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Understanding Spatial Cognition: The Intersection of Architecture, Cognitive, and Computational Sciences

11/17/2011 | German House New York

Bridging Science and Design for a Better Understanding of Spatial Cognition

The event was part of the joint "Spatial Cognition for Architectural Design (SCAD)" symposium of the German Research Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

The physical space in which humans live and work has far-reaching implications for the nature and quality of everyday life and experiences. As Winston Churchill once said, “we shape our buildings; thereafter our buildings shape us.”

Understanding the space surrounding us has been a challenge for many disciplines: Architects conceptualize and shape space by designing buildings and cities. Cognitive scientists, such as psychologists, research human understanding of and behavior in physical space. Computer scientists strive to represent the three-dimensional space in which we function with mathematical computations and systems for design.

At the “Understanding People, Spaces, and Spatial Cognition” panel discussion which took place at the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) New York on November 17, 2011, researchers, educators, and practitioners debated the latest advances and current trends in the theory and practice of architectural design, spatial cognition, and spatial computation.

Dr. Mehul Bhatt from the University of Bremen presented a holistic approach to the topic. “Contemporary architecture design tools regard eventual design products as isolated, frozen moments of perfection,” he said.

Understanding humans’ reactions to buildings and “how they move through them to find their way, is a key aspect of taking a user-centered perspective,” said Dr. Christian Hölscher from the University of Freiburg. According to him, “Psychology and cognitive science can provide valuable input into an emerging evidence-based movement in architecture."

Prof. Ömer Akin, who teaches at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, talked about the socio-cultural shifts in design enabled by technology. The emergence and omnipresence of information technologies shape the way buildings are built and evaluated, he said.

Prof. Gabriela Goldschmidt from the TECHNION - Israel Institute of Technology, focused on the form and shapes of buildings and how computation aids in creating freeform buildings.

"The real world and real patterns of human behavior require a real method of evaluation of the resources embodied and required in the maintenance and transformation of our built environment,” said Prof. Wilfried Wang from the University of Texas. He used an airport as an example to illustrate how people are enticed to spend more time there for commercial interests.

The discussion was part of the three-day Spatial Cognition for Architectural Design (SCAD) symposium which was jointly funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Deputy Consul General of the German Consulate New York Dr. Oliver Schnakenberg and GCRI Director Dr. Joann Halpern gave the welcome addresses. The panel was moderated by Dr. Eva-Maria Streier, the Director of the DFG’s New York office.

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  • Featured Speakers

    • Dr. Mehul Bhatt (Welcome Remarks)

      Cognitive Systems Group, University of Bremen, Germany

    • Dr. Joann Halpern (Welcome Remarks)

      Director, German Center for Research and Innovation

    • Dr. Ömer Akin

      School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh

    • Dr. Gabriela Goldschmidt

      Department of Architecture, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

    • Dr. Christoph Hoelscher

      Center for Cognitive Science, University of Freiburg, Germany