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?

Research Briefs

Research Brief: Urban Spaces Can Be Restorative Too

London Natural History Museum. Image: Joshua Rawson-Harris

In today’s fast-paced world, where we are constantly bombarded with information and demands, finding a place to unwind and rejuvenate is more important than ever. The concept of “restorative spaces” addresses this need, providing a haven for mental recovery and relaxation.

So far, we have mostly associated these restorative spaces with natural environments. Spending time in forests, lakes, meadows, and hills is a favorite restorative pastime for many.

Research has often compared the effects of natural environments to typically harsh urban spaces. This may give us an idea of the overall effect of today’s cities, but it doesn’t show the potential of what restorative cities could be if designed well.

Research Briefs

Research Brief: Why should workplaces provide high-privacy focus spaces in a collaborative age

High-privacy focus space. Photo by ergonofis

Today, many organizations are still adapting to the changes brought about by the recent pandemic. With the majority of people preferring to work remotely at least some of the time, companies are trying to come up with a workplace strategy fit for the future.

And many of the models of the recent past seem to be broken now. Such disruption may be a good opportunity to put aside preconceptions and take a fresh look at the facts about what really works in the workplace.

Of course, this will be very specific to each organization. But a general overview, such as the following review by Masoudinejad and Veitch, can help us get a better idea of where to start if we want to base the design of our workplaces on knowledge of their impact on people and businesses. And it seems that high privacy, one or two user rooms, may be making a comeback.


Well-Being in Design: How can architects use psychological frameworks

Connection to nature is fundamental to promote well-being. Having the opportunity, within cities, to engage in nature settings and have views on greeneries can reduce stress and promote cognitive restoration. Image: Boudewijn Boer

Due to the growing mental health crisis, society has shifted its focus to promoting human well-being. This is said to be even more important for younger generations. At the same time, there’s growing evidence that our mental health is highly responsive to our environment.

For example, when people feel isolated from each other and from nature, and when they live in densely populated cities, both their mental and physical health suffer. Because exposure to the built environment affects our emotional and psychological health, it’s important to study and measure it scientifically.

But well-being is a complex concept, and measuring it isn’t always easy. We can think of it as the pursuit of pleasurable experiences or life satisfaction (hedonism), but it can also be understood as personal growth, wholeness, and living a good life through the pursuit of meaningful goals (eudaimonia).