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Interviews

Upali Nanda: The project doesn’t end when the doors open, that’s when it begins

Upali Nanda
Upali Nanda, director of research for HKS Inc. Image: hksinc.com

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. 

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Interviews

Itai Palti: Architecture is to become an empathy-based profession

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?

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Interviews

Júlia Hanuliaková: I got confronted with psychology only when I started working with animals

julia hanuliakova
Image: Archive of Júlia Hanuliaková

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?

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Interviews

Michael Diamant: We have changed the Scandinavian discourse on architecture

Michael Diamant

Michael Diamant studied society planning at Stockholm University and has a great interest in architecture, city planning, urban sociology, demography, history, and social anthropology. In 2013, he started a Facebook group promoting new traditional architecture, which has since grown to over 25 000 members. One year later, a member of this group started a group Arkitekturupporet (Architectural Uprising) that has grown to over 50 000 members, transformed the debate about architecture in Sweden, and spawned multiple local groups in Norway, Finland, Denmark, and other countries. Portuguese translation of the article can be found here.

Natalia Olszewska: Welcome, Michael! Could you tell our readers about what you are interested in and how this interest started?

Michael Diamant: I studied society planning and urban sociology at Stockholm University. I’ve always been interested in architecture and city planning, specifically classical city planning. I am very interested in urban sociology, demography, history, culture, and social anthropology. I am also interested in architecture but I don’t have deep architectural knowledge other than that I know the different styles and the key to a good facade.

A long time ago, I noticed that old buildings usually seemed very beautiful to me, and the new ones didn’t. What I also noticed is that the majority of people see it the same way, and they vote with their feet. Maybe people don’t always dare to say that they find most modernist buildings ugly, but where people spend vacations, where people want to hang out, tells you a lot. 

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Interviews

Colin Ellard: I’ve had people shout at my face to get lost

Colin Ellard
Colin Ellard, cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo and director of its Urban Realities Laboratory. Image: Colin Ellard

Colin Ellard is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo and director of its Urban Realities Laboratory. Colin works at the intersection of urban design and experimental psychology. He is a practicing scientist but he also works in collaboration and partnership with architects, museums and other NGOs on projects meant to enrich public debate about the built environment. He is a member of the advisory committee for the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, an Urban Design and Mental Health Fellow, and a Salzburg Global Fellow. Ellard’s most recent book is Places of the Heart.

A Sudden Twist

Natalia Olszewska: In your TEDxWaterloo talk, you mentioned a sudden twist in your scientific career. You said you weren’t interested in human-environment relationships from the beginning. Something happened around 2005 and you isolated yourself on an island. Could you tell us the rest of the story? 

Colin Ellard: Oh man, that was a tumultuous period in my life. You know, some like to call it a ‘midlife crisis’. But then one of my colleagues said: ‘You don’t honestly think you’re only halfway through your life. How long do you think that you’re going to live?

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Interviews

Harry Francis Mallgrave: Let’s begin every project with the design of a garden

Harry Francis Mallgrave is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Illinois Institute of Technology and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.  He received his PhD in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and has enjoyed a career as a scholar, translator, editor, and architect. He has published more than a dozen books on architectural history and theory, including three considering the relevance of the new humanistic and biological models for the practice of design. His most recent book, Building Paradise: Episodes in Paradisiacal Thinking, is currently in press with Routledge Publications. Drawing upon a theme first raised by Alvar Aalto, it offers both a selected history of the idea of paradise as well as a ‘garden ethic’ for the ecological practice of design.

Michal Matlon: Nikos Salingaros said that most of what is usually called architectural theory is not really a theory, since it holds no predictive value about the impact of the built environment on people. Would you agree that’s the case? And with the increasing introduction of scientific research as an input into the decision making of architects today, do we need to change the definition of architectural theory as such?

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Interviews

Meredith Banasiak: Person-centered design means each person’s experience matters

Meredith Banasiak
Meredith Banasiak: Director of Research for BA/Science at Boulder Associates Architects.

Meredith Banasiak is a Director of Research for BA/Science, a research and innovation group of Boulder Associates Architects. As a former faculty member in architecture and environmental design, Meredith integrated neuroscience concepts into her studio and human behavior courses to support designing for human diversity across physical, sensory and cognitive abilities. She gained experience as a Research Assistant at the Krasnow Institute at George Mason University and during her time as a Research Associate with the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. Meredith is a Fellow with the Centre for Conscious Design, and has published in psychology, medicine and architectural research journals and books.

Natalia Olszewska: Could you tell us what happened that as an architecture practitioner you have started to lean towards neuroscience?

