Welcome to the New Age of Biology where students familiar with biotech tools change design outcomes. That’s what happened this spring, when architecture students at Catholic University of America, suggested changes to a new dining hall on campus and used biometric software to make their case. “The students were the jurors,” said Prof Robin Puttock, who procured renderings of the new building as part of her class, Human-Centric, Evidence-based Design for WELL-being.
The students reviewed the new venue under construction, then modified the design to be more welcoming, reduce stress, and promote wellbeing, Puttock explained. Their “Reinvention” (see drawings below right) included adding skylights, hanging plants and installing red awnings over the food service locations. They Photoshopped in the changes and ran the ‘Reinvention’ and the original design through 3M Visual Attention Software (VAS).
VAS predicts how viewers take in a scene at-first-glance, in the first-three-to-five seconds before conscious viewing comes online. It creates heat maps, which glow brightest where viewers likely look most, (see images below), fading-to-black in areas ignored.
The software also outlines hot spots, showing the areas that garner the most attention as a percentage; in the images above we see how 71% of views are predicted to fall on food serving area immediately once it has red awnings, versus only 39% in the original design, without them. Red awnings in a dining hall may seem counter-intuitive – but by improving way-finding can make it easier to move through a space, reducing visitor anxiety.
The design architect and the university architect agreed the student recommendations were “all positive suggestions” that would improve the look and feel of the place; the school might even incorporate the red awnings, CUA officials said. This project “really empowered 20-year-olds,” Prof Puttock noted. “They loved it!”
The idea that better understanding of the human experience promotes better design appears to be gaining traction—particularly now with software that reveals our subliminal visual experience and how it directs our behavior in and around buildings. VAS became a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop in October 2020, so the story here may be a harbinger of things to come in project reviews. It also suggests how the next generation of architects may lead the profession towards more empathetic, human-centered design.
For more information on VAS explorations of architecture, these by students at the Boston Architectural College (BAC), check out these links: