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Spatial Cognition in Architecture

Contact: Georg Vrachliotis

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‘The idea or image of a building is as important as the building itself’, characterized David Stea (1974) clearly the strong connection between architectural space and its mental image. The way how people conceptualize designed environment is important to the design of building layouts. Our research is investigating in the interrelation between architectural design, built environment and its mental representation with the objective of developing design principles for practiced architects, based on spatial cognition research.

Architectural spaces influence and modulate our existence and everyday behavior on a number of various ways. When we navigate through built environment, and interact with it, we are continuously involved in the processing of spatial information. We discover architectural shapes and layouts literally step by step. But how are we able to navigate within complex built environments, learn of architectural layouts, and explore multifaceted buildings effortlessly? Bill Hillier rightly let us know that ‘the most omnipresent artifact is the building’ (1984), so that investigating in the close relationship between spatial knowledge and built environment from an architectural point of view is inescapable. With this in mind, for a practiced architect these questions become an important research area. According to a conceptual framework proposed by Siegel and White (1975), people’s spatial knowledge develops through three qualitatively distinct stages: landmark to route to survey knowledge. Landmarks are discrete objects or scenes, routes are sequences of landmarks and actions, and survey knowledge is configurational or maplike with landmarks and routes being interrelated with each other. To emphasize also the idea of movement as a central theme in the theory of architectural design, Le Corbusier declared in 1962 (p. 30): 'To experience architectural space truthfully it is necessary to perambulate and stride the building.' Thus, perception of built environment is described as a dynamic process of movement caused by the fact that we do not experience the spatial layout of a building as a static structure. Consequently, from people’s perspective several points of environmental ability, (architectural) legibility (Lynch, 1960, Weisman, 1981), intelligibility (Hiller, 1984) and imageability (Passini, 1992) are essential to understand and interpret building layouts, e.g., landmarks, routes, paths and walkways, differentiate shapes and forms, configured space and building topology, and the close relation between inside and outside space.

Comprising, by means of the current research we hope to intensify the current collaboration and interrelation between architectural and cognitive-science research areas. Providing architectural design principles for improving wayfinding friendliness as well as extracting insights from spatial cognition research are clearly practical goals of the research.


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