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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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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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When Brains Meet Buildings

when brains meet buildings
Michael Arbib: When Brains Meet Buildings

When Brains Meet Buildings: A Conversation Between Neuroscience and Architecture is a book published by Oxford University Press in August 2021.

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.”

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Light and Neuroscience: A Combination that Looks to the Future

Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash

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. 

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Conscious Design: What Guides Our Thinking at Conscious Cities Festival

conscious design

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.

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Cities Can Be Beautiful. If We Dare to Listen.

Traditional and modern building in Berlin
The author mourns the loss of identity of the Berlin’s districts he knew since his childhood. Berlin, Budapester Straße. Image: Author’s archive

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.

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“The Landscape Architect Cannot Come Later!”

Richard Neutra Young – so many images show him old. Barbara Lamprecht, Richard Neutra: Complete Works, Taschen, 2000, 12; original source listed as Liska Archives, Vienna.

Today there is overwhelming evidence that environments containing qualities of nature foster human well-being. Richard Neutra fused his early training in landscape design with his lifelong study of psychology – disciplines that proved a quantitative relationship between the senses and the environment. Neutra’s genius was in recognizing that these two disciplines were often saying the same things from vastly different places. His architecture harnesses that convergence. While his cool, sleek forms are canonically Modern, his is an ideology of biology. 

At the start of his inaugural speech to the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1970, he asked the audience a question. “Why is Uganda, this country in central East Africa, important to landscape architects?”After a short pause, he continued: “Because as we now know, from Mr. Leakey and Ardrey and others, this is the country of origin of the human species. Humans came down from the crowns of the trees, walking over the meadows of Uganda.”

Neutra was referring to what is known as the Savanna Hypothesis, which argues that components of the landscape in which humans have evolved are part of our genetic ancestry. That landscape, which included broad, open views extending to the horizon line, copses of trees, expanses of brush and grasses, and bodies of water, was associated with survival. 

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Inclusive Design: Why Facts and Feelings Go Hand in Hand

woman in glasses with reflection of lights
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

The prevailing values ingrained in the minds of many designers and architects are originality and creativity. This stress on creativity results in many architectural decisions being made based on either experience, reference, or intuition, rather than evidence, which could shed light on human responses to design products. But as this month’s interview guest Colin Ellard says:

If you can show the possibility that bad design might do psychological harm, then design becomes a matter of public health. Then arguments about creativity only go so far’

The cult of creativity

Creativity is certainly important, but it shouldn’t go against human needs. Buildings and spaces have a big impact on the quality of human life. They can strengthen or weaken the sense of belonging, maintain or violate our boundaries, promote or reduce mobility, or even influence mental health.

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Built Beautiful: A New Documentary on Architecture and Neuroscience

Recently, we have been able to watch the upcoming documentary Built Beautiful, directed by Mariel Rodriguez-McGill. Screened at the Denver Film Festival 2020, it tells a story of a paradigm change, brought to architecture by recent developments in science.

Architect, researcher and educator Tiziana Proietti, featured in the film. Picture: Built Beautiful

However, as the audience soon learns, neuroscience is not the first field to look into the relationship between humans and their built environment. During the 20th century, psychologists have also been researching this important topic. Architecture, though, seemed largely unmoved by the previous developments.