Up the down staircase: Wayfinding strategies in multi-level buildings
The intention of this article is to create a link between human spatial cognition research and architectural design. We conducted an empirical study with human subjects in a complex multi-level building and compared thinking aloud protocols and performance measures of experienced and inexperienced participants in different wayfinding tasks. Three specific strategies for navigation in multi-level buildings were compared. The central point strategy relies on well-known parts of the building; the direction strategy relies on routes that first head towards the horizontal position of the goal, while the floor strategy relies on routes that first head towards the vertical position of the goal. We show that the floor strategy was preferred by experienced participants over the other strategies and was overall tied to better wayfinding performance. Route knowledge showed a greater impact on wayfinding performance compared to survey knowledge. A cognitive-architectural analysis of the building revealed seven possible causes for navigation problems. Especially the staircase design was identified as a major wayfinding obstacle. Finally we address the benefits of cognitive approaches for the architectural design process and describe some open issues for further research.