Assessing autism cognitive map through local-oriented and global-oriented architecture

Thesis Type: Postgraduate

Institution Of The Thesis: Istanbul Technical University, Fen Bilimleri Enstitüsü, Mimarlık, Turkey

Approval Date: 2018

Thesis Language: English

Student: Mina Shokrollahi Ardekani

Consultant: Mehmet Emin Şalgamcıoğlu


The current study mainly aims to investigate an interdisciplinary subject with architecture, considering a research while studying, and obtaining specialized information which is beneficial for architectural discourses. Nowadays many kinds of research, attempt to merge different sciences and improve the human being life. One of the trending fields of research is environmental psychology. It is rather a wide subject, which provides knowledge from psychology to be applicable to architecture. Subsequently, this thesis attempts to enrich this domain and studies the autistic community and how the architectural design can improve their living environments. The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is one of the various range of mental issues around the world. It has a very complicated neurodevelopmental condition with long-term effects. Genetic is one cause and environmental elements, which yet are not clear and not been figured out entirely, contribute to ASD etiology. Base on latest reports mentioned by Lyall et al (2017), the ASD's prevalence is evaluated to be approximately 1.5% in developed countries. More specifically, according to "World Health Organization" report (Updated April 2017), 1 in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) around the world (Url-1). Interestingly, Autism interacts with the built environment directly and indirectly in a way that ends up the emerging interdisciplinary discussion which links Neuroscience, Psychology and Architectural domain in a unit. In recent decades, revealing autistic individuals' spatial behavior has become a global challenge; so, it should be perceived and considered to enable us to design for them with efficient architectural features. So far, the built environment has been used as a tool to influence autism positively, which includes the use of the color, form and geometry, materials, and how building elements connect to one another. The present study accentuates the need for a distinct approach in architectural design with the focus on the cognitive mapping process and sought to evaluate the way which autistic individuals perceive the surroundings and the cognitive map they form to move around. This research attempts to describe the architectural impact on autistic spatial cognition and reveal the way that they perceive the environment. More specifically, the current thesis has been implemented to assess the autistic spatial cognition through two different environments with distinct architectural features, one local-oriented and the other global-oriented. The local-oriented design refers to a design which composed of more architectural elements and in a sense, it represents a complex layout. On the other hand, the global-oriented place is the one which includes fewer details and fewer distractions in terms of architectural features. The methodology we used in this thesis is a CASE STUDY includes the high-functional autistic students as participants and then put them in two different virtual designed buildings (Local-oriented and Global-oriented) to explore within freely. In this experiment, we considered the virtual environment (VE) technology to let participants see the models realistically, and then there is a CONFIGURATIONAL TASK, in the end, which all cases have been asked to reorder the plan of previously explored virtual environment in the given physical models in order to enable us to extract their cognitive map and afterward we analyzed the configured models. After collecting data, the research utilizes space syntax tool (SPACE SYNTAX 2D) and IBM SPSS program to analyze data statistically and incorporate the evidence into the architectural design process for individuals with autism. The results showed that in the Local-oriented model, cases selected more accurate objects to form their model which may indicate that they remembered the Local-oriented environment better but just the existed objects, not their location and direction. So, it proves that autistic individuals focused on spatial details separately but not relatively. Additionally, the results confirmed that the details and architectural elements which usually are counted as landmarks or cue for typical individuals, does not work that way for autistic ones to form a better and more accurate cognitive map and instead, make them more focused on different details and consequently make a segregated cognitive map. These results could be involved in creating a design approach and subsequently help architects to design a better environment for autistic individuals.