Meredith Banasiak: Well, what we do isn’t very different from who we are. All my life I have struggled with sensory stimulation from the environment and was not able to inhibit intense sensory stimuli as a child. I would be in places where I felt like my brain was being hijacked by my surroundings. And because of what was happening around me, I couldn’t control my attention, my emotions and my cognition.

So, when I was growing up, I wanted to both understand what was happening in my brain, but also I wanted to design the environment, so this wouldn’t happen to others. I feel like I’ve spent my education preparing for a career that didn’t exist yet. I have just followed what I was curious about, which was natural sciences and the classics. I studied Latin, Greek and classical archeology.

Natalia: Could you tell us more about when and how did you connect with the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture?

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Interviews

Upali Nanda: I’ve never thought about breath as much as during 2020

Upali Nanda
Upali Nanda, director of research for HKS Inc. Image: hksinc.com

Upali Nanda is 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.

Natalia Olszewska: I’ll ask you about the consequences of COVID-19 for design. You have opened the Conscious Cities Festival in October 2020 with a discussion on this topic. Could you share some of your thoughts with Venetian Letter readers?

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Interviews

Sarah Williams Goldhagen: There’s no such thing as a neutral space

Sarah Williams Goldhagen
Sarah Williams Goldhagen. Image: Robert Tjalondo

Sarah Williams Goldhagen is an esteemed American architecture critic and author, who taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. After immersing herself in research on biophilia, neuroscience and environmental psychology, she has written Welcome to Your World, a book introducing the effects of built environment on our feelings, memories, and well-being to a broad audience.

We talked to Sarah about her realization of a need for a radical change in architecture and about how to improve the architectural process and education for the benefit of everyone.

Natalia: When I read your book, I realized there’s certainly a need to educate the environment creators more. The impact of buildings on human health, cognition, emotion and decision-making is not appreciated enough. How do you think we should approach architects, how to explain it to them? It’s a big paradigm shift after all.

Sarah: It doesn’t really matter how fertile the ground is right now, because it’s up to us to till it. When I wrote Welcome to Your World, I was a bit naive. I thought if I lay out the principles of embodied cognition and human-centered design, and make them really comprehensible, everyone will go: “Oh!”. Well, guess what, that didn’t happen. The book is doing fine and there are a lot of people interested. But I wrote it because I realized architects didn’t know about human perception and cognition in the built environment. They might have intuitions about some parts of it. But very few appreciate how radical the shift has to be and how much can be done to make things better.

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Interviews

Raymond & Rochelle Neutra: It’s fine to have idealistic architects, but far better to have idealistic developers.

Raymond Neutra
Dr. Raymond Neutra is the son of architect Richard Neutra. After a public health career in environmental medicine and epidemiology at several universities and the California Department of Public Health he has been drawn back to the legacy of his father and brother. He has been active in the preservation of the Neutra projects. In addition to preservation, he endorses the Neutra commitment to socially and ecologically responsible design inspired by evidence.
Rochelle Neutra
As a clinician, Rochelle has worked with low-income and underserved communities in the SF Bay Area and split her time between advocacy, direct patient care in safety-net clinics and clinical research. She served as the Medical Clinic Director at the Native American Health Center in SF and conducted NIH sponsored research at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley. Most recently she has served on boards and advisory committees for nonprofits and is interested in the intersection between health, design and architecture.

We are pleased to publish an interview with Raymond and Rochelle Neutra from the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design. In our conversation, we explored the role of science in architecture, the importance of post-occupancy studies and why purpose-driven real estate developers are the key to creating good cities.

Natalia Olszewska: Raymond, I read an article you wrote. You were talking about your father, and you spoke about him as a biorealist. You mentioned some reasons for which people could oppose the idea of applying neuroscience to architecture. What do you think about it?

Raymond Neutra: I think there is a role for science in architecture. In my own career, I did environmental epidemiology, studying mainly harmful things to avoid. But there is also another kind of research about things that are good. If you consider toxicology and medicine, some of the toxicology is about agents that are harmful to the body and others about things which are necessary, like vitamins. The same is true for architecture.

My father established the Neutra Institute in 1962.  His goal was promoting neuroscientific and environmental psychology research and its application in a responsible way to serve humanity. But he was ahead of his time, and he didn’t quite figure out how to do it.

We’re challenged now to understand how we can be helpful. There are people like yourselves who are doing things aligned with the values of the Institute and we need to understand how to do it.

We have carried out conversations like the one we are now having. It’s now nearly 50 people that I have talked to around the world. I am beginning to be struck that there are pockets of people with similar interests but they don’t necessarily know each other. So for example I was talking with Matthew Pelowski from the University of Vienna, from the professor Leder’s research group on aesthetics and art. Are you familiar with him?