vinegar, to using distillation methods to produce the scent of a public toilet.

The collected information is reproduced on a colour-coded guide representing the smells and areas of each city.

Ms McLean, the only British cartographer to explore smell mapping, adds: “Those stories are personal but also location-specific. I simply chose to combine smells and maps to create new smell maps of cities worldwide.”

Ms McLean is intending to create Canterbury’s very own smell map as she studies to gain her PhD in September.

But will it be the whiff of tourists’ packed lunches in the Old Buttermarket or the scent of cut grass in Dane John Gardens that most tickles the snout?

“I want to involve students at Canterbury Christ Church University, the community and various interest groups to decipher what the city smells like and if those smells spark any memories from people’s childhood or events in their lives,” she added.

But before that, her current work will be on show at the Sidney Cooper Art Gallery in Canterbury until April 27.



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