When traveling through space you use certain cues to help you navigate. Your senses help determine things like orientation, distance and direction. During navigation, many moments arise for decision-making and your brain is a key player during this process. Within a building, architectural features send signals during the navigation process. The brain uses sensorial cues to help you travel within an environment – providing you with enough information to find your way.
In the interesting article entitled Getting Lost for Better Architecture, occupants are said to navigate, interact and then form “cognitive maps” in order to understand location within space. This article describes how researchers tested human subjects by having them travel through a virtual building while recording their brain function. Ties were made between what the subject saw and their brain response to those signals.(1)
Such research is fascinating because findings reveal how humans experience space. For instance, this research uncovered that humans use the “angle of incoming sunlight” as a primary cue for navigation. Of course, within architecture this cue is often eliminated.(1)
You might wonder how occupants interact within their environment to find such navigational cues. For this, it is important to understand what goes into the mental mapping of an architectural space – forming a mental image of that space as it is experienced. Of course, a mental map is also a consequence of occupant decision-making during that experience. For this, we can also use virtual reality – to uncover how the decision-making process works within architecture in real-time.
Although the applications may seem endless, such research will definitely give architects greater understanding into how the human perceives architectural features. Findings are sure to be quite enlightening.
(1) Nelson, Bryn. Getting Lost for Better Architecture. MSNBC Dec. 15. 2008.