Can Architectural Symbols Help Occupants with Recalling Memory?

In recent lab tests, studies are showing that it is possible to replay memories within a rat’s brain to restore its memory. By using an implant, signals are sent to the hippocampus part of the brain by recording and replaying electrical activity of neurons. (1) Here is a brief excerpt describing this process a bit more:

This implant operates on the same principles as other neural prosthetics, communicating with the nervous system using electrical signals. Instead of sending signals from the brain to control a prosthetic arm or a computer cursor, however, this system sends the signals to another part of the brain. (1)

So what does this have to do with architecture you may ask?

In thinking about how architecture affects the humans that experience it, I wonder what effects on the brain such buildings as museums, memorials, ruins or other historical buildings might bring. And in this line of thinking, I would like to know how architectural symbols impact architectural perception — whether that architecture is meant to represent an event (present , past, or future), a thing or even a person.

Is designing and building an architectural symbol a way to “replay a memory”?

In theory, such architectural symbols have opportunity to teach memories, where a collective event, or a relationship can be better understood, explored further and even built upon.

When you design, do you ever consider what within your work might become such an architectural symbol? Even if it is not an overt grand gesture like the Taj Mahal, perhaps even a significant detail within your architectural built work might serve as a symbol for someone that experiences your building. And in the end, that does give it a form of meaning.

If so, ask yourself what your architectural symbols mean to your building occupant? What is it that they “replay” in their memories (whether positive or negative). Then understand why and how those architectural moments work. After all, by dissecting what about your architectural designs become symbolic for people, you will take on a much deeper understanding about what your current architectural designs are doing for your occupants, as well as how to build upon them in your future projects.

So in the end, perhaps architectural symbols are one way to replay a memory for occupants. How can you use this to your advantage as an architect? And at what times would you choose not to?


(1) Ross, Valerie. Brain Implant Restores Memories in Rats by Recording & Playing Them Back. Discover. June 20, 2011.

Image Credit: © foxypar4 |Flickr


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