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Why Aesthetics?

Examine how semiotics is useful for creating belonging in spatial design.

Semiotics is useful for explaining how spaces and images communicate messages without using words. Reading images for themes of belonging is a way of conducting a semiotic analysis.

Roland Barthes states that ‘the special status of the photographic image; it is a message without a code; …the photographic message is a continuous message’.

In week one, we discussed theories of belonging by Yuval-Davis as being both based on politics and place, and also introduced the ways design needs to be intersectional to include diversity in the design of spaces. Paying attention to aesthetics in particular, how they communicate non verbally can assist us in creating belonging in spatial design.

A semiotic analysis is akin to analysing aesthetics. Giving attention to aesthetics in designing public space is an inherently political process. To quote Jacques Rancière, aesthetics can be understood as:

the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. It is a delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously determines the place and the stakes of politics as a form of experience. Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time.

Aesthetic practices, and the making of art for example, are potentially political ways of strengthening community. Making art is a way of doing aesthetics and aesthetics are a way of doing politics.


To grasp this concept of aesthetics and politics joining in art, the NEB example of FUSE is a great way of breaking down the importance of aesthetics for understanding belonging. The FUSE project uses art as a way of storytelling about histories within the city, and it encourages people to connect to the city of Valletta through art making.

Interfaith Childhoods

The Interfaith Childhoods project is a research project which asks children residing in low socioeconomic status areas in Australia and the UK, to create images about their experiences of belonging to either country.

These experiences are often drawn through connection to place, often parks or schools or religious buildings, but also to identity, sport, and objects of attachment. By analysing some of these images from week 2, you can come to a better understanding of how belonging is practiced by the children through aesthetics.

The image below shows an imagined future world in which city spaces are designed to be sustainable and inclusive. Created by six children working together, this future city features ample green space, high rise housing, a large place of worship with stained glass windows, a hospital, a zoo, a swimming pool and a sports ground. These features clearly express the values that the children hold dearly: housing for everyone, healthcare, religion, environmental sustainability, health and wellbeing.

This image clearly expresses it’s creator’s hopes for the future. From the Interfaith Childhoods project used with permission.

The next example is the work of one research participant and expresses their strategy for creating belonging. Their cultural and religious backgrounds place high value on offering hospitality to strangers and making sure that everyone feels welcome in their home. The children’s artwork below can be seen as offering a similar sentiment to some of the spatial design projects supported by the NEB, which warmly welcome people on foot, bicycle and car into city spaces.

From the Interfaith Childhoods project used with permission.

In the next step we will look at Roland Barthes approaches to semiotic analysis in more depth.

Further reading

DISSENSUS On Politics and Aesthetics

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Building Belonging in a Globalised and Mobile World

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