Architecture and the Building of Cognitive Maps

An interesting study coming out of Notre Dame‘s Department of Psychology. Investigating how architecture can affect one’s cognitive map to help them navigate and identify their surroundings, Professor Laura Carlson has published the report, “Getting Lost in Buildings,” in the journal Current Direction in Psychological Science. In it, she and her co-authors talk about how people use both a building’s features (symmetry of hallways, distances between doorways, etc.) or objects within the building (landmarks like tables or posters on walls, etc.) to function within an enclosed space. Particularly interesting to us was that they call out Rem Koolhaas‘ celebrated Seattle Central Library, which they claim is beautiful but difficult for people to operate in: “People expect floors to have similar layouts, but the first five levels of the library are all different; even the outside walls don’t necessarily line up. Normally, lines of sight help people get around, but the library has long escalators that skip over levels, making it hard to see where they go.” Unfortunately, the report itself is behind a fairly pricey pay wall, so you’ll either have to fork over that $35 to read it all or just pick up what you can in the short synopsis. Or watch the video the university put together (see below). Whatever the case, interesting to think about the relation between psychology and architecture, particularly when it involves flashy starchitect designs.