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What is the Role of Human Memory in Architecture?

This is a “loaded” question, but …

The beautiful thing about architecture is that it can “tap into” an occupant’s past meaningful experiences through their senses and their emotion. Architecture also has the power set the stage for occupants to create new meaningful experiences — and memory plays a key role in helping to make all of this possible.

INFLUENCING PERCEPTION AND DECISION-MAKING

Although the role of human memory in architecture is a big one, we can begin to scratch at its surface by understanding how built form engages humans — influencing both their perception and their decision making abilities.

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at this quote:

“Studies show that memory plays a critical role in perception and decision making; however, it may be less reliable and more suggestible than once believed.” (1)

So, what does this mean for architects?

MEANING, SENSE + EMOTION

From individual memory to collective memory, architecture can impact what and how we remember. An architect’s design might make the most of “suggestible” memories by creating built form that helps to “preserve” a memory— like a memorial, for instance. On the other hand, architecture can bring new meaning into our present as well.

So, how might this all work? Here’s another quote:

“We now know enough about how memories are stored and retrieved to demolish another long-standing myth: that memories are passive or literal recordings of reality…we do not store judgement-free snapshots of our past experiences but rather hold on to the meaning, sense, and emotions these experiences provided us.” 
– written by Harvard Professor Daniel L. Schacter (1)

Architecture uses human memory to help occupants both “do” and “learn”. (1) Yet, what occupants probably remember most are the meaning, sense and emotion that an environment helped provide. Perhaps it is out of these qualities that a truly great work of architecture can simply help someone make a decision or even impact a culture.

Reference:

(1) Lawrence, Karen. Neuroscience, Memory and Social Manipulation. Suite101.com. September 21, 2008.

Image Credit: © Frenta | Dreamstime

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