five times a

analyzing architecture at any angle

Month: December, 2013

/vid/ Stuart Firestein: The pursuit of ignorance

What does real scientific work look like? As neuroscientist Stuart Firestein jokes: It looks a lot less like the scientific method and a lot more like “farting around … in the dark.” In this witty talk, Firestein gets to the heart of science as it is really practiced and suggests that we should value what we don’t know — or “high-quality ignorance” — just as much as what we know.





/vid/ Laura Snyder: The Philosophical Breakfast Club

In 1812, four men at Cambridge University met for breakfast. What began as an impassioned meal grew into a new scientific revolution, in which these men — who called themselves “natural philosophers” until they later coined “scientist” — introduced four major principles into scientific inquiry. Historian and philosopher Laura Snyder tells their intriguing story.



/vid/ Carlo Ratti: Architecture that senses and responds

With his team at SENSEable City Lab, MIT’s Carlo Ratti makes cool things by sensing the data we create. He pulls from passive data sets — like the calls we make, the garbage we throw away — to create surprising visualizations of city life. And he and his team create dazzling interactive environments from moving water and flying light, powered by simple gestures caught through sensors.




/txt/ Ceiling Height Influences the Notion of Freedom and Thinking Processes

When speaking of living space, working space, or any (closed) public space, we usually think of the space that we actually use, so it seems ironic that the space that we don’t actively use can be very important for us – the empty space above our heads. The height of a ceiling influences our feelings, thoughts and behaviour. This is not a revolutionary idea. I belive that we’re all intuitively aware that room’s height affects us, and can trace that awareness throughout the history of architecture. Some types of buildings like churches and temples always tended to have high ceilings, and were supposed to prompt abstract, spiritual thoughts. Maybe by making us feel small, they prime us to think about greater things – to think “outside the box”.


Musée d’Orsay, Paris; photo by Mark Bridge

What I like about investigating something so exact like room height is how easy it is to conduct an experiment. You just place people in two rooms that are identical in all features except the one you’re interested in, and record people’s feelings, thoughts and behavior. That’s exactly what Meyers-Levy and Zhu (2007) did in their three experiments when investigated the effects of high (10 ft; 3 m) and low (8 ft; 2,4 m) ceiling height on individuals’ notions of freedom versus confinement and how such effects further influenced information processing.


Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York; photo by Drumaboy

Subjects in the high ceiling room were more likely to report feeling a sense of freedom  and completed freedom-related anagrams more quickly and confinement-related anagrams more slowly than those in the low ceiling rooms. This means that high ceilings can prime the concept of freedom and low ceilings can prime the concept of confinement.


Alexandria Library, Egypt; photo by macloo

Authors further hypothesised that priming of notions of freedom and confinement would influence subjects’ thinking processes in a way that they would predominately use either relational or item-specific processing. This is because relational elaboration entails elaborating freely or uninhibitedly on multiple pieces of data so as to discern commonalities that they share. On the other hand, item-specific elaboration involves confining or restricting one’s focus to each item by itself and concentrating on its precise attributes.


Royal Masonic Girls’ School, London, U.K.; photo by stevecadman

As expected, the salient high ceiling height prompted subjects to analyze information in more abstract and integrated ways (relational processing) then low ceiling heigth which was evident in three tasks – item categorization, product evaluation and recall task.

Participants in the high ceiling condition used relational processing in the item categorisation task, producing a larger number of dimensions, greater abstraction in those dimensions that they identified, and a smaller average number of subgroups per dimension, than participants in low ceiling room.


The Nave, Canterbury Cathedral, U.K.; photo by stevecadman

When asked to evaluate the appearance of two products – coffee table and a wine rack, participants in the high ceiling room were more likely to pay attention to product’s overall appearance, and participants in the low ceiling room were more likely to notice the details.


Seattle Public Library, U.S.; photo by David Zeibin

In the recall task, subjects in high ceiling rooms were more successful at the free recall task (relational processing) and subjects in the low ceiling rooms were more successful at the cued recall task (item-specific processing).

Differences in processing strategies only emerged when due to salient ceiling hung lanterns, people were likely to attend to ceiling height.


The Blizard Building, laboratory, at the Royal London Hospital, U.K.; photo by stevecadman

Meyers-Levy and  Zhu concluded that ceiling height affected subjects’ subconscious perception of the environment and therefore, the information processing method they used. These findings are widely applicable.

For example, authors  suggest that art galleries featuring hard-to-interpret abstract art should install a high ceiling in order to prompt relational processing. Yet, those that feature more concrete, detail-filled representational art might benefit from low ceilings that prompt item specific processing.


The Blizard Building at the Royal London Hospital; photo by stevecadman

Similarly, rationally processing consumers in a high ceiling room may better make sense of quizzical ads, while ads that are ment to be understood literally, get more attention in a low ceiling room. These findings should also be taken into consideration when designing workspace, lecture halls, scientific institutes and study rooms. Designer should answer the question whether users would benefit more from being primed for relational or abstract thinking.


Meyers-Levy, J. and  Zhu, R.J. (2007) The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing That People Use. Journal of Consumer Research, 34,2, 174-186. (link)