Mental skyscrapers

We use mental palaces to remember a large amount of knowledge. But what should we do, when faced with multiple snapshots of the event?  I welcome you to mental skyscrapers. They can get tall, but the layout is unlikely to change.

Mental skyscrapers for processes

Typically we will use mental skyscrapers for processes. For example, a disease may have multiple stages with different protocols per stage. Most buildings of such sort will be 4 floors tall and house multiple mindmaps. On the other hand, if we want to remember a theatrical play, the building is likely to get tall with a floor per scene.

Houses and apartments

The method of loci addresses a wide range of position-related scenarios. We can be talking about any place, real or imaginary. Ancients did not even have houses worth remembering except religious temples and palaces of high nobles. In reality, due to the highly competitive nature of our memorization, we tend to reuse the houses we know intimately well. Some of these houses are villas and cottages, while others are just apartments. The actual layout matters. Standalone buildings can be comfortably placed in long memory lanes. Apartments are easier stacked in skyscrapers. The material of this particular article deals with skyscrapers, and you can easily put them in your memory lane.

Skyscraper design

Skyscrapers usually stack the same flat design for many floors. This is comfortable as the floors share elevators and staircases, water and sewage piping, and other facilities. The design may be modified if needed – but it can also stay unchanged.

We can think of several flats on each floor, or just one. Quite often we want our mental skyscrapers to be synchronized, so it makes sense to have multiple apartments per floor. This does not mean that we can visit all apartments. We can encode this by yellow tape on the door, like police marking. Do not cross the line.

The rooms of the mental palaces can be complex, but can also be very simple. For example, the first room may have in the middle of it a table with a 3D model of some event. The supporting data may be placed in other rooms. It is better to put a complex mindmap on a wall of the mental apartment than to add and remove rooms at will. So the layout is less likely to change than the items within.

I personally prefer to work with apartments between 3 and 5 rooms, but you can also use the cubicles of an office building. It is best to reuse the places you know intimately well, but you can also create and reuse other spaces. Each space needs to be reused many times, otherwise, we may forget its layout. Yet there should be some heterogeneous selection of spaces to choose from. Otherwise, we will get bored.

When skyscrapers are reasonable?

There are common use cases for each memory structure. The mental skyscrapers work best for a situation that changes in time.

Consider a historical battle, like something massive from Napoleon’s wars. The battle has a fixed number of participants and landscapes. At each stage of the fight, the participants appear in different parts of the landscape doing what they do best: killing and dying. So we can plan as many floors as there are battle stages. In the center of the main hall, we put a time-spaced snapshot of the same event as a 3D model. And in the other rooms we put supporting information, for example considering center, right-wing, and left-wing operations. Quite possibly some participants will be going to other apartments, as there may be additional events happening at the same time somewhere else. For example. Blucher was rather late for the Waterloo battle.

A theatrical stage

In theater, the stage is set up once, and although it can be changed between acts – usually this does not happen. However, there are many scenes within the act. A normal play has around 5 acts with approximately 10 scenes each. The numbers can vary greatly, but you can understand that a skyscraper of approximately 5 vertical segments possibly with 10 floors each can describe the entire play. And if you want to encode Shakespear you will need 38 such buildings, and maybe 150 villas and cottages for the poems.

There can be as many hotspots in the flat as you want

Typically we use a very straightforward itinerary that passes through all the rooms without repeating and crossing itself until you get to the exit. We have something like that in museums when visiting actual palaces. We place PAO visualizations in the corners, and mindmaps on the walls and that’s about it.

The detail-oriented memory champions have a different design. Instead of having 8 stations per room, they may add 80: tables, chairs, beds, and shelves  – all get filled with PAOs. Per mental palace, you may have several itineraries with different complexity. Some will go through closets and bathrooms, while others will avoid such locations. You choose how many hotspots you want, also controlling the time it takes to create and review them. Clearly, longer itineraries are harder to plan and they need to be reused more often for us to remember.


If you try to remember a movie with constantly changing filming locations and a convoluted storyline, you may need a complex mental landscape. Some parts of the films will be slow and address a single location in many scenes, while other parts will be very fast and go through many locations. In this case, it is better to duplicate the skyscraper, instead of knitting knots around it. Possibly some small changes in montage can reduce the number you go in and out of each skyscraper. You should probably do that for your own sake. In the lobby of the skyscraper put PAOs pointing to the floor you start and end, and what is expected to be on that floor. The person and action numbers are usually coded by tables, but objects can be very specific to the situation discussed on each floor.

Keep the itinerary simple. The last thing you want is a labyrinth.  It is better to duplicate a mental structure than make a complex itinerary.

mental skyscraper

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