19659 - Psychology of Shapes

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Good health and well-being Sustainable cities Life on land

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student acquires the knowledge of conceptual, methodological and application elements relating to the psychology of perception in terms of acquisition, processing and organization of visual information. He is introduced to some of the contributions of social psychology and environmental psychology to the study of the interactions and relationships between people and their environment. The student will be able to apply his knowledge to analyze the specific and particular nature of the architectural form starting from the phenomenology of perception, through the decoding and formal reading, up to the evaluation of the emotional aspects.

Course contents

The course can be divided in three phases:


The first part of the course will seek to identify and describe some general properties of visual experience and its basic function, which is to provide the observer with a good model of the outside world. The course will take as an important reference framework the main postulates of the Psychology of Perception and Gestalt theory. Among the topics addressed: the figure/ground phenomenon, multistability, the field's form and segmentation laws, constancy, perceptual ambiguity or instability phenomena with respect to the importance of the information sources used by the visual system, criticisms to the idea of a perfect correspondence between physical and perceptual reality and perception in its broadest sense, also with reference to past experiences which do not have any specific correspondence with sensory information and physical reality.

A number of concrete examples will be used to favour the comprehension of the above concepts, which will be addressed in the following order: neuro-psycho-physical elements, the sequence physical world - optical information - perceived world, the concept of form, the act of perception and the perceived, "seeing" as a creative act.


The course will consider Arnheim's idea that the very act of seeing contains the psychological principles that motivate the creation of form and that can give an important contribution to its decoding. The significant contents of form will be read and hypothesised through some of its elements: light and shadow, colour, simple geometric shapes, configuration and composition.


Architectural objects have complex ties with their function of being means to an end, and show connections to the satisfaction of human needs in their being environments in which to feel and to be. This part of the course will introduce the notions of psychological quality of living and living one's environments, will consider elements on the human emotional experience derived from Cognitive psychology. Contributions from social and environmental psychology to the study of interactions and relationships between people and their environment will be considered with special reference to practical applications in the field of built environments: residential satisfaction, crowding, dwellings, study, work, care and detention; environment representations, attitudes and evaluations; perceptions of safety and the consequent environmental attitudes and behaviours.


After each of the three main parts taught in class, the teaching materials used by the teacher are made available. The following texts are recommended for theoretical insights:

1. Arnheim, Rudolf – Arte e percezione visiva. Milano: Feltrinelli (1984)

2. Canestrari R., Godino A. – La psicologia scientifica, nuovo trattato di psicologia generale. Bologna: CLUEB (2007)

3. Kanizsa, Gaetano – Grammatica del vedere. Bologna: Il Mulino (1980)

4. Bonnes M., Secchiaroli G., Psicologia ambientale: introduzione alla psicologia sociale dell'ambiente. Roma: NIS (1992)

Teaching methods

The theoretical lessons will focus on the topics covered by the three phases of the program, in a progressive process of building the knowledge of the topics. Lectures will be supported by practical experiential applications and exercises.  The exercises will have different modalities and forms (written, graphical, visual, verbal, practical, perceptive) all optional, anonymous and not influential on the final evaluation, but with the aim of facilitating the understanding of the topics and their learning.

Assessment methods

Written and oral test that verifies the theoretical knowledge of the contents of the three parts of the program. The written test (70% weight in the final grade) includes a questionnaire consisting of: multiple choice questions, synthetic open questions and two open questions.

The oral exam (30% weight in the final grade) will complete the assessment by analyzing in depth the analysis of some of the topics addressed in the written test considering, in addition to the knowledge, also the personal point of view of the student developed during the learning process.

Specific indications will be given for the key parts of the bibliography and provided in digital format.

Teaching tools

Video projector, PC, whiteboard.

Office hours

See the website of Emanuele Valgiusti