NeuroCognition for Human-Centered Architectural Design

  • Michal Gath Morad (Speaker)
  • Panos Mavros (Speaker)
  • Christoph Holscher (Speaker)
  • Conroy Dalton, R. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


Our team presentation will explore the interplay between neurocognition and human-centered architectural design. Our interdisciplinary team, comprising experts from cognitive science, architecture, space syntax, and applied psychology, aims to investigate the following critical questions at the intersection of neurocognition and architectural design: (1) How does the architectural design of physical built environments impact individual and group perception, cognition, behavior, and health outcomes? (2) How can empirical findings regarding cognition and behavior be effectively integrated into architectural and urban design practices to create evidence-empowered and human-centered built environments? and (3) In what ways do evidence-based design tools affect design cognition, communication, and design outcomes?

To address our research questions, we employ a range of empirical and simulation methods, including behavioral experiments, navigation studies, psychophysiological measurements (such as mobile EEG), spatial network analysis (space syntax), visibility analysis, and cognitive agent-based modelling. Our team’s research contributions have been published across a wide range of journals in environmental psychology, cognition, engineering and architecture, highlighting the expertise of our team members. A large part of our joint work is connected with the Future Cities Laboratory Global Singapore / Zurich, and the efforts below all comprise collaborative efforts across our team. A selection of joint efforts is introduced below.

Christoph Hölscher comes from a cognitive psychology and human-computer interaction background, and for a long time – together with the other team members - has called for the integration of rigorous and systematic usability and user experience evaluation into the architectural domain (Krukar et al. 2016). His research explores diverse topics such as wayfinding strategies (Kuliga et al., 2020), crowd behavior during high-stress evacuations (Moussaïd et al., 2016), and cognitive strategies in urban route planning (Hölscher et al., 2011). His studies have also emphasized methodological issues, such as the development of replication studies in wayfinding from real buildings to virtual reality simulations, and the analysis of gaze behavior in collaborative wayfinding tasks (Schwarzkopf et al., 2017).

Ruth Conroy-Dalton has made significant contributions to our understanding of human navigation in built environments. Her work encompasses various aspects, including the analysis of city street networks (Coutrot et al., 2022) the impact of spatial layout on navigation ability (Zimring et al., 2003) and the emerging field of social wayfinding (Conroy-Dalton et al., 2019). In a recent study (Coutrot et al., 2022), Conroy-Dalton and colleagues examined non-verbal spatial navigation abilities in a large sample of individuals from 38 countries using a video game task. Their findings revealed that individuals who grew up outside of cities performed better in navigation tasks, with their performance influenced by the topological similarity between their upbringing environment and the video game environment, highlighting the impact of the environment on human cognition and emphasizing the significance of urban design on brain function.

Panos Mavros’s work has instigated the use of mobile EEG to study person- urban environment interactions (Mavros et al., 2016), contributed to the development of visualization approaches to communicate affect and elucidated the joint effect of crowding and environment on brain and emotion (Mavros et al., 2022;2023) In a recent study Mavros (Mavros et al., 2022) and colleagues investigated the psychological effects of different physical (outdoor or indoor) and social (crowded or uncrowded) urban environments on healthy adults using mobile EEG and EDA measurements during walking. Their findings revealed that green spaces were perceived as calm and positive, reducing attentional demands, while crowded scenes evoked higher arousal and negative emotions.

Michal Gath-Morad’s research highlights the potential of spatial configuration to enhance legibility by providing opportunities for information-seeking during vertical movement while maintaining a fixed frame of reference (Gath-Morad et al., 2021). In this study, Gath-Morad and colleagues investigated the impact of visibility on wayfinding behavior in a multilevel virtual reality environment, revealing a significant correlation between the visibility of destinations and participants’ decision-making, indicating that once a destination was in sight, participants made quick decisions to move towards it, while out-of-sight destinations led to visual exploration and longer decision-making times. Building on these empirical studies, Gath-Morad demonstrated the limitations of current direct routing agents in predicting wayfinding in buildings with varying levels of visibility between floors. In response, she has developed a novel vision-based cognitive agent that shows greater predictive accuracy in modeling human wayfinding in vertical environments (Gath-Morad et al., 2020; 2021; 2022). Furthermore, her recent work on face-to-face interactions in emergency departments has shed light on how visibility between spaces and proximity to points of interest influence face-to-face interactions among healthcare workers (Gath-Morad et al., 2023). Figures 1-3 showcase some of our published work showing examples of our findings in the form of spatial analysis and statistical plots.

Envisioning the future of this research, we anticipate a deeper understanding of how environmental and architectural qualities affect cognition, behavior and emotion. By integrating empirical insights into real-world design practices, we aim to create evidence-based and human-centered built environments that enhance well-being, cognitive functioning, and user experiences. Our individual and joint interdisciplinary research efforts have the potential to influence the field of architecture by bridging the gap between research and practice, and empowering architects and urban designers to create spaces that align with our cognitive processes to foster wellbeing and health.
Period16 Sep 2023
Event titleANFA 20th Anniversary Conference
Event typeConference
LocationLa Jolla, United StatesShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational