Understanding Extraordinary Architectural Experiences through Content Analysis of Written Narratives

Main Article Content

Brandon Richard Ro
Julio Bermudez


This study a) identifies how people describe, characterize, and communicate in written form Extraordinary Architectural Experiences (EAE), and b) expands the traditional qualitative approach to architectural phenomenology by demonstrating a quantitative method to analyze written narratives. Specifically, this study reports on the content analysis of 718 personal accounts of EAEs. Using a deductive, ‘theory-driven’ approach, these narratives were read, coded, and statistically analyzed to identify storyline structure, convincing power, and the relationship between subjective and objective experiential qualities used in the story-telling process. Statistical intercoder agreement tests were conducted to verify the reliability of the interpretations to approach the hard problem of “extraordinary aesthetics” in architecture empirically. The results of this study confirm the aesthetic nature of EAE narratives (and of told experiences) by showing their higher dependence on external objective content (e.g., a building’s features and location) rather than its internal subjective counterpart (e.g., emotions and sensations), which makes them more outwardly focused. The strong interrelationships and intercoder agreement between the thematic realms provide a unique aesthetic construct revealing EAE narratives as memorable, embodied, emotional events mapped by the externally focused content of place, social setting, time, and building features. A majority of EAE narratives were found to possess plot-structure along with significant relationships to objective-subjective content that further grounded their storylines. This study concludes that content analysis provides not only a valid method to understand written narratives about extraordinary architectural experiences quantitatively, but also a view as to how to map the unique nature of aesthetic phenomenology empirically.

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How to Cite
Ro, B., and J. Bermudez. “Understanding Extraordinary Architectural Experiences through Content Analysis of Written Narratives”. ENQUIRY: The ARCC Journal, Vol. 12, no. 1, Dec. 2015, doi:10.17831/enq:arcc.v12i1.390.
Peer Reviewed Papers
Author Biographies

Brandon Richard Ro, VCBO Architecture Salt Lake City, UT

Brandon Ro is an award-winning design professional with over 8 years of A/E/C industry experience. He is a results-driven leader who promotes enthusiasm and collaborative synergy on team projects. Whether built or unbuilt, his designs have been published, presented, and exhibited nationally and abroad. He has a proven record of projects have been recognized with numerous awards and honors (70+) from organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council, Walt Disney Imagineering, American Institute of Architects, Alliance to Save Energy, American Planning Association, California Higher Education Energy Efficiency Partnership Program, and Designer’s Lighting Forum among others. Over the years his design philosophy has been influenced by observing the built environment through a phenomenological lens on multiple continents and studying under internationally recognized architects, such as Juhani Pallasmaa and Alberto Campo Baeza. 

As a believer of Winston Churchill's saying, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us," Mr. Ro is a strong advocate of design and research that improves the interconnectivity between architecture, culture, spirituality, ecology, and human experience. At the Catholic University of America, for instance, he was awarded the Magi Endowment for the Liturgical Arts to advance his research on the phenomenological experience of sacred architecture through evidence-based design. Mr. Ro currently serves as the research leader at VCBO Architecture where he helps bridge the gap between theory and practice. His theoretical works and research have been published in Arquitecturas del Sur, Carbon-Neutral Architectural Design, Architectural Research Centers Consortium, Márgenes Arquitectura, Ambiances in Action, Environmental Design Research Association, and most recently in the Journal of Comparative Theology at Harvard Divinity School.

Julio Bermudez, School of Architecture and Planning The Catholic University of America

Associate Professor Julio Bermudez directs the Cultural Studies and Sacred Space graduate concentration program. He holds a Master of Architecture and a Ph.D. in Education degrees from the University of Minnesota. He has been teaching architectural design, theory and representation for nearly 30 years.

Dr. Bermudez’s teaching and research are focused in architectural phenomenology, the development of voluntary architectural simplicity (VAS), and the relationship between architecture, culture and spirituality. He has lectured, led symposia, and published articles in these areas nationally and internationally. Current projects include a fMRI study of architecturally induced contemplative states at the Utah Brain Institute, the analysis of results from a large survey on profound phenomenologies of place, and work on a book manuscript on the architectural extraordinary. His edited volume "Transcending Architecture. Contemporary Views on Sacred Space” was published by CUA Press in February 2015. A second book, co-edited with Thomas Barrie and Phillip Tabb and entitled "Architecture, Culture and Spirituality" (Ashgate Publshinng, UK) is expected to be in the market in late 2015.

Prior to this work, professor Bermudez efforts unfolded around two areas: (1) the pedagogic investigation of design process and digital media, and (2) the application of architectural concepts and methods to the interdisciplinary design of data environments. The result of this work included the analog-digital design method and theory (influencing many teachers and researchers worldwide), a successful information visualization research across multiple domains (attracting nearly $5M in funding), and a very extensive number of lectures, workshops, and publications both in the U.S. and abroad.

Bermudez has received several national and international recognitions including the 1998 AIA Education Honors Award, the 2004-05 ACSA Creative Achievement Award, the 2005 Arturo Montagu Creative Career Prize bestowed by SiGraDi (Latin American organization), the 2006 ACADIA Award for Teaching Excellence, and the 2010 Sasada Award for his sustained and significant international record of scholarship and service (conferred by CAADRIA, Asia). Dr. Bermudez co-founded the Forum for Architecture, Culture and Spirituality in 2007.


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