Book Reviews

Book Review: Constructing Health by Tye Farrow

Tye Farrow, a renowned Canadian architect, began exploring the relationship between architecture and its effects on people’s health early in his career. In an interview for the Venetian Letter published last year, the architect revealed how this interest has shaped his professional journey. Now, he shares his extensive knowledge and professional insights in his newly published book.

Published in May, Farrow’s “Constructing Health. How the Built Environment Enhances Your Mind’s Health: An Exploration of Generous Architecture, Through the Neurological, Psychological, and Emotional Benefits of Enriched Environments” is a profound and essential read for anyone interested in the intersection of design and health. 

This book meticulously examines how our built environments can actively foster health and well-being. As someone with a background in medicine and working at the intersection of neuroscience and architecture, I found Farrow’s insights both enlightening and actionable, providing a comprehensive understanding of how intentional design can enhance our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.


Doug Gordon: Streets are not just for cars. They belong to all of us.

Doug Gordon. Image: Archive of Doug Gordon.

Doug Gordon is a co-host of the popular podcast The War on Cars. He is also a writer, public speaker, TV producer, safe streets advocate and passionate believer in cities for people. He has written for The Guardian, The New Republic, Salon, Curbed, Jalopnik, The New York Daily News and Streetsblog.

As a TV producer with credits for PBS, ABC, Discovery, History, Travel and NatGeo, Doug knows how to tell a good story. Through his communications consulting business, Brooklyn Spoke Media, he has advised nonprofits and mobility companies on communications strategies that make the case for safer, smarter streets. He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife Leora and their two children.

Natalia Olszewska: Welcome, Doug! Please tell us a little bit about what led you to start The War on Cars podcast.

Doug Gordon: My background is in television production, and I have worked on many different shows, mostly documentaries, with a focus on science and history. I was always interested in cities and safe streets, so I also did a lot of advocacy work in my neighborhood, pushing for bike lanes and bike parking.

Over time, I did more of that and started writing about it because my background in television often involved explaining complicated issues to general audiences. This skill translated well into my activism.

A lot of the issues we’re interested in are complex, and regular people don’t always understand them and can’t be expected to. So I started doing a lot of writing and explaining about how things work and how they could work better.

Research Briefs

Research Brief: How Ceilings Affect Our Feelings

Image: John Towner

Virtual reality has become an important part of our lives. Designers, for example, now regularly create virtual reality spaces to test options with potential users of a place to be developed. All of us, regardless of profession, have probably spent some time in virtual spaces, either for fun or for work.

In a recent study, Han and colleagues from Stanford University investigated how ceiling height and floor area in immersive virtual reality environments influence the thoughts and behaviors, particularly the social interactions, of people who visit them. Their study is particularly noteworthy because of the length of time over which the data was collected.

It is reasonable to assume that the core of the Han team’s findings can be extrapolated to physical-world environments; the research team itself notes the consistency of human experience in the physical world and analogous virtual spaces.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Places of the Heart by Colin Ellard

Colin Ellard, Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life.

In this review, I delve into ‘Spaces of the Heart. The Psychogeography of Everyday Life’ by Colin Ellard. The book, which is very close to my professional interests, belongs to the canon of popular science literature and is dedicated to the exploration of how buildings and urban spaces, that is the “scenery” in which our daily lives take place, affect our brains and bodies.

In discussing this topic, Colin Ellard takes a historical-evolutionary perspective, using scientific research to explain how the natural and built environments have influenced humans over the centuries, and how they have shaped our responses to both real and virtual spaces.

Colin Ellard is well equipped to analyze such complex issues. He is a world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist working at the intersection of urban design and experimental psychology, and in his daily work he uses an arsenal of tools to gain insight into how the occupants of the buildings and cities he studies respond to the built environment features.  


Ankita Chachra: Cities good for children are cities good for everyone

Ankita Chachra. Image: Archive of Ankita Chachra

Ankita is committed to building a future where all children and families thrive and flourish. She has over ten years of global experience working on her mission through partnerships with city agencies and the private, non-profit, and philanthropic sectors. She is the Director of Climate Program at Capita, an independent, nonpartisan think tank with a global focus. Previously, Ankita served as the Knowledge for Policy Director at Bernard Van Leer Foundation. She led a multi-functional team responsible for sharing tools, knowledge, and resources for advancing early childhood policy that supports the well-being of children and caregivers in cities.

Michal Matlon: You work on creating cities that are good for children. What does that mean?

