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The Architecture Experience You Design Can Erase a Memory

The notion of having dispositions, or records, that your brain keeps as it experiences architecture is quite an interesting thought. If every time your occupant has an architecture experience that can later be rewritten, then your role as an architect is to design for more than a real-time experience. You must also design for your occupants by incorporating what your architecture will say to them — what they will store in their memory, and how that memory will influence their future experiences.

Here is a quote discussing such dispositions from an article entitled, Science Studies How Architecture Affects the Brain:

“Architectural experience is recorded in what Antonio Damasio calls “dispositions” — records in our brain of a combination of sensory inputs, memories, emotions and any related muscle memories. Just below the surface of consciousness these dispositions wait for the next experience with which they can be paired. For example, each time we enter the office in which we work we are recalling a dispositional record of our last visit — including any emotional experiences we may have had. When we leave our office at the end of the day, our brain creates a new dispositional record that updates the one we came with that morning.”

The key word here is “update”. Previous architecture experiences impact the current, and the current will influence those which have not yet happened. Does this mean that you should design spaces that are less predictable? Or spaces where repetition and routine abound?

As an architect, it might be difficult to make a blanket statement about such questions. For example, I cannot say that a classroom in an elementary school needs to be predictable, while a meeting room in an office building needs to be unpredictable. So much is linked to occupant and architectural context, objectives and need for evolution and change.

Do Your Occupants Judge Your Buildings Before Ever Going In?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what your occupant “dispositions” say? How can you, as an architect, design for such occupant brain records?

The ultimate goal for you as an architect should be to design spaces that ultimately foster the experiences your occupant wants and needs. Sounds simple, right? Well, complexity enters the picture when you consider that key word “update”.

Your occupants collect experiences involving your design (sometimes many of your designs) into their perception. Their records get modified with each visit — whether it be physical, virtual or by simply hearing about another’s experience within your building. In some ways, yes, your occupant does “judge” what their experience will be like, but “judge” is such a strong word. It might be better to say that they form a perception (which can often lead to an opinion).

Of course, you may have the opportunity to prove false impressions wrong, even erasing what they once thought they experienced. You may ask yourself…”What tone should my architecture have?” Should it be an unexpected surprise? Comfortingly predictable? Inconspicuously silent? Well, you get the idea.

I challenge you to think about what message your building conveys, not only when occupants are within it, but also before they ever come in and long after they have left. Your building forms more than a real-time experience. It stamps an impression.Use that to your advantage.

Image Credit: © JoshuaDavisPhotography. COM | Flickr

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