Perception of Architectural Heritage

By Armagan Dogan

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the most basic definition of perception is the quality of being aware of things through the physical senses, especially by sight [1]. However, perception is not merely the result of the data people collect through sensory stimulation, it also contains other aspects. Perception happens in three main stages. The first stage is where people gather information from the stimulus or the object, the second stage is when people organise and recognise this information, and the last stage is the interpretation stage. A crucial element for the organisation and the interpretation stage is prior knowledge. When people perceive an object, they integrate the incoming sensory information with prior knowledge stored in memory; allowing them to respond to it faster. 

The perception of architectural heritage is no different from the perception of an object we come across daily. People have predictive models in their brains for making sense of the incoming data and responding to them. However, the models we already have in our brains can sometimes cause problems for the perception of architectural heritage, such as the structures built with the characteristics of the Modern Movement.

Most people have expectations regarding cultural heritage due to their prior knowledge or their experiences regarding heritage. The Modern Movement buildings seem unable to fulfil the definition people have for cultural heritage. In particular, the attempts by the Modern Movement to establish a universal language did not correspond to the perception of the aesthetic values of every society. According to Benevolo, Persico states that if someone wants to consider an architecture that is apart from the aesthetic formulation, rather than speaking about internationalism, they should return to the concept of a world that is entirely rational and intelligent [2]. The expression of the Modern Movement was overly rational, and it was defined by material facts rather than the spiritual and cultural impacts of architecture on people. Consequently, the Modern Movement, in general, did not seem dependent on local historicity or on any national vernacular architecture, which did not match with the prior knowledge of the people.

On the other hand, when the physical characteristic of this heritage is analysed, it is possible to state that the ambiguous nature of Modern Movement buildings might have an impact on their evaluation process. Regarding perception, when the input is ambiguous, expectation can modulate what people perceive [3]. Expectations about heritage tend to be the buildings with ornamented stone or wooden façades. Furthermore, according to Imamoglu, people tend to prefer the intermediate levels of complexity when compared to minimum and maximum levels [4]. Moreover, as Reis and Dias Lay state, excessive simplicity with lack of diversity and visual richness establishes an inadequate visual motivation for people, which establishes a negative impression [5]. Therefore, it is argued that the Modern Movement can be a suitable architectural style to analyse using eye-tracking, as this can provide further objective indicators as to the judgements people make. 


[1]  Cambridge dictionary.

[2] Benevolo, L. (1989). History of modern architecture. Massachusetts: M.I.T Press.

[3] de Lange, F., Heilbron, M., &Kok, P. (2018). How do expectations shape perception?  Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(9), 764-779.

[4] Imamoglu, C (2000). Complexity, liking and familiarity: Architecture and non-architecture Turkish students’ assessments of traditional and modern house facades. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 20, 5-16.

[5] Reis, D. L. A. T., and M. C. Dias Lay. (2010). Internal and external aesthetics of housing estates. Journal of Environment and Behaviour, 42(2), 271–294.