Ankita Chachra: Nurturing environments and loving and attentive caregivers are the cornerstones of a healthy, happy, and thriving childhood. Babies need food, sleep, and security, and much of that depends on the caregiver, given their limited mobility in the early years.

Going even further, there are studies that point out how a woman’s mental health during pregnancy and her chronic stress have a direct impact on the outcomes for the child and their development.

This aspect of psychology fascinates me because how well we can take care of children inherently depends on how well we can care for adult caregivers and their mental health.


The Perennial Architect: Embracing the Mindset of Continuous Growth

Image: Sasha Mk

I am riding in a taxi through Warsaw, Poland. After being nearly destroyed in World War II, the city has undergone extensive reconstruction. The taxi driver tells me: “After the war, Warsaw was rebuilt to resemble Moscow; that’s why we have grid-like, wide streets, and the traffic is not as bad as in other cities.”

But I see it differently. I can imagine Warsaw being organized in superblocks instead. The idea comes from Barcelona, where they close streets to cars between several smaller blocks. 

Research Briefs

Research Brief: How Wood, Nature Views, and Diversity in Artwork Can Reduce Workplace Stress

Wooden furniture and natural windows views contribute to stress decrease during work. Image: vadim kaipov

With each new study, we learn more about the power of a well-designed work environment to affect our stress levels. In a new paper, Isabella P. Douglas of Stanford University and her colleagues examine, among other things, how the presence or absence of windows, natural materials, and diverse representation in artwork can do just that.

Many designers already prioritize creating inclusive and restorative workplaces, and this study adds to the evidence supporting that priority.


Davide Ruzzon: Architecture schools will soon teach neuroscience

Davide Ruzzon. Image: Archive of Davide Ruzzon.

Davide is an architect and director of TA Tuning Architecture in Milan, a team involved in applying neuroscience to the design of buildings and urban spaces. He is the founder and director of the Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design post-graduate program at the IUAV University of Venice. Davide is also a director and co-founder of an architecture magazine Intertwining and author of the book Tuning Architecture with Humans.

Natalia Olszewska: How did you become interested in the application of neuroscience in architecture?

Davide Ruzzon: I’ve always been interested in psychology. At the end of college, I was tempted to pursue a psychological route at the university in Padua. However, I decided to enroll in the architectural university because my father, being a builder, influenced me in that direction. I happily embraced this path during my life.

The passion for human behaviors, needs, and complexity always interested me. I read Freud and explored classical psychology approaches. Around twelve years ago, I met Juhani Palasmaa at a book festival. We connected over a glass of red wine, and he urged me to pay attention to neuroscience, describing it as intriguing.


More Than Safe Streets: How Women’s Positive Stories Transform Cities

Participative workshop organized by fem.spaces. Image: Archive of fem.spaces

The Western civilization is increasingly describing the world in negative terms. According to a recent article in the Financial Times, the last two decades, particularly, have seen a marked increase in pessimistic literature.

And it seems to be no different when it comes to journalism and popular culture. But the actual reality of our daily lives usually looks different. Consider the following quote.

“The old benches, the sound of the brakes, the bell when requesting a stop, all while passing through the neighborhoods I love [makes it my favorite spot].”


Sophia Schuff: To Urban Designers, Observation Makes the Invisible Visible

Sophia Schuff. Image: Archive of Sophia Schuff.

Sophia is a passionate advocate for designing cities that prioritize the well-being of both people and the planet. As a Director at Gehl, an urban design practice on a mission to create more equitable, healthy, and sustainable cities, she leads the Foundation and Philanthropy Team. In this role, she guides her team in shaping change in neighborhoods and communities towards better health. Sophia’s commitment to enhancing the quality of urban spaces stems from her background as an anthropologist and deep understanding of the human experience within the built environment. Her expertise ensures that urban transformation processes result in lasting social and health impacts.

Michal: Let’s start with your story. How did you even begin to think about people, cities, culture, and the connection between those?

Sophia: I’m from California, from a hippie, tiny town. My father was one of the first cohorts in the Peace Corps; he lived in a Mayan Indian village in Guatemala. It had a transformative impact on his life. He raised me with a global outlook despite our small, closed town. 

He instilled in me a curiosity about culture and the world. That’s why I went into anthropology, to understand. I went to university in Portland, Oregon. I studied community development and cultural anthropology.

When I was in university, I studied abroad in Copenhagen. I was very interested in architecture and urbanism, and I was interested in the role that urban environments play in people’s culture and experience of the world. Why is it that certain environments shape people’s everyday decisions?