Human experiences of the world are contrived of five bodily senses, and architecture indulges all sensory notions that prevail in our built environment in making us feel the way we feel. “You can’t really say what is beautiful about a place, but the image of the place will remain vividly with you”, as said by Tadao Ando simply conveys the inter-personal relationship between architecture and neurosciences. Architecture is a sort of theatre, where the architect plans the setting for human lives. The human psyche is most dependent on the series of events one experiences daily, and as researchers say, humans spend over 80% of their time indoors, most of their experiences are