• Spatial user experience, 
  • Interdisciplinary design research, 
  • Wearable technologies,
  • Spatial stress analysis,
  • Built environment

Selection from Preprint (Accepted to Conference for July 2022)

A Case Study of Airport Traveler Stress 
[Preprint Sample]

  • Why do certain built environments and events induce stress? 
  • How do our spatial environment and mental state interact?  
  • What can we do to measure and understand these interactions?

Why do certain built environments and events induce stress? How do our spatial environment and mental state interact? What can we do to measure and understand these interactions? These fundamental questions about the human experience of the built environment have challenged architects, engineers, and experts in human factors alike.

Interdisciplinary collaborations between architecture and psychology have given rise to a new frontier of architectural research. Emerging biometric sensor technologies provide a unique quantitative insight into the human spatial experiences, allowing design researchers to expand beyond reliance on observational studies (Sagl et al., 2019). This research uses the passenger experience of air travel as a case study for prototyping methods of quantifying individual spatial experience. This builds upon prior efforts to quantify the spatial experience in physical settings such as passenger automobiles (Healey & Picard, 2005) and city centers (Andreani & Sayegh, 2017; Kyriakou et al., 2019).

The airport presents a potent case study environment for observing the effects of designed spaces and systems on the individual experience. Though significant energy has gone into engineering the passenger experience, the prevailing cultural perception of air travel remains tinged with unease and anxiety (Airport Cooperative Research Program et al., 2011). As a non-place, a public space of transience where large numbers of people pass through anonymously (Augé, 2008), the airport architecture can be analyzed as a collection of design decisions by stakeholders driven by the needs of efficiency, safety, and logistics. Consequently, airports are commonly sterile and generic spaces that suppress diversity of culture and society, despite the heterogeneity of the travelers and the specific geographic locality of the airport itself (Schaberg, 2012; Sharma, 2009). To counter this top-down tendency in airport design, the research method provides a bottom-up approach to better understand the individual experience of air travel.

The presented research outlines a methodology for quantitatively measuring the passenger experience through the airport, combining biometric wearable technology, video recording, and subjective description of passenger perception. Preliminary tests of this methodology were performed at the Boston Logan International Airport. The objective is to better understand the collection of interrelated factors that contribute to the experience of individual travelers, and to better describe the effects of spatial elements on the occupant. The data collection utilized three approaches: equipping passengers with biometric electrodermal activity (EDA) sensors – a biomarker significantly correlated to emotional stress response (Picard et al., 2016), analyzing first-person video footage worn by participants to map contextual information, and a qualitative interview conducted to assess the participant’s perception of the air travel experience.

A dashboard was then developed to facilitate concurrent analysis of the spatial and social stressors at airports with the quantitative biometric data of the passengers and their qualitative self-reported perceptual experiences. To design this, the researchers determined a taxonomy of spatial-social conditions drawn from video analysis, interviews, and prior research (Calvo & Gutiérrez-García, 2016; Fink, 2016; Kirk et al., 2012) to identify a collection of possible stressors during air travel. The visual cross-referencing of the experiential sequencing, spatio-temporal stress mapping, and spatial characteristics in high emotion moments is critical for understanding the context surrounding diverse traveler experiences in airports.

The overall aim of this research is to invite a rethinking and redesigning of the airport architecture and systems by bolstering the dialogue among travelers and decision makers of the sector with bottom-up individual experience data. Future research can utilize this methodology to facilitate speculations on alternative scenarios for designing not only airport architecture but also other analogous public spaces. This collection of interdisciplinary knowledge on individual experiences can empower and enable better designs of public spaces, architecture, and systems.

(Preprint sample, July 2022)