Architectural spaces play a very important role in visualizing our memories. Architecture not only captures our memories but also has an impact on our reasoning and making sense of the world around us. Spatial perception is the ability of people to perceive spatial relationships consisting of visualising a space with its features, movement in that space, position and shapes of permanent and temporary things in that space and its approximate measurements. Through spatial perception, every individual interprets their own meaning of the architectural spaces.

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Architectural Spaces and Memories © Cambridge University Press

Relation of spaces and memories as shown in fiction.

How various spaces shape our memories is beautifully described in many movies and TV series. One example from the fictional world is Harry Potter, it’s the experience of the space that shapes the memories reviewed by Albus Dumbledore and Harry in the Pensieve at Hogwarts. In the movies as well as the books, when the duo review the memories again, the architecture of the Gaunt shack, the interiors of the orphanage where Tom Riddle was staying, Slughorn’s office, the shop of Borgin and Burkes plays an important role in creating the visuals. 

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Orphanage where Tom Riddle was staying © cinepop.com.br/
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Orphanage where Tom Riddle was staying © cinepop.com.br/

Another example that explains how architecture affects memories is Sherlock’s mind palace. The mind palace of Sherlock shows complicated architectural spaces. It has long hallways with many doors to various rooms that have stored multiple memories. Along with that, there is a winding staircase and a morgue where he has conversations with Molly Hooper and Mycroft. The various architectural spaces make Sherlock’s mind palace extremely interesting for people watching it through their screens. 

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Sherlock’s Mind Palace © www.taraka.pl/ 

The ancient way of linking memories and architecture.

It is not just the fictional worlds that have used the words like mental worlds and palaces. Many famous Romans and Greeks like Cicero have used their “mental palaces’ to not just remind themselves of a situation but also to orate stories to people and help them imagine those stories. That is how powerfully spaces are associated with our memories.

The method used by ancient Greeks and Romans associating memories and spaces is called the method of loci. This ability to remember memories by linking them to spaces later also came to be known as memory theatre, the art of memory, memory palace, etc. The method of loci uses the technique of visualising a space where multiple memories can be stored. Space is often a building, a house or a road leading to multiple addresses. The advantage of this technique comes from the ability of the mind to hold on to visual memories by storing them in architectural spaces. When you want to recall your memories, you walk through your memory space in your mind. 

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Memory Palace © medium.com/

The link between memories and spatial perception.

Spaces are captured in our memories and it is difficult to isolate them from each other. A large number of memories come back to us when we repeatedly stand or move around in the same architectural space. Memories are generally stored in an unconscious state in the mind. However, they return to the conscious state when recollected or reimagined through spatial perception. 

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Spatial Perception © www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/

Dancers and athletes are an example of how people use the memory of spaces and spatial perception to their best use. Many dancers and athletes have mentioned that right before an important competition or performance, they have sat silently and imagined themselves on the stage/ arena making their performance. It is the spatial perception of the stage and ground through which they can imagine these scenarios so clearly. 

Sports psychologists have also confirmed that when you are in space multiple times, it starts making a memory in your neural pathways, thus making it easier to create a mental image. Once the mental image is created in the mind, it is easier for the body to trigger the muscles used for that activity.

Michael Phelps, an American swimmer who won 28 Olympic medals also used the same technique. In fact, in his training, his coach told him to imagine spaces from various perspectives to create a better mental image in his mind. He would ask him to imagine the space from a poolside, at times from inside the pool, underwater and sometimes even through a camera or TV. 

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The mind and spaces. 

When it comes to architectural spaces stored in the form of memories, the human brain often does not distinguish between what is real and what is not. There are instances when architectural spaces can be visualised by our mind, we imagine ourselves in those spaces but might not have visited those spaces ever in our lives. We often visualize architectural spaces that are mentioned in books, dream about those places too. The human brain creates a series of images, which probably does not exist in reality. The mind imagines things in 3D and hence, the spaces, surroundings and backdrop plays a very important role in any dream or imagination.

Inception is an example showing how we create our dreams. The movie shows the concept of paradoxical architecture. In the movie, Christopher Nolan has beautifully shown how the human mind creates spaces relevant to the dream. The movie also shows how various spaces and architecture changes the environment in dreams. The movie plot shows how Ariadne, an architect in the movie designs various environments and infrastructure to create multiple dream spaces. 

During the first dream, Ariadne creates a busy city space where a high-speed car chase takes place. She also designs a bridge through which the van eventually jumps off entering the second dream level. As the movie goes on, the second dream level shows the interior of a hotel with a lobby, corridor and multiple rooms. The third level of the dream takes place at a snow fortress and the spaces slowly become surreal as the dream goes deeper. In the final dream, that is the limbo, the architectural spaces are far away from reality. The architecture of the surreal city turns from damaged modern era buildings to futuristic buildings showing water effects and explosions.

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Spaces from dreams shown in Inception © magazine.art21.org/
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Spaces from dreams shown in Inception’s limbo © in.pinterest.com/ 
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Spaces from dreams shown in Inception’s limbo © in.pinterest.com/ 

The creativity of the human mind has always linked architecture with reality & dreams, conscious & unconscious, reminiscence & forgetfulness. It is truly a wonder how few people have used this technique. Spaces are indeed one of the best possible ways where we could store moments, lock them and revisit them in time! Have you ever tried storing memories in spaces? How was your experience of having fun in your spatial memory? Did you roam around in the space remembering instances like some sociopaths mentioned above? Go on, try it, think about it and have fun creating the palace of your memories!

References: 

  1. Bachelard, G. and Hieronimus, G., n.d. La poétique de l’espace.
  2. Quanta Magazine. 2021. The Brain Maps Out Ideas and Memories Like Spaces | Quanta Magazine. [online] Available at: <https://www.quantamagazine.org/the-brain-maps-out-ideas-and-memories-like-spaces-20190114/> [Accessed 21 April 2021].
  3. Medium. 2021. Architecture: Space, Place, and Memory. [online] Available at: <https://medium.com/@wagihfyoussef/architecture-space-place-and-memory-b739b3aefe6e#:~:text=This%20short%20essay%20discusses%20the,making%20sense%20of%20the%20world> [Accessed 21 April 2021].
  4. @sarahzielinski, F., 2021. The Secrets of Sherlock’s Mind Palace. [online] Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/secrets-sherlocks-mind-palace-180949567/> [Accessed 21 April 2021].
  5. KSA MA Architectural Visualisation. 2021. Changing environments in Inception. [online] Available at: <https://ksamaarchvis.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/changing-environments-in-inception/#:~:text=The%20film%20explores%20the%20concept%20of%20Paradoxical%20Architecture.,would%20design%20a%20game%20level.&text=The%20concept%20of%20Paradoxical%20Architecture%20was%20demonstrated%20in%20the,the%20use%20of%20Penrose%20Stairs> [Accessed 21 April 2021].
Author

Khyati Antrolia is an architect, writer, bibliophile, explorer and a history lover who is interested in architectural research and journalism. She hopes to inspire people and play a role in changing the world for the better. She believes in the power of words as much as the power of love.

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