This is a design research project I proposed for the Columbia University GSAPP Incubator. It’s thanks to Valérie Lechêne that I was able to connect with Lily Kwong and designed an experiment making good use of her “Summer in Winter” gallery installation at the Cadillac House in New York City. The multi-functional setting, including automobile showroom, lounge, and gallery provided us a unique opportunity to closely observe how human emotions fluctuated in different spaces using psychophysiology (a type of study of the relationship between mental states and physiological responses).

We wonder what makes a space an enjoyable place for humans. If there is an architect or a landscape designer who can act as a mood inducer to create a place evoking visitors’ memory and relatedness to the nature in the heart of urban space, we should set out to investigate how some places make us feel better or worse, comforting or exciting, and what value determines, in part, our emotional reaction to the space.

The Layout of the Cadillac House

Imagine we have a lens to zoom in and out of this space: Visitors channel down the isles between the columns of digital screens and array of cars, the eyes are attracted by and deflected past a big wall screen, a plant area just appears in front of visitors. It is the emotional quality of the deflected vista that inspire us to design a study to explore how people interact with different spaces. Spaces as stimuli evoke people’s memory and emotions and influence their decision making.

We recruited 14 participants to the study. It turns out that we had a very interesting finding that verified the idea that each of us makes sense of world differently. We have to find our way around in it. Here is a short summary to show a pair of participants who might have different emotional experience at the individual level:

A spatial representation of the psycho-physiological study.

For example, someone who has skills in architectural design and prefers contemporary architecture, might show many spikes in the showroom area. Someone who grew up in a tropical island, the visual contact with certain plants (though exotic to others) might trigger a familiar theme from the childhood memory, therefore, many spikes in the gallery installation.

According to the post-walk interview, they both reported they enjoyed the visit and the gallery is the most peaceful, and comfortable place. But as we can see what underlies the reading of skin conductive responses told the granularity of emotional experience. That is, emotion interacts attention; emotion interacts memory; emotion interacts decision making.

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