We now know that the way we design places can influence how attached people will get to them. Multiple factors take part in this. For example, the meaning of the place for a specific person, the level of emotional connection, and the quality of what we call “cognitive maps”.
These maps are built in our mind through physical exploration of an environment and the activation of “place cells” within the hippocampal formation, located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain. Cognitive maps are both the basis for our understanding of spatial relationships and drive our ability to navigate our environment.
Anders is a real estate development and construction manager with 7 years of experience in people-first, master plan community development. He studied urban planning and development at the University of Southern California and now leads construction for Culdesac Tempe. Previously, he served as a development manager at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.
Anders: I read your interview with the Neutras talking about the need for more idealistic developers. I’m intimately familiar with how difficult that’s still to find nowadays.
Michal: When have you decided you are going to be one of those enlightened developers?
Anders: Growing up in metro Detroit, the home court of automation, I grew up around a place that was strongly influenced by GM, Chrysler, and Ford lobbying powers through the 20th century. The area had as little public transit as possible, buses with 30 or 60-minute headways, no rail system to speak of, and complete dedication to the automobile.
Andrea Jelić is an architect, researcher, and educator working at the intersection of architecture and enactive-embodied cognition. Her research explores how the built environment affects the lived-living body. Dr. Jelić is an Assistant Professor in Space for Healthy Organizations at KU Leuven, within research groups Research[x]Design (Dept. of Architecture) and Building Physics and Sustainable Design (Dept. of Civil Engineering).
She is an Advisory Council member of ANFA—Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture and a faculty member in the Master’s program “Neuroscience applied to architectural design” at IUAV University of Venice. Her main research interests include the interplay between spatial design, organizational dynamics, well-being at work, social sustainability, and (learning to) design for the diversity of bodies and user experiences.
Natalia Olszewska: I came across your Ph.D. dissertation on neurophenomenology and architecture during my studies. It has great depth and it’s probably one of the best works you can find on this topic today. What made you interested in it?
The way we think about designing our cities and about the purpose of architecture is changing rapidly. In the Anthropocene era, where human activity is now determining the health of our planet, we face new challenges to solve every day.
Compared to the past, building our environments in this age is more complex in some respects and simpler in others. Here we refer to simplicity in ethics as simplicity for conscience, drawing on the philosophical teachings of the Iranian religion Zoroastrianism with its threefold path to follow ‘good thoughts, good words, and good deeds as an example for generating simplicity in conscience.
Some time ago, I participated in an architectural educational trip to Switzerland. Starting from Saint Etienne, France, we would travel to a large part of the country to visit several architectural works. Among them, the Thermes de Vals by Peter Zumthor, the Rolex Learning Center of SANAA, the Kirchner Museum of Gigon / Gruyer, and the work of the Swiss Hans Jorg Ruch, in which the architect himself would guide us.
We started our tour at Mr. Ruch’s small architectural office, where 4 or 5 people worked calmly against the backdrop of the mountainous Swiss landscape. During the day, we visited his various local works, mainly in the Swiss countryside. At the end of the day, we arrived at a historic residence in a small Swiss village, Zuoz.
Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros is Professor of Mathematics and Architecture at the University of Texas at San Antonio. As an internationally recognized architectural theorist and urbanist, he was a visiting professor of Architecture at Delft University of Technology, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Querétaro, Mexico, and Università di Roma III. He holds a doctorate in Mathematical Physics from Stony Brook University, New York.
His publications include the books Algorithmic Sustainable Design, Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction, A Theory of Architecture, Principles of Urban Structure, and Unified Architectural Theory, plus numerous scientific articles. He collaborated with the visionary architect Christopher Alexander in editing the four-volume The Nature of Order. Salingaros won the 2019 Stockholm Cultural Award for Architecture, and shared the 2018 Clem Labine Traditional Building Award with Michael Mehaffy.
Michal Matlon: How did your journey start? How did you get to work with architecture and architectural theory?
Nikos Salingaros: My journey began when I discovered the work of Christopher Alexander while I was a graduate student in theoretical physics. I’ve always been close to art and architecture. I used to paint when I was young.
In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in understanding how we are affected by the built environment, on various scales from rooms to buildings, all the way up to the largest cities.
When Brains Meet Buildings argues that cognitive and neuroscience can greatly increase that understanding – learning through both neuroscience in its strict sense of the study of brains and through cognitive science, the study of mind and behavior without a necessary concern for “how the brain does it.”
The book offers a riff on a famous speech by John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “Ask not only what neuroscience can do for architecture, but also what architecture can do for neuroscience.”
Alessandro Villa is an architect alternating design activity with teaching. Since 2003 he has been an adjunct professor of Interior Design at Politecnico di Milano and a faculty member at Scuola Politecnica di Design. He has also been a visiting professor at the Tongji University of Shanghai and Goenka University in New Delhi. Alessandro worked on long-term research projects focused on innovation on behalf of international companies (FIAT, 3M, Fincantieri, Beiersdorf) and universities.
In 2004 he opened an interior design practice, working on small-scale architecture, graphic design, and visual communication. He is an expert on materials for interior use, interested in senses and perceptual aspects. He also collaborates with Impronta, neuroscience for architecture and design consultancy.
Natalia Olszewska: I have known you, Alessandro, as one of the pioneers of neuro-design in Italy. You started to write about this topic many years ago. What made you interested in this new field?
Upali Nanda is a director of research for HKS Inc., a global architectural firm, and associate professor of practice in architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. She also serves as the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation.
In 2015, Nanda was recognized as one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in Healthcare Design by Healthcare Design Magazine. Most recently, she was honored with the 2018 Women in Architecture Innovator Award from Architectural Record.
We are continuing the first part of the interview with Upali which we published in March 2021.
Michal Matlon: In one of your interviews, you said we need to stop seeing buildings as passive objects and start seeing them as living organisms that can be in conversation with our brains. Do you feel this is already being applied? And is it mainly on the technological level, as in the case of smart buildings, or is it also about qualities implemented into design?
Upali Nanda: The application seems to be more through smart cities and smart buildings. However, that is not always the intent. We are now moving almost from a human-centered to a living-centered way of thinking. For any systemic ecology to survive, it has to work in an interdependent way.
Buildings, for the longest time, have just foisted themselves within an ecosystem, and they haven’t talked to the world outside of them. They haven’t even talked to the humans inside. That’s what we’re starting to change now.
Originally published in Officelayout magazine No. 186, July-September edition, 2021. Published with permission of the Officelayout editorial board.
With contribution of Martina Frattura & Natalia Olszewska.
The combination of neuroscientific research findings exploring neuronal processes behind mental states, and new approaches in lighting design, becomes an important strand of innovation that truly places an individual’s well-being at the center of the lighting and product design
Neuroscience has become a key innovation factor in the field of lighting design as it makes it possible to correlate human physiological and neurophysiological characteristics, with the architectural features and environmental conditions of the context in which a person is located.
Understanding of brain workings can make an enormous difference in architectural design and, also so, in lighting design, because the possibility of identifying more clearly the factors affecting people’s psycho-physical states, leads to the definition of new evaluation criteria on which design choices can be based.