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Effect of architectural and environmental features on pedestrian behaviour

Arup has a well-established reputation in pedestrian planning and modelling.  Our MassMotion™ pedestrian simulation and crowd analysis software allows our planners to assess building design and performance in a variety of contexts and communicate findings to a visually-oriented audience – architects and developers – in a visual manner.

We are often asked about how visitor flows and behaviours are influenced by a variety of environmental features including wayfinding, seating, spatial layouts and natural lighting. We can usually address such enquiries, but having empirical data to support our response to some enquiries about behaviour would be beneficial.

So, we decided to embark on a study to better understand some of the psychological influences on human behaviour and decision-making in space. We performed an extensive literature review of existing research in this area. Over 50 academic articles were collected, reviewed and distilled, and key findings were summarized. We identified key conclusions from the research that will inform our pedestrian planning and design consultation work moving forward.

People translate spatial information into personalized cognitive maps – mental maps of their surroundings. These cognitive maps help to situate and orient the user.

Landmarks are also used to help users orient themselves. Landmarks are known to provide an important function in assisting with navigation by helping users orient themselves in space. They also help establish the relative location of other objects or locations.

Environmental lighting and colour have been shown to have psychological effects on users. Hidayetoglu* reported that “warm colors can be effectively used as landmarks for wayfinding purposes. However, spaces using cool-colored walls were seen as more navigable.”

Symmetrical floor plans and landmarks make spaces more easily navigable, whereas abstract or monotonous spaces are often less navigable, with a user moving through the space more likely to become lost or disoriented.  The inclusion of differentiating elements, such as color, aids orientation and wayfinding for both new and experienced users.

* Hidayetoglu M.L., Yildirim K., Akalin A., Journal of Environmental Psychology 32 (2012) 50-58

For pedestrian planning projects, Arup planners seek explanations of how people move, behave, and make decisions in space. For example, we often must make assumptions on preferred walking routes or how people distribute and gather in a space. These assumptions are often based on prior experiences and institutional knowledge, but backing these assumptions with research enhances the credibility of the outcomes and adds value to projects to the benefit of our clients.

The results of this project enable Arup pedestrian planners, when consulting on building and facility design and performance, to thoughtfully and intelligently comment on pedestrian behaviour and the factors that affect decision making in space.  It will allow users of the MassMotion™ tool to better construct models and analyse outputs to ensure that model agents are behaving in ways that reasonably replicate the human condition.

By providing a better understanding of human behaviour in the built environment, this research helps Arup planners to view building design and performance from a different perspective and apply a more holistic and qualitative approach to design consultation that complements our technical modelling skills.

The outcomes of this research are generally applicable to a global audience, thereby increasing the potential for their implementation on the projects. This presents a more holistic approach to pedestrian planning by considering the psychology behind pedestrian actions and interactions and allows us to bring value to clients on pedestrian planning projects even if modelling is not in scope. We are now better positioned to communicate with potential research partners and pursue additional research in this area, including bespoke primary research.