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.
In recent years, smart cities have dominated the talk about the built environment with terms like IoT, big data, and digital twins. But there is a much greater need when it comes to improving our cities – the one of people and communities in place. And we call the approach which addresses this need – Conscious Cities.
Conscious Cities are not separated from smart cities though. They improve smart cities by emphasizing inclusion and wellbeing, supported by a scientific understanding of the psychological and social aspects of the person-place interactions.
Itai Palti is a practicing architect and researcher focusing on designing with the human experience in mind. He is Director of Hume, a science-informed architecture and urban design practice. In 2015, Itai founded the Conscious Cities movement. For his work in advancing changes in the design profession, he was named by Metropolis Magazine as one of 2020’s ‘Game Changers’.
Itai is the Director of The Centre for Conscious Design, a think tank focused on using design to address urban challenges facing society. He is also on the Advisory Council of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. An alumnus of The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, Itai has worked alongside the late visionary architect Jan Kaplicky at Future System on projects such as the Ferrari Museum in Modena.
Natalia Olszewska: Let’s dive into the topic of Conscious Cities. I think that our readers would like to find out more about your movement and the motivations behind it.
Itai Palti: In my opinion Conscious Cities have always existed if you think of cities as the accumulation of human decisions and intent. When I first thought about Conscious Cities I didn’t think about new types of cities, but rather a new way of reflecting on how we shape our environment, and how our environment shapes us. The latter is a matter of consciousness. How aware are we of this process?
The profession of the architect holds great responsibility towards the citizens of our cities. After a century of denial, we are starting to recognize again that experiencing beauty and pleasure from our environment is one of the fundamental elements of a good life. This denial has been caused, among others, by many deficits in architectural education, led by authority figures spreading ideas that were not based on a deep understanding of human beings, but rather on futuristic, mechanistic visions.
Because of this, topics like aesthetics or theory of proportions and forms have been mostly abandoned, or in the case of architectural psychology, not even adopted in the first place. The knowledge of building with natural, local materials while still adhering to modern requirements and regulations, has met a similar fate. Added to that, a credo of “form follows function” has been the leading idea of modern architecture for a long time, neglecting that buildings don’t only have technical functions, but emotional ones too.
Julia Hanuliaková studied architecture at Slovak Technical University, as well as historic preservation at the University of Oregon. She started focusing on zoo design, which she practiced at renowned studios Jones & Jones Architects and The Portico Group. In 2012, she has founded her own studio Zoo Design Inc, which worked on projects for zoos in USA, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Russia, Finland and others. In 2020, she became a director of the zoo in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Natalia Olszewska: I’ve seen your website, I’ve read about your professional experience, and I’m looking forward to exploring the intersections between human and animal design! How did you get into this field?
Júlia Hanuliaková: I went through the classic architectural education and what I’ve noticed is that the school did not provide me much background on the human experience. I got confronted with psychology only when I started to work with animals. Pretty much all the ideas about how we can create better spaces for animals came from human psychologists that over time switched to animals.
Michal Matloň: When you think about a design of a zoo, what part of it is about designing for animals and what part is designing for humans?