Architect Ann Sussman and designer Janice M. Ward are two leading researchers studying how our brains see buildings. Their interest arose from their own observations and curiosity about how architects could create places that encouraged walkability and lingerability
Sussman and Ward have completed four biometric pilot studies since they began the research in 2015, and they’ve reached three “unexpected findings,” as they write. First, people ignore blank facades. Instead, time and again, they found that buildings with punched windows and areas of high contrast drew attention. Second, people look for people in images
Third, fixations drive exploration–meaning that our subconscious influences our attention, which then impacts our conscious behavior. For instance, choosing whether they’d stand in front of a blank facade and one with a mural, people always chose the mural. It “provides fixation points to focus on; these give us a type of attachment we like and seem to need to feel at our best,” the duo writes in Common Edge. “Without these connections people apparently don’t know where to go–they get anxious–and so won’t select the blanker site.”
With these insights, architects could potentially reverse-engineer their designs to elicit specific behavior, like people socializing in a square, walking more, or being happier about their environment. Perhaps more importantly, biometric studies could help them convince their clients why specific details are so essential to have in a design. “At the moment, biometrics are predominantly used to get people to purchase things,” Sussman tells Co.Design. “We’d like to use them to improve public welfare, health, and well-being. We want to promote better place-making in the world and ease of walkability.”
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