Elements of architectural language which affect the perception of heritage: An experiment using eye-tracking technology

By Armagan Dogan

Over the last decades, extensive research has been conducted across various disciplines regarding memory, different architectural languages, perception of the environment, and how experiences and memories affect the place attachment of the people. However, the impact of perception and memories on the evaluation of cultural heritage is not widely studied. Furthermore, the protection of modern heritage as a phenomenon facilitating sustainable behaviour and strategies for public involvement is also not studied comprehensively. 

As the Modern Movement era and its heritage are a moot case in the architectural sphere, and its architectural merit is not appreciated by the society in the way it deserves, research was conducted between the years 2016-2020 in Kaunas, Lithuania, as a part of my PhD studies. The research aimed to understand the role of cultural memory on the formation of architectural languages and to develop a model to measure people’s perception in their assessment of cultural heritage, which can be used in adaptive re-use strategies of built heritage. Furthermore, it was argued that a better understanding of this phenomenon could allow specialists to proceed from a more informed perspective regarding adaptive re-use of built heritage and comprehend society’s perception towards it. Therefore, an experiment was conducted in 2019 using eye tracking glasses as part of my PhD research.

The experiment aimed to study indicators of the cultural heritage evaluation process that people were not expressing verbally. This was achieved by collecting data using eye-tracking glasses while people viewed architecture. Eye-tracking technology is commonly used in marketing and customer/consumer experience, but it is not a common research method for cultural heritage, however, recording eye movements provides valuable information and insights for understanding perception and the factors affecting the perception [1]. Eye tracking can provide detail about what someone finds interesting and what they are attending to. 

The methodology in this experiment followed that of Yarbus and focused on the scan paths of the eye movements [2]. According to Yarbus, when people analyse complex objects, the eye fixates on aspects of objects relevant to the question the observer is trying to answer while scanning in between these fixated points (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. An example of scanpaths from Yarbus’ experiment in 1967 (taken from the article of Haji-Abolhassani & Clark, 2014 [3])

For example, when he showed the painting of Ilya Repin to his participants, he asked various questions, such as the financial status of the people in the painting or the age of the people in the painting. During the experiment, when the question was concerning the financial status, participants focused on the clothing of the people in the painting, however, when the question was concerning the age, participants focused on the face of the people in the painting. I concluded that, if I asked the right questions to the participants in my own experiment, it is likely that they would look towards specific spots and fixate areas that would help them to answer my questions. Therefore, the results would indicate the most attended (or fixated) spots and would give me physical indicators to use in the creation of my model. 

In that regard, my experiment at Kaunas University of Technology, with the participation of 20 students, followed the same rationale. During the experiment, using eye tracking glasses, the eye movements and gaze points were recorded while each participant was observing a set of photographs showing eleven different buildings. Whilst viewing each photograph they were asked to decide if the building was cultural heritage or not, to see which parts of the buildings they focused on for evaluating the heritage value. 

The results of an eye tracking experiment can be viewed using sequence analysis, or using heatmaps (with darker areas corresponding to items and objects that are fixated on most frequently). In my study, the heatmaps were found to be more beneficial since they show where participants were fixating (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Example of the heatmaps produced in the eye-tracking experiment, which shows information about the areas on a building that are attended most often by each participant. The points that were fixated on for longer are displayed in red, while the shorter fixations were displayed as yellow 

According to the results of the research, certain elements of architecture were found to influence people when they evaluated whether a building was cultural heritage. These elements were Ornament, Material, Patina, Line, Colour, Expressive Architectural Elements, and Alterations/Interventions [3]. The indicators were used for the creation of a model, which can be a method for calculating the conceivable perception of society towards cultural heritage. The knowledge gained by the model can inspire the adaptive re-use process, and it can help form different strategies such as deciding which characteristics of a façade require special protection or what parts need a specific emphasis. My work suggests that it would help to include more about the user or observer perspective in the evaluation process, and this would help in preserving the integrity of buildings.


[1] Doğan, H. A. (2021). Improvement of the cultural heritage perception potential model by the usage of eye-tracking technology. Journal of Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development, 11.

[2] Yarbus. A., L. (1967). Eye movements and vision. Plenum Press: New York, USA.

[3] Haji-Abolhassani, A., & Clark, J. J. (2014). An inverse yarbus process: Predicting observers’ task from eye movement patterns. Vision Research, 103, 127–142.

[4] Doğan, H.A. (2019). Assessment of the perception of cultural heritage as an adaptive re-use and sustainable development strategy: case study of Kaunas, Lithuania. Journal of Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development, 9(3), 430-443.

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. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/perception

[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.

Harry Francis Mallgrave ‘Some Thoughts on Design Education’

a review by Laura Janicka

The role of architecture is a widely debated topic. From political roles of monuments to profit-driven mixed-use developments, all claiming to be endeavours developed in the best interest of society. But are we really looking into the core values that hold our society together today? Or does the current practice only lead to the imminent destruction of the self?

On the 18th October 2021 at 6pm, we had the pleasure to participate in a talk by Harry Francis Mallgrave: a distinguished Professor Emeritus from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and an award-winning scholar. During this talk he explored concepts and theories from his recent publications: ‘Building Paradise: Episodes in Paradisiacal Thinking’ and ‘From Object to Experience: The New Culture of Architectural Design’ and how the current practice and values explored in the design studio need to experience a methodological shift.

Mallgrave begun the talk by highlighting that the role of architecture is atmospheric. By not evoking mood and feeling, the designer forces the user into a psychological retreat if a physical retreat is not possible, resulting in a disconnect from our environment. He stated that since the beginnings of architecture, buildings have an inherent cultural impact as they host collective cultural rituals, and by building well-designed environments we can create a better society. He backed up his reasoning by pointing out how changes in our environment have ever so slightly changed our evolutionary trajectory, allowing us to be where we are today.

In the second half of the lecture, Mallgrave referenced concepts in his book ‘Building Paradise: Episodes in Paradisiacal Thinking’, stating that architecture needs to reintroduce the “garden-ethic”. Originating from the idea of a paradise, the garden is a place of peace, happiness and beauty and therefore a primal source of inspiration for architecture. Our current approach to ‘green architecture’ is technology-driven and lacks resourcefulness to create enriching spaces, he followed up with an observation that on the other side of every project is a human being that seeks passionate and creative environments, responding to their innate longing for beauty and happiness.

The seminar ended with a Q&A with a strong message aimed to all studying architects: it is our turn to design a future where the spaces are engaging, enriching and beautiful by widening our understanding of sociology and how we work as human beings.

NeuroArchitecture and the Role of Emotions

By Andréa de Paiva

has been proving that the buildings and cities we design affect people’s brain and behavior in a deeper way than originally thought by architectural psychology or environmental psychology. The built space can generate emotions that change our mental states, impacting directly on decision making, creativity, attention, socialization, memory and learning, and also wellbeing and happiness. Having said that, do we know what emotions our buildings and cities are evoking?

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NeuroArchitecture and Perception: creating more complete experiences for environments

By Andréa de Paiva

Perception has been the subject of studies in psychology and neuroscience for a long time. Understanding how the senses capture information about the world outside the body, such as images, sounds, smells, textures, temperatures, flavors and how the brain interprets all of this, helps architects and designers make better decisions in their projects. After all, one of the most discussed subjects when it comes to perception is: it is relative [1]! That is, different factors can influence how we perceive the same reality [2]. In the case of architecture and design, how can NeuroArchitecture contribute to the understanding of how different sensory characteristics of environments can affect users’ perceptions?

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