The use of a virtual environment as a method of wayfinding research in architecture
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Virtual environment (VE) and wayfinding research are two emerging areas in architecture. Wayfinding studies have postulated that the built environment plays a significant role in the wayfinding process. Unfortunately, these studies were constrained by the inability to systematically control extraneous environmental variables. VE technology has the potential to create similar research conditions as in real environments and limit extraneous variables. The purpose of this study is to examine the appropriateness of VE as a tool for wayfinding research and to compare the outcomes of similar research done in a VE and a real environment. A simulation technique was used. A VE was created from an actual hospital corridors used in Haq’s (2001) wayfinding experiment. Thirty-two subjects carried out the same tasks in the VE as those in Haq’s experiment. The data from the experiment was used to measure the percentage of subjects who were successful in completing the VE experiment, and the similarities found in the use of corridors and intersections in exploratory search, success in finding destinations, and pointing errors in the VE and the real environment. Ninety percent of the participants success in completing all the experimental tasks in the VE demonstrated the ability to replicate a real-environment wayfinding experiment. This study also found that the participants’ movements in exploratory search and the overall averages of wayfinding success in both environments were similar. The differences were explained by the technological limitations and the presence of extraneous variables in the real environment. These findings indicated that VE could be a valuable tool for controlling and investigating environmental variables in the wayfinding process.