Visual distribution of cognition

This phrase ‘visual distribution of cognition’ can also be simply a fancy word for drawing according to Dan Roam¹, who is the bestselling author of several books on drawing and visual thinking. But this phrase, for architects, primarily can reveal the subtle difference in meaning between drawings and diagrams. Drawings are generally descriptive and diagrams are abstract. Diagrams form the integral process of design process.
So if I break this above phrase into three parts and probe a bit more. Starting from the last word ‘cognition’, the dictionary meaning is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses”. Architecture has a lot of cognitive load.  So if I take the case of courtyard of WCFA , the college where I teach now.  It sits at the heart of our campus and forms the core of  campus activities.The life of the college revolves around this single space and forms the DNA of campus life. How can I make this experience more tangible for purpose of design understanding.  We can use diagrams to decipher the quality of this space. Thats when we need to fragment and distribute this experience visually in the form of drawings. These are simply called ‘diagrams’, but when if you label it as ‘visual distribution of cognition’, the meaning becomes precise and neat. So in this sketch below is ‘distributed’ layers of the courtyard. So the perception of the place gets better. Diagrams work well usually when presented in clusters. Because a single layer can sound reductive sometimes. And diagrams are supposed to be reductive, as they reveal one prominent idea at a time.
So I can use a diagram to make the students ‘see the same things’ as I see. It brings a bit more clarity in the discussion. It was interesting to decipher what they are already familiar with. It can also lead to understand the potential of conceptual understanding built on real and familiar examples. The concepts built around the familiar, establishes a ground for understanding unfamiliar examples. Through discussion we identified many layers for this courtyard. Each layer can be separated and tied to a similar cluster of examples, as D.K.Ching does in Form, Space and Order. This suggestion of universal principles that can be appropriated to suit particular conditions.
The photo above is the exploring this concept in the class and below is the notes i took after the class so i can build on it later.


01 . I came across this phrase in his interview with Roger Dooley in Brainfluence podcast. The link to the transcript