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Why a Mental Map is Important for Architects to Understand

Image Credit: © Miss_Colleen | Flickr

As an architect, you probably spend much of your time designing and preparing for programmatic functions and the aesthetic beauty to be experienced by future building occupants. But, did you know that your design ultimately is “interpreted” into what is frequently called the “mind’s eye”? Simply stated, this is a mental map that is said to be responsible for your own personal view-point and how you perceive the world.

The process behind the mental map is very important for you, as an architect, to understand — or at least be aware of. You see, your occupants accumulate information about places and then visualize this information to help with memory and learning. In effect, such spatial information is collected from all kinds of sources, and such sources influence their mental map — thus, their impression of your architectural design.

For example, if an image of a building becomes iconic and people see and hear about this image over and over again. This influences their mental map of your architecture. This image will help (or hurt) your architecture’s success in the minds of your occupants.

Just take a look at the “Modern Art” starred area in the History of Art mental map drawing (below). You can see here the personal viewpoint and relationship this person has with modern art — interpreted spatially.

Image Credit: © atduskgreg | Flickr

To better design by being aware of the importance of mental mapping, it is best to be conscious of the journey your occupants take arriving to, going through and leaving your building. Focus on what collective order, series and accumulation of stimuli he or she will experience. Furthermore, you should be aware of social, climate, zoning and other cultural stimuli that might affect your occupant’s perception of your work.

In some ways many of you already design for the cognitive mapping process. You, as a designer, use mental maps to visualize and synthesis your own architectural designs. The next step; however, is to work backwards. Think about what you would want remembered or learned about your building.

After all, your building may have a ripple effect — connecting with those far beyond just those that physically visit the space. This is particularly possible now with advancing technologies related to the internet, virtual reality and so on.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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