Why Ornament + Detail Really Matter in Architecture

“Details make perfection, and perfection is not a detail.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Details really matter in architecture, and today we have the high-tech tools to show why and how to make the case quickly. For instance, below are two views of the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At right, an original Georgian building, dating from 1927, featuring symmetrical door and window details, and at left, its new addition, a modernist structure by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano, added in 2014.

Running both images through biometric software, in this instance 3M VAS (Visual Attention Software), which tracks how eyes take in a scene at first glance, we see how the older building instantly draws people in, while the newer one can’t. The images below forecast the visual sequence the eyes will follow; at right we see the focal points immediately falling around the front door of the old museum, which is where you want them to be at a public facility, while focus goes to the far edge and along the street of the newer one, effectively telling people to ignore both the door and building itself.

Biometric software makes equally revealing heat maps which glow brightest, and reddest, where people look most, fading to blue and then completely black in areas ignored. Note how the Georgian building and stair (below right) are bathed in blue and yellowish hue, keeping viewer attention away from street or sky. The opposite happens with the newer one (below left); it directs viewer attention to its edges, a street sign, the sky and away from the stair and entry, making it instantly less welcoming for a viewer or visitor.

Another useful biometric, Regions of Interest diagrams (ROIs), also called Hot Spots, forecast, as a percentage, where the brain makes people look, creating circles around areas that instantly draw the eye. Again note how 59-to-65 percent of views fall directly on the old museum (below right), and its entry, whereas 56-to-85 percent of views fall around the edges, sky and street artifacts, in the newer one (below left). This matters, revealing why it is harder for people to situate themselves in front of the new space.

Remember, even in our high-tech time, people are still animals, hard-wired for attachment, both to each other and the things we make. Successful design acknowledges our origins, and how evolution, and that struggle for survival that made us, preset our subliminal responses to surroundings including where we look first without even realizing it.

Details really matter in architecture because they draw us to a place, reflect how we attach, giving us what we need to see to secure ourselves in a space, and make us feel at home in a place. Details represent external manifestations of hidden internal brain requirements for survival in our dynamic eco-system; in sum: far from arbitrary or extraneous, details are requisite!

Photos ©geneticsofdesign.com. Click on images to enlarge.

Many thanks to Kellogg College, Global Center for Healthcare and Urbanisation, Oxford University, for linking to this post here.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Eye Tracking, Neuroscience. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why Ornament + Detail Really Matter in Architecture

  1. Pingback: Study-#1 Results: Eye Tracking Public Architecture | The Genetics of Design

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