In the ever-evolving and diverging world of technology, science, and design, neuroarchitecture may seem far from becoming an industry buzzword, but it is an area worth giving attention to. It focuses on the application of scientific theories of neuroscience to the world of design. Through biological perspectives, this growing field helps better understand how spaces are perceived and experienced by a human. Its study, with a lot of scientific back-ups, is aimed at creating a positive impact on user experience. Neuroarchitecture has successfully proved that the design of buildings or cities affects humans’ brains and behavior in a much deeper way than previously imagined by architectural psychology. The built environment has the power to generate various emotions which leads to change in our mental states, also impacts creativity, how we feel, decision making, memory, learning, and most importantly, our well-being and happiness.
Steven Holl explains:
When talking about the cloverleaf of architecture and neuroscience that revolves around perceiving, interpreting, imagining, and responding to the built environment, Winston Churchill beautifully quotes, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us,” which Steven Holl, FAIA (Fellow of the American Institute of Architects), referred to in his keynote talk.
The above elegant watercolor illustration by Steven Holl portrays the human body as a structure on the island and the mind as space within the structure. He explains architecture as the interaction of mind and body, trailed by moving from concepts to events which Einstein refers to as the unbridgeable gap between thought and feeling.
From the past:
The advanced study and research in neuroarchitecture are capable of carving methods to design efficient spaces for human health and happiness. Mind and architecture have been in a relationship and were of great interest to designers throughout history. One such example that goes beyond the design world lies in the story of Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine. He was struggling to find the cure for polio in his laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA. The laboratory environment perhaps did not provide enough breathing space for his brain. He eventually took refuge at the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, a monastery located in Italy. After the discovery of the vaccine, he credited the design and surroundings of the monastery for his contribution. However, the scientific study of the impact of built spaces on the human brain is comparatively new.
Potential of Neuroarchitecture:
Neuroarchitecture has the potential to connect dots about what matters to the human body for a positive experience. With the help of more profound research, tools, and technology, we might achieve a greater scientific understanding of the relationship. For example, spaces that help maximize the learning ability of elementary-aged children, boost work productivity, foster healing patients in a hospital, or the environment that suffice the needs of Autistic people. With ever-expanding perception about neuroarchitecture, in the coming years, the design decisions and strategies would be focused on the scientific angle.
Technology becomes a vital part of the development of neuroarchitecture practices. We know how leading technology has taken us to great heights; whether it’s a data tracking and monitoring of human activities or studying acoustics. Wearable devices can connect to our phones and provide insights about our bodies in a non-invasive fashion. Science can peek into brain activity, heart rate, etc. in real-time while subjects interact with built environments. All this data put together shows a person’s stress levels, mental state. With machine learning and artificial intelligence, this data can genuinely transform into useful information. Thought as futuristic a few years ago, virtual reality technology is picking momentum. Its use in architecture provides researchers with a tool to test how users react to spaces, colors, and shapes. As neuroarchitecture expands rapidly, technology will continue to surprise us with its capability and reveal evidence pieces about human perception and transform them into actionable strategies.
While neuroarchitecture could be based on science and its findings; it is also important to harness the potential by applying the theories in real-world projects. To give an example, most of the room designs are rectangular, but research using virtual reality has reported that people feel better with curved spaces more than straight edges. This interpretation is an evident practice in the field of neuroarchitecture, to create spaces that are a better fit in the modern world and satisfies the needs with a better understanding.
Not only indoor spaces but outdoors are also gaining importance in the neuro-architectural study, as nature plays a vital role in brain functioning. Nature plays its part by giving the human brain the ability to disconnect and recharge. Disconnection further leads to thinking about the auditory cortex, where the brain deals with interpreting sound vibrations. The human brain activates this area when it hears the music, which helps to generate the extra amount of dopamine, a hormone that allows improving concentration in work.
Design of the future:
With a booming pace, neuroarchitecture is generating more evidence-based practices and is hence becoming robust. This system will help achieve the original goal, i.e., to develop the quality of spaces for human well-being. Future designs may no longer need mock setups or use historical data. Imagine a design environment that implements user feedback into space in real-time and maximizes user experience as well as benefits. In a matter of years, we will recognize the potential of neuroarchitecture and its interdisciplinary coalescence. For now, we only need to embrace the fact that beyond architecture and design, human happiness remains ahead of all our desire.