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Understanding the Experience of Architecture, Part 1

Image: Kai Dahms on Unsplash

This article was originally published in Polish language, in the IARP magazine (Chamber of Architects of the Republic of Poland), issue Z:A 86.

The twentieth century was a time of progress in structural engineering. It resulted in taller, more solid, and technologically innovative buildings. However, recent decades have seen an increased interest in the human experience of space.

Today, people spend about eighty to ninety percent of their lives indoors. This fact makes it crucial to investigate the relationship between the experience of architecture and its impact on human health and well-being.

Until recently, the study of the effects of architecture on humans was the domain of environmental psychology. But in the past few years, we have gotten new tools to study the neural mechanisms underlying the perception of art and architecture.

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Interviews

Martina Frattura: Just adding more light won’t improve street safety

Martina Frattura. Image: Arianna Grillo.

Class 2020 of the 40 under 40 lighting designers, Martina works with the goal of implementing psychological and biological responses to architectural planning. Her research ‘A Beautiful Light’ investigates the use of artificial lighting in support of restorative attention.

Currently, she is working as Lighting Designer, for the Portuguese lighting design & engineering studio WhitePure and is also part of the interdisciplinary team of Impronta, specializing in translational research from neuroscience and behavioral sciences to architectural design. Martina is involved in various educational projects like the Women in Lighting, Designers Mind and the Beauty Movement.

Natalia Olszewska: Welcome, Martina! To start, tell us, how did your journey combining light design and psychology start?

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Interviews

Yodan Rofè: The architect is just a vehicle. The wholeness generates the design.

Yodan Rofè

Yodan Rofè is an architect and urban planner with over 20 years of professional, teaching, and research experience. He was the founder of the Movement for Israeli Urbanism and served for five years as the Head of Urban Design at Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing. 

His research interests include building processes and structures of informal settlements, urban form and movement, accessibility and equity, cognition and feeling in the built environment, as well as public space and street design. 

Together with Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth Macdonald, he wrote The Boulevard Book published by MIT Press. Together with Kyriakos Pontikis, Yodan edited the book In Pursuit of a Living Architecture: Continuing Christopher Alexander’s Quest for a Humane and Sustainable Building Culture, published by Common Ground Publishers.

Natalia Olszewska: I’d love to understand your connection to Christopher Alexander. Could you tell us about meeting him and his influence on you?

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All the Theses I Hadn’t Written: My Journey With Environmental Psychology

Image: Daniel Seßler

I started as a psychology student at a university in Wales. I enjoyed the course a lot, but I had no idea where it would lead me. I have always been drawn to topics not yet categorized into specific subfields, to phenomena not yet explained.

At that time, what interested me most were seemingly random questions. Things like why the Vietnam War veterans addicted to heroin stopped quickly after returning to the US. Or why working in a cozy café might be more productive for some than at a tranquil library.

In my third year, when we started designing our own research, I came across the term “environmental psychology.” And it turned out that this field perfectly captured all the questions I found intriguing but couldn’t categorize. Discovering that it had a name allowed me to dive deeper. 

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Places of Pause: Why Should We Build for Wakeful Rest

Image: Egor Myznik

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.

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Interviews

Anders Engnell: We Need To Solve The Problem of the Car

Anders Engnell. Image: culdesac.com

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.

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Interviews

Andrea Jelic: If we don’t design for humans, who do we design for?

Andrea Jelic

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?

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Therapeutic Design: Living by Ethics to Build Better Buildings

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.  

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My Experience at Chesa Madalena: An Architectural Story

Ruch & Partners architects Ltd. Chesa Madalena. Image: Ruch & Partners architects Ltd.

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.

I still did not suspect that this would be one of the most intense architectural experiences of my life.

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Interviews

Nikos Salingaros: People feel it when a space doesn’t work

Nikos Salingaros

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.