Architecture as a Cognitive Priming Agent: Thoughts While Watching Batman Begins

05.06.18

This thought occurred while watching a movie in a movie theater.  There are two scenes in the film, BATMAN BEGINS, where a grown Bruce Wayne finds his deceased father’s stethoscope.  Each time, it prompts him to a flashback from his childhood.  These scenes are great examples of the power of a material object in the physical world to act as a priming agent for cognition.

Conceptually stepping back one level from the story on the screen, I refocused on the movie screen and the act of watching the movie.  Take this movie viewing as a symbol for all of our various animated, audio-enhanced, interactive multimedia interactions.  Consider how much more powerful these technologies are as priming agents than that stethoscope is for Bruce Wayne.  What is the potential of this digital media with respect to priming cognition?

Juxtaposing these technologies with architecture as a priming agent, my initial reaction was to think that the power of multi-media has surpassed that of architecture for the most engaging and influential media for cognitive priming.  But upon further consideration, architecture has four traits which multi-media does not have and is not yet approaching.

  • Architecture is inhabitable in the physical world and bears a direct and involuntary relationship with the laws of the physical world.
  • It is enduring – relative to the endurance of any form of multi-media.
  • Experience of architecture is continuous and involuntary 24 hours a day, cradle to grave – we have always been completely immersed in architecture and can not alter this state.
  • It engages fully all of the senses at a level of depth and complexity which multi-media has not yet begun to approach.

What is the merit of a comparative analysis of these two powerful forms of cognitive priming?  How are they interrelated?  What are their respective strengths and weaknesses?  Is one more powerful overall?  How should an architect relate them?  How should an architect represent them?

An interesting caveat about the multi-media technologies is that for them to gain in influence and power they require a denial or at least a willing suspension of engagement with the physical world – e.g., sitting in a dark theater and attending only to the visual and audio display.  In this way they seem hostile to architecture, and, to an extent, something integral to humanity – to our full capacity and need to engage our visceral, corporeal reality.  Is this a legitimate and defensible point?  How can these two technologies be brought to work in harmony?  Is there a difference between social priming and cognitive priming?

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