Archway - Overview

Wayfinding Cognition and Architectural Design


The theoretical outset of the proposed research project is the observation that humans show distinct behavioural and cognitive preferences when dealing with wayfinding tasks in built environments. Orientation and navigation around large-scale, complex buildings is difficult and often leads to severe wayfinding problems. We believe that understanding the route choice preferences and wayfinding strategies of human users are a key to understanding wayfinding problems per se, since humans have to fall-back to these mechanisms when adequate knowledge is not available. The research goals of this project are related to basic research questions in cognitive psychology as well as to practical goals for architectural design. With respect to basic research, we intend to identify environmental factors as well as internal cognitive states that determine route choice preferences and strategies and, thus, shape wayfinding behavior. Environmental factors are to be investigated on different levels, following a general distinction into local, visually available stimuli at the vista space level and non-local configurational features at the environmental space level. We intend to use a range of methods (real-life experiments, lab studies, Space Syntax analysis) to identify in particular, how such features interact with respect to human wayfinding behavior. The practical aims of the project are centred on the following question: How can building design be better suited to human wayfinding needs, i.e. how can the cognitive and behavioural dispositions (preferences/strategies) of building users be supported by architectural design? First of all, we hope to determine cognitive-ergonomic improvements in design for wayfinding by identifying concrete wayfinding problems in current architectural designs, later extending the research to design guidelines and evaluation methods suitable for different phases of architectural design projects. We extend our investigations of wayfinding behavior to the direct interaction with architects, capturing their design knowledge and relating it to human wayfinding cognition. The architects' knowledge will be investigated with semi-structured interviews and design walkthroughs, to identify how architects conceptualize wayfinding-related design decisions and the corresponding environmental features as well as describe their naïve theories of human wayfinding behavior. A series of wayfinding experiments in real-life architectural spaces is at the methodological core of our project, employing behavior observation and thinking-aloud protocol techniques. Environmental features like layout and complexity are varied across studies to identify their respective impact on preferences and strategies. The real-life studies will proceed in complex settings like university buildings and hospitals to provide a rich picture of wayfinding preferences and strategies used. These studies will be complemented by highly controlled laboratory tests to capture the interaction of environmental features on local and non-local levels. Measures from the architectural theory of Space Syntax will be employed to analyse the experimental settings and identify systematic relationships between building properties and human wayfinding behavior. The project will include cooperation with the architecture departments at ETH Zurich and University College London to leverage interdisciplinary support for wayfinding cognition research.