Modern neural imaging technology has allowed us to see how exactly our brains work when interacting with the world around us. Neuroscientists and psychologists are now exploring a plethora of human experiences around built spaces. For example, a functional MRI study demonstrated our aesthetic preference for curvilinear as compared to rectilinear spaces. Indeed, curvilinear spaces were rated as more beautiful and pleasant.
Image from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study to examine how systematic variation in contour impacts aesthetic judgments and approach-avoidance decisions. See full study results here
Do you have a preference?
Neuroscientists, together with architects, have developed immersive virtual reality architectural environments to map human performance within different environments. It is possible to test an architectural element and its effect on cognition and behaviour without having to construct the building. For example, one UCL study (pictured below) used a virtual reality architectural environment to explore what strategies people use to navigate through unfamiliar environments, how the three dimensional properties of a place affect decision-making, and whether the movements in real and virtual environments are comparable.
Space Syntax Ltd. observed human behavior at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and then used the plan of the building to create three virtual environments, which test subjects were asked to navigate through to resolve a wayfinding task using only spatial information. See full study results here
The Geoinformation Engineering’s Mobile Eye Tracking Grouop is using a novel mobile eye tracking device to study the way-finding behaviour of people in urban outdoor and indoor spaces to explore why people get lost despite navigational aids like signs and text descriptions. You can learn more and watch a few videos about the program here.
So, how can architects and designers participate in EBD research? One approach is to find and use the already existing evidence and technologies. For example, architects are using evidence from neurosciences to help maintain our body clocks, especially in the elderly and those with dementia, by using special lighting inside hospital buildings. Having a team dedicated to searching the scientific literature of interest is another strategy, as well as participating in events of interest to build new interdisciplinary networks.
In this age, where knowledge and people are more accessible than ever before, finding grounds of common interest and establishing a collaborative venture in research and design is more possible than it has ever been before. Such an effort would pave the way for architects’ participation in the research process and help create further evidence for better, more appealing and functional, architectural design.
Clearly, aligning themselves with the scientific community can benefit both architects and those utilising their creations—this is strongly supported by neuroscience and psychology.