#65 | arc10 – Gestalt theory and optical illusions

Hi guys!
This blog is meant to look for a purpose, so… For me, I think it is not an issue if this blog doesn’t make sense. But for the time being, It is a good place to start anew and to make things I won’t usually do. I think it is like a little cure for myself to be able to wake up and to say to myself: “today, I want to do something out of my habits”. It is not a problem if people don’t read or don’t care about what we write, I just want to have fun and express myself. This place is really cool for that!

Today, it will be a short post to explain how architecture can change the human perception and his psychology.
Gestalt theory is used by psychologists to explain the impact of shapes and environment on human beings. The word “Gestalt” is hard to translate in French or in English, but the best translation would be “spatial configuration” or “shape”. There is a lot to say about these studies, and I haven’t found all the pieces of informations on the matter, however, I’ll explain you the correlation between the Gestalt and the architecture.
One important principle of the theory said that an overall object composed of individual parts is not the sum of these individuals parts. In fact, human perceived an object as a whole and not just random parts. It means that when you see a group of dots, you won’t see these dots individually, but you will see the picture they will make. Our brain creates this kind of representation to be able to structure and organize the environment, compacting the pieces of informations inside our brain and memorizing them. So, the relationship between the memory and the perception is essential.

fig.01 – An object is perceived as a whole entity and is not defined by its parts.

But the perception of space is different from a person to another: because if you memorize your environment, it means every person got his own memory of where he lives. If everyone has a different perception of space, it also means that it is not possible to give a same emotional output to a shape design. That kind of statement is proved by this simple experiment with a Ruben vase.

fig.02 – A Rubin Vase, an example of the Gestalt psychology: a vase or two faces?

So how to be able to give a primitive feeling of freedom to everyone?
With basic concepts of spatial configuration.

Phillipe Panerai is a French architecture and urban planner who suggest an indirect use of Geslalt in a sequential analysis. His studies are based on the filming plans on cinematography which gives the feeling of depth in a visual perception: foreground, middle-ground, background. It can also be used in a photographic composition.
Panerai worked on a typological analysis of urban spaces (streets, places, etc). It operates in four steps: the corpus gives the information of the urban tissue and the informations on it, the predetermined classification that is used for making a library of the architectural objects, the types that will gives the specifications of the objects and finally, the typology is used to understand the relationship between the groups of architectural objects with same specifications and the urban tissue.
With this analysis, Panerai is able to explain how the street is articulate and in what purpose, giving the notions of continuity, symmetry, closure, opening, etc. That kind of method can be observed in the Gestalt.

fig.02 – Grouping theory in the Gestalt psychology: the individual won’t only have the perception of the form on a ground, but will also see the patterns and the groupings of the objects.
fig.03 – The sequential analysis by Panerai uses the same spatial notions as the Gestalt

What did I learn?

  • The spatial notions of the Gestalt and the relationship with architecture.
  • A sequential analysis and how it works.
  • The city is a giant optical illusions fabric.


Philippe Panerai, Jean-Charles Depaule, Marcelle Demorgon, Analyse urbaine  / ISBN 2-86364-603-6 », s. d., 13., 2002.

Uzunoglu, S. Sema, et Kozan Uzunoglu. « The Application of Formal Perception of Gestalt in Architectural Education ». Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 28 (2011): 993‑1003. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.184.


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