Getting Lost

Laura Carlson researches spatial cognition: how we understand space. In this video, she talks about three factors that could help or hinder someone trying to navigate a building for the first time: 1) the features/spatial complexity of the building 2) a cognative map you make as you wander around and 3) if you tend to get lost or not. Recently, she co-authored an article in Current Directions in Psychological Science about how architecture can bias cognitive maps though asymmetrical circulation patterns or floor plans that vary at each different floor. Which sounds like a lot of contemporary buildings.  The article uses the Seattle Central Library designed by OMA as an example. OMA used simplified diagrams to explain the relationship between the building’s spaces and functions:

It doesn’t look too crazy, but compare the diagram with a more detialed sectional drawing taken at roughly the same place:

It’s not quite as clear.  Carlson believes that architects and cognitive scientists can learn from each other: “Architects could explain how they use building features to encourage certain patterns of movement within the building, informing research on how people move through space; scientists could contribute data on how we build cognitive maps and what strategies different people use to find their way around.”


February 24, 2011