What draws us to a building? Eye tracking studies may have the answer

With the ever-growing collaboration between neuroscience and design, psychological studies have illustrated that people prefer to be around a variety of architecture. A range of buildings, of all different sizes and styles, result in a happier population as bland, block-like buildings have a negative effect on our mental and physical health.

Biometric technologies record our reactions to stimuli. Electroencephalograms (EEG) measure brain waves, eye tracking tracks eye movements, and facial expression recognition software records our ever-changing facial expressions. Biometric tools such as these have moved beyond University psychology departments and are now being used in a range of fields, from market research to design.

Biometric study shows how murals draw attention. Credit: Genetics of Design 

When it comes to architecture, biometric tools such as eye tracking are revolutionising how we see the built environment and what is more, how buildings impact people.

Taking into account our unconscious eye movements, eye tracking allows us to predict how we might respond to our environment. The technology can predict what draws us to a building, whether we’re tempted to peer through its windows, and what kind of architecture we’d prefer to be surrounded by.

 The areas on a building facade where people are most likely to fixate Credit: Genetics of Design 

Architect and academic, Ann Sussman researches how buildings emotionally affect people and Janice M. Ward is a designer, writer and STEM advocate. Sussman and Ward have conducted eye tracking studies measuring people’s unconscious visual behaviour towards different types of buildings. The technology tracks pre-attentive processing (the first 3-5 seconds before we engage in something), which can predict how people might behave around a building.

People usually fixate on windows and doors.Credit: Genetics of Design 

The duo’s studies have revealed that people are less likely to look at featureless buildings such as blank facades and block-like constructions. Instead, people are drawn towards patterns and prominent structures such as punched windows which allow their eyes to dart to and from the building.  

According to Sussman and Ward, patterns provide areas to focus on, and consequently not only are people more attentive towards the building but also feel more attached to it. The duo also notes that individuals are continuously scanning buildings for other people and the more people around a building, the more attentive people will be to a building's architecture. 

To learn more about Sussman and Ward’s research click here

People fixate on patterned constructions. Credit: Genetics of Design. 

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