Nikolai Ladovskii, “The Psychotechnical Laboratory of Architecture: Posing the Problem” (1926)
From Izvestiia ASNOVA, March 29th, 1926 (no. 1)
“Even if only to an elementary level, the architect must be familiar with the laws of perception and the means by which it operates, in order to utilize in his practice everything that contemporary scientific knowledge can offer. Amongst the sciences which are facilitating the development of architecture, a very serious place must be given to the still young science of psychotechnics. This subsidiary science can undoubtedly look forward to a very large field of activity. It has already achieved recognition for itself in many fields of technology. Its influence becomes daily greater, as a result of the fact that it is throwing bridges between so-called pure science and practical technology.
Amongst people of affairs the first to have recourse to it were representatives of the vast industrial and commercial companies of America, for the selection of employees, then business people used it in the advertising field, and then teachers used it in selecting and determining the capabilities of their students. At the present time there is no field of human activity to which psychotechnics is not making a claim.
In the field of aesthetics the well known psychologist Hugo Münsterberg works year by year in his Harvard laboratory. The following studies which have a relationship to architecture have been carried out there: Equilibrium of simple forms (Pierce); Unequal division (Anquier); Symmetry (Puffer); Repetition of spatial forms (Rowland); Vertical division (Davis) and so on.
The work which I, and subsequently also my colleagues, have carried out in the field of architecture in VKhUTEMAS since 1920, verified by the methods of psychotechnics, will help in creating a scientific statement of architectural principles on the basis of rationalist aesthetics.
The most correct approach to solving this question will be the organizing of a psychotechnical laboratory for the study of questions of rational architecture through ASNOVA. To affirm the timeliness of a posing of this problem I can do no better than to quote the words of Münsterberg:
‘Psychotechnics cannot create artists…but it can give them all a solid starting point from which they can achieve the aims to which they aspire by the most scientifically correct means, and by the same token avoid certain dangers. Through developing psychotechnics across the broadest front, it can in future pose its demands to the composers of art, whilst always affirming that genius will discover by unconscious means those things which science works out with great difficulty.’
Quite apart from the purely scientific importance which the work of sucha laboratory can have, its activisties must also have a practical importance in everyday architectural practice.
Such a laboratory could eliminate so many of those misunderstandings which arise in the evaluation of qualitative aspects of architectural work as a result of any agreed terminology even amongst specialists. It is only too well known that chance and accident predominate in the evaluation of competition projects. There can be no elimination of the passion that mutual incomprehension causes between teachers and pupils until the laboratory’s work has been set up properly. In these and other cases the psychotechnical laboratory can play a large supplementary role.