Architects Think About Space Differently from Other People, New Study Confirms


© Flickr user neilconway. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

© Flickr user neilconway. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Architects, as well as painters and sculptors, think about and describe spaces differently from other people, a new study from UCL and Bangor University researchers has found. While the conclusion may sound a bit obvious on its face, the study offers evidence that a person’s chosen career may impact the way his/her brain operates.

The study, titled Sculptors, Architects, and Painters Conceive of Depicted Spaces Differently, invited 16 people from three professions (architect, sculptor and painter) with at least 8 years experience in their fields, to be compared with 16 control participants. Each subject was shown three images, a Google StreetView image of London, a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica and a surreal computer-generated environment. They were then asked a series of questions:

  • Could you please describe the environment that you see in this picture?
  • How would you explore the space in this image; where would you go?
  • If you were given the chance, how would you change the environment in this image?

The responses were then analyzed using a technique called Cognitive Discourse Analysis (developed by study co-author Dr. Thora Tenbrink), which aims to map the subconscious thought process linked to a speaker’s linguistic choices.

“By looking at language systematically we found some consistent patterns, which turned out to be quite revealing,” said Dr Tenbrik.

Architects were found to describe the thresholds and boundaries of the perceived space, speaking about the scene as if it were a 3-dimensional occupiable reality instead of a 2-dimensional composition. In addition, while painters referred to elements in the rear of the image as the “back,” architects preferred to use the more dynamic term “end,” as though the space could be viewed along a visual path (like you would use the phrase “end of the road,” rather than “back of the road”). Architects also spent more time discussing the materiality of the depicted spaces.

The findings may help to determine the way that profession affects spatial cognition, and how recognizing those differences could improve communication between architect and client.

‘In their day-to-day work, artists and architects have a heightened awareness of their surroundings, which seems to have a deep influence on the way they conceive of space,” said the study’s first author, Claudia Cialone (now based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Australian National University). “We hope our research will lead to further studies into the spatial cognition of other professionals, which could help devise new ways of understanding, representing and communicating space for ourselves.’

Find the entire study, here.

News via Science Daily.

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