Designing a Sense of Place: Don’t Forget Memory!
Within architectural space it is important to establish a sense of place. This is true not only for the architecture to be good but also for your experience within that space to be memorable. Did you know that your memory and your sense of place are closely linked?(1) Creating an environment involves designing for meaningful experiences — to do this, establishing a sense of place is key.
In the paper Neuroscience and Architecture: Seeking Common Ground, both landmarks and paths are described as important when designing architecture. It seems that both memory and sense of place prominently involve the same part of the brain – the hippocampus. “Our memory of events may depend upon a strong sense of place, and by extension, our sense of place may be influenced by the integrity of the memories formed there.”(1)
A key factor in distinguishing place from space is the ability for humans to interact. This provides occupants with a feeling of belonging to the environment, instead of just “passing through it.” Also, establishing a connection between spaces is important. This provides opportunity for the incorporation of landmarks and other architectural features that can make a place memorable.(1)
Can you remember being in an architectural space that had a strong sense of place? Is your memory of that place linked to an experience that happened there? Odds are that that place also had a strong sense of orientation. As landmarks and other architectural features come together in one’s mental map, your sense of place becomes stronger.
Buildings that guide you through them while providing you with enough information to make meaningful decisions along the way can make for quite profound experiences. Embed within your architecture a succession for a meaningful sense of place – where memories can be shaped and built form can transcend the senses.
(1) Sternberg, Esther M. and Wilson, Matthew A. Neuroscience and Architecture: Seeking Common Ground. Cell 127, Elsevier Inc. October 20, 2006.