Architecture and Mind Research Focus Group

Architecture and Mind Research Focus Group

Volker M. Welter, History of Art & Architecture

Mary Hegarty, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Dan Montello, Geography

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As architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner once observed, it is nearly impossible to avoid architecture, as human activities not only tend to take place inside buildings but often also create space during their course. Yet being ubiquitous in human life does not mean that architecture is experienced homogeneously by everyone, in a way intended by architects or members of cognate design fields like interior design, landscape architecture, and urban design. Architects may claim to be ‘the’ experts when it comes to conceiving and designing buildings and spaces, but users may experience a building or a space in ways that differ widely from that of architectural critics and historians pondering the significance of the building and space. All of their opinions and experiences may deviate widely from a designer’s intent.

Empirical studies in cognitive psychology and behavioral/cognitive geography examine how the human mind comprehends space and place, orients itself within a designed environment, and perceives architectural and aesthetic details. This research suggest that human responses to the built environment may depend far more on people’s evolutionary, cultural, and personal experiences than envisioned by architects. These scientific insights, now including developments in neuroscience, challenge how designers and users may think about architecture and space.

Scientific insights also raise questions regarding attempts in the humanities to think about architecture in relation to both the human body and mind. For example, architectural theory from classical Western Antiquity and the Renaissance conceptualized architecture as being analogous to the human body; late nineteenth-century architectural theoreticians such as Geoffrey Scott and designers such as Edith Wharton psychologized architectural forms and details; and mid twentieth century philosophers like Gaston Bachelard and his colleague Gernot Böhme consider architecture as expressing emotional states of the human mind.

The Architecture and Mind RFG offers a forum for faculty, postdocs, and graduate students to explore and discuss issues around the design and experience of architecture and the scientific study of human spatial perception, cognition, and behavior. Among other issues, we consider the contrasting nature of arts and science; the psychology of aesthetics; and the relationship of architectural design to spatial orientation, perceived privacy, social interaction, and other aspects of human behavior and experience. We address these issues through an interdisciplinary program of readings, discussions, and field trips.