The Influence of an Art Gallery's Spatial Layout on Human Attention to and Memory of Art Exhibitions


The spatial layout of a building can have a profound impact on our architectural experience. This notion is particularly important in the field of museum curation, where the spatial arrangement of walls and artworks serves as a means to (a) strengthen our focus on individual exhibits and (b) provide non-obvious linkages between otherwise separate works of art. From the cognitive viewpoint, two processes which can describe the relevant aspects of the visitor experience are visual attention and memory. This thesis presents the results of 3 studies involving mobile eye-tracking and memory tests in a real-life task of unrestricted art gallery exploration. The collected data describing attention and memory of the gallery visitors is analysed with respect to the spatial arrangement of artworks. Methods developed within the architectural theory of Space Syntax serve to formalise, quantify and compare distinct aspects of their spatial layouts. Results show that the location of individual works of art has a major impact on the dynamics and quantity of visual attention deployed to the artworks, as well as the memory of their content and of their spatial location. This spatial influence, in many instances, is proven to be more impactful than that of the content of the artworks. Some gallery arrangements amplify the impact of the studied spatial factors to a higher degree than others. The results are discussed with respect to the distinct role played by the built environment (and, indirectly, by its designer) in our everyday cognitive experience. The thesis contributes to the field of museum curation by demonstrating how the aesthetic experience of museum visitors is affected by the decisions made by the curator. It also contributes to the fields of architecture and spatial cognition by demonstrating and quantifying the linkage between the formally described spatial layout and its impact on human cognitive processes.

PhD Thesis