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Interviews

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.

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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?

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Interviews

Keith Francis: You can’t live outside of the things you’re designing for

Keith Francis. Image: Archive of Keith Francis

Keith (he/him) is an Associate and Senior Director of Experience Outcomes for the global design agency Forge Media and Design. He holds a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from York University. He serves as a Fellow at McLaughlin College with peer-reviewed published works in Taylor and Francis Architectural Science Review. Keith is a member of the BrainXChange Design and Dementia Community of Practice, a board member of the Canadian Healthcare Infrastructure, a guest lecturer for the Ontario Association of Architects, the Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design program in Venice, and other organizations. He’s also the founder of COUP, The Community of Unlikely Partnerships.

Natalia Olszewska: Keith, your journey through the world of design is special. You focus on the experiential aspects of design. What does that mean and how did you get there?

Keith Francis: I always thought there was a relationship between creativity and how it affected the human experience. It was often frustrating to work in a creative field where aesthetics, color palette, form, materiality, all of those things were leading the discussion. Especially when that happened at the expense of people who felt absent from the process.

The design palette was generally placed before the lived experience of people, whether they were neurotypical or neurodiverse or different cultures. I always felt that it should have been reversed.

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Interviews

Cleo Valentine: We now know architecture can cause stress

Cleo Valentine. Image: Archive of Cleo Valentine

Cleo Valentine is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on examining the impact of architectural form on neuroimmunology and neuroinflammation. Cleo received her MPhil in Architecture and Urban Studies from the University of Cambridge, MSc in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Oxford and Bachelor’s in Urban Systems and Economics from McGill University and the University of Copenhagen.

She has worked as a computational systems designer at Open Systems Lab (formerly Wikihouse), has held positions as the Neuroaesthetics Fellow at The Centre for Conscious Design and as a guest tutor at the Royal College of Art and the Architecture Association in London. She is currently an associate at Cambridge Architectural Research Ltd., where she provides consultancy services on public health and architecture.

Natalia Olszewska: I’m excited to talk to you because this is going to be a conversation where we can dive deep into human physiology and how it relates to architecture. What brought you to neuroarchitecture in the first place?

Cleo Valentine: My interest in neuroarchitecture comes from both my academic and personal experience. I first studied at McGill University in Montreal, where I did a program called Urban Systems.

It was at the intersection of urban studies and human geography, examining how people move through space and how urban environments evolve over time. It gave me an interdisciplinary approach to studying architecture and cities.

The Human Scale documentary about the work of urbanist Jan Gehl. Image: autlookfilms.com

While at McGill, I had the opportunity to study at the University of Copenhagen on an exchange program. I became interested in going there after watching ‘The Human Scale’.

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Tye Farrow: Architects serve public health and accelerate change

Tye Farrow. Image: Archive of Tye Farrow

Working at the intersection of architecture and neuroscience, Tye Farrow is a world-recognized pioneer tackling how what we create gives or causes health. With award-winning projects around the globe that enact salutogenic design – design that actively incites health – he is the first Canadian architect to have earned a Master of Neuroscience Applied to Architecture (University of Venice IUAV), has a Master of Architecture in Urban Design (Harvard University), and a Bachelor of Architecture degree (University of Toronto).

Natalia Olszewska: You’re the first Canadian architect who studied neuroscience applied to architecture in Venice. What pushed you in this direction?

Tye Farrow: It started with our practice, Farrow Partners, which involves work with knowledge organizations, health organizations, and value-based companies with a clear purpose.

Early in my career, I began understanding the relationship between architecture and its effects on people and health on different levels. Health, for me, is like a table with four legs. And its four legs represent different ways design impacts life around it.

First is design’s impact on the natural environment. We designed some of the first and largest LEED projects in Canada, of their typology. Then we began to understand design’s impact on our physical body. You may know the New York City Active Design Guidelines describing how buildings can encourage you to move and be physically active.

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Anjan Chatterjee: We are constantly responding to our environment without being aware of it

Anjan Chatterjee. Image: Archive of Anjan Chatterjee

Anjan Chatterjee is a Professor of Neurology, Psychology, and Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the founding director of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics.

He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, his MD from the University of Pennsylvania, and his neurology residency from the University of Chicago. Formerly Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Chatterjee’s research interests include neuroaesthetics, spatial cognition, language, and neuroethics.

Anjan is the author of The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art.

Natalia Olszewska: Anjan, could you tell our readers about your background?

