The Architecture Projection Test:
Findings on Humanity’s Core Dynamics
Transcription of lecture at the International Conference for the Resolution of Problems
By Rachel Maier, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, The Zennary Institute
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you all today and to present the work of my team. I’d like to start with a quote from the writer Alain de Botton that in part inspired our experiment: “We are different people in different places. It is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.”
We believe that the technology we created can reshape architectural development by bridging our inner and outer worlds. Using the images generated from our Architecture Projection Test, or APT, we distilled five psychoanalytic themes that relate to our understanding of the built environment. In providing you with APT test results and theoretical information, we hope you can translate the findings into a new, humanistic architectural syntax that will guide us toward our ideal selves.
Let me give you the details on how the study was conducted. The APT presents participants with a series of randomized, mirrored architectural images. A Rorschach test for architecture, of sorts. Electrodes connected to our participants’ brains recorded their unconscious responses to the APT. The array of responses to each image was rendered and merged by our software into one result per APT card. The subjects projected their memories and fantasies of environments and experiences onto the images, and our technology formed their reactions into two-dimensional visualizations.
For further context, I’ll now explain why we developed the APT and the psychological approach to the analysis.
As you are probably aware, the pace with which we’ve incorporated new technologies into our society has advanced exponentially. We experience more cultural shifts in our lifetimes than ever before. A person living in the Medieval period may have seen the introduction of one piece of technology in her life, but we now experience constant change to the point that we are losing sense of who we are. Reality is no longer stable enough to foster the development of one’s sense of self or community. Our hope is that the APT can help us stabilize our culture by reifying our collective values in a concrete medium.
Psychoanalytic theory dovetails with the general philosophy for the project. As in the architectural world, our appetite for quicker therapies that ultimately cut corners has increased. We must slow down to consider humans as more than simply their thoughts or behaviors in isolation, as many of these other theories do. We believe that our unconscious material holds the greatest wealth of information. Freud famously called dreams the royal road to the unconscious, but our technology surpasses what even the most vivid dream recollection could offer.
A basic tenet of psychoanalysis is that, in bringing unconscious material to one’s conscious mind, we can free ourselves from mental disturbances and therefore begin to know our true desires, feelings, and impulses. A greater understanding of our unconscious reactions to architecture should therefore inform new architecture. Cheap, hurried processes have left us with meaningless, cold structures to inhabit, both within the constructs of our minds and the constructs of our environments.
Once we collected the data, the other psychologists and I analyzed the images and arrived at five themes that appeared in nearly all of the results. We have provided you with sample images in the envelopes that were placed on your seats.
I will now outline the five themes and then open the floor for questions.
The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott spoke of the idea of a mother’s holding of her child. She absorbs her child’s negative emotions just enough until the child is ready to do it on her own. We hope your new spatial language will reflect this theme, creating spaces that are sheltering yet not oppressive, that will contain us but not confine.
The second theme we identified is related to Freud’s theory of overdetermination. Freud spoke of the two or more minds, often out of conscious awareness, that we have about things in our lives. Again, it is important that you ensure our outer world reflect our inner worlds as much as possible. Our architecture should be as complex and contradictory as we are.
The third theme is past in present. Let me explain. Our childhoods give us templates about how the world works, and throughout our lives we continually bring these bits of the past into the present. Likewise, our built environment should contain fragments of the past that can tell us where we’re headed in the future.
Affect, or emotion, forms the basis for the fourth theme. Feelings can seem random because they have unconscious sources. The environment is one of these sources and the new architectural language should be sensitive to the affect that buildings engender.
Lastly, we come to collective loneliness. Our final theme. We don’t need to depend on trusting relationships to survive in the way we once did, yet our psychological need for emotional connectivity remains. Our future spaces must respond to our more isolated reality by attempting to revive community engagement.
These are the themes we uncovered, but, as our participants did, we encourage you to free associate with the imagery as you actualize a new architecture.
I want to conclude by mentioning that one of the foundational aims of psychoanalysis was to engage two people, patient and analyst, on a quest to recover a buried past. The APT was created with the intention to reignite this dynamic with you. By tapping into the collective unconscious, we believe our work can assist in imagining a world that reflects us all.