Placing “process” in the spotlight: Architectural education as a testing ground for cognitive science-design translation (2020)

Jelić, A., Djebbara, Z., Fich, L., and Tvedebrink, T. (2020) ‘Placing “process” in the spotlight: Architectural education as a testing ground for cognitive science- design translation’, in ANFA 2020: Sensing spaces, perceiving place. San Diego, US: ANFA.

As the field of neuro- and cognitive science for architecture advances, the question of how research produced can be implemented in architectural design education is ever more pertinent. Two key translational challenges can be identified. On the one hand, due to the necessarily perspectival nature of all scientific knowledge [1], the conversion of research results into design principles and guidelines results in a methodologically “biased” and reduced understanding of architectural experience, often further restricted by an interpretation of available neuroscientific and cognitive theories. At the same time, in the practice of research-based design, the translational challenge is largely influenced by the communication discrepancy between rigorous scientific, expert knowledge and the creative design process [2]; an issue often underestimated in educational programs. Moreover, “most architects/designers are not well educated in terms of research methods […] and lack the rather sophisticated skills needed to read and critically evaluate work involving the measurement of human performance, feelings, perceptions and attitudes” [3].

This contribution brings forward results of our three-year teaching experiences in the master course “Architecture, Health and Well-being” in the architectural design engineering education. The course aims to address research-to-design challenges by training students: (a) in critical reading and assessment of academic/scientific literature; (b) in scholarship merging scientific findings with architectural theories; (c) through different user experience methods [4] for “translating” and implementing research-based knowledge for creative design process.

Through analysis of (a)-(c) methods tested in the course, we ask if rethinking formats for knowledge exchange and communication from science to design can improve today’s challenges. Our conclusions indicate that students require a variety of methodological tools and respective training to handle the complexity of “translating” critical-reflective scientific thinking into creative-explorative design thinking. Our goal is to discuss how to develop design methods/tools within architecture education, which exemplify how cognitive science can inform a coherent, holistic, and creative understanding of architecture. Considering education as an important research dissemination forum and increasing focus on research-based design in professional practice, we call for addressing the “translation gap” between cognitive science and design in architectural education through more systematic research on the process of translation itself.


  1. Alrøe HF, Noe E. 2014 Second-Order Science of Interdisciplinary Research: A Polyocular Framework for Wicked Problems. Constr. Found. 10, 65–76.
  2. Van der Linden V, Dong H, Heylighen A. 2016 From accessibility to experience: Opportunities for inclusive design in architectural practice. Nord. Arkit. (Nordic J. Archit. Res. , 33–58.
  3. Lawson B. 2013 Design and the Evidence. Procedia – Soc. Behav. Sci. 105, 30–37. (doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.11.004)
  4. Tvedebrink TDO, Jelić A. 2018 Getting under the(ir) skin: Applying personas and scenarios with body-environment research for improved understanding of users’ perspective in architectural design. Pers. Stud. 4, 5. (doi:10.21153/psj2018vol4no2art746)

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