Anjan Chatterjee: I’m a neurologist and a cognitive neuroscientist. For over thirty years, I’ve studied spatial attention, language, and the relationship between language and space. I’ve done work in neuroethics because advances in neuroscience have ethical implications for how we live.

I have also been working in neuroaesthetics for over twenty years. When I started in the late nineties, there was almost nothing in the scientific literature on this topic. If you look at the publication rates in neuroaesthetics and neuroarchitecture, there was an inflection about ten years ago where the field started to take off.

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Susan Magsamen: The marriage of science and art will transform architecture

susan magsamen
Susan Magsamen. Image: Archive of Susan Magsamen

Susan is the founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, a pioneering neuroaesthetics initiative from the Pedersen Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Her work lies at the intersection of brain sciences and the arts and how our unique response to aesthetic experiences can amplify human potential. She is the co-author of Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us with Ivy Ross, Vice President for Hardware Design at Google. 

Susan is also the designer of the Impact Thinking model, an evidence-based research approach to accelerate how we use the arts to solve problems in health, wellbeing, and learning. In addition to her role at IAM Lab, she also serves as co-director of the NeuroArts Blueprint project in partnership with the Aspen Institute.

Natalia Olszewska: What’s your story, Susan? When did you start to think about the brain, art, and architecture?

Susan Magsamen: When I was little, my twin sister had a farming accident where she almost lost her leg. We were always close, and it was very traumatic for us both. It separated us because she had to stay home for a year, and I had to go out into the world without her. And what was crazy about that is that I’m an introvert, and she’s an extrovert, so our roles were reversed.

Before the accident, my sister wasn’t an artist, but she started making art partly because she was bored. She also realized that she had a deep fear from trauma stuck inside of her. And she couldn’t talk about it because there were no words to express it. At that time, fifty years ago, we didn’t know much about Broca’s area of the brain and how it can shut down because of trauma.

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Gábor Bindics: The most powerful change in public space is when people dare to use it.

Gábor Bindics. Image: Archive of Gábor Bindics

Gábor Bindics studied cultural management at the University of Pécs and alternative energies at the Budapest University of Technology. He worked at the National Portrait Gallery in London and founded a silent cinema in Paris. He is the founder of the Cultural Centre Dunaj and the Švihaj Šuhaj cycle courier service. He is currently leading the project of the Old Market Hall in Bratislava and working on the project of reopening the Grössling Baths.

Michal Matlon:  Gábor, you said that what interests you the most is how spaces impact social life. Could you tell us when you first realized that spaces could have this impact? What made you think about it?

Gábor Bindics: Fifteen years ago, I was living in Paris. Together with my friends, we set up a cinema in the center, near the Luxembourg Garden. We found an unused space and looked for its potential. But to see this potential, we first had to understand the space well.

An architect usually responds to such an understanding with architecture. But I was interested in how we could work with this space without adding mass. That’s when I started reading about the philosophy and sociology of space.

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Marie Hesseldahl x My Lunsjö: Clients now ask about the human experience

Marie Hesseldahl and My Lunsjö. Image: Zuhal Kocan / 3XN

Marie Hesseldahl Larsen is a partner at 3XN / GXN and Head of the office’s dedicated Interiors team. Marie has extensive experience with the competition department, developing conceptual designs and large-scale competition projects – primarily for offices, as well as cultural, hospitality, and public buildings. Marie looks to integrate behavioral insights and sustainable techniques from GXN into her projects and has led the Interior design team in a range of ambitious projects in Denmark and abroad.

My Lunsjö is a behavioral specialist in the behavior design unit at 3XN / GXN. She is an architect by training, with an additional master’s degree in environmental psychology. My works closely with the 3XN architectural teams to inform design processes with her insights from the field of architectural psychology. Her aim is to increase the health and well-being of those who use the architecture by focusing on aspects such as sensorial experiences, and the influence of light and colors on the perception of space.

Michal Matlon: My, we met a few years ago at a conference in Prague. At that time, you were working for the City of Copenhagen. Tell us a bit more about your background.

My Lunsjö: I have an architectural background, but I also have a master’s degree in environmental psychology. My thesis focused on implementing research in the architectural design process and bridging the two fields.

Research is often text-heavy and not so hands-on. Architecture, by contrast, is a craft based on intuitive experience, and the way of working is more fluid. So, I make a connection between these two worlds. Now I work with Marie at 3XN, an architecture studio, and at GXN, their innovation department.

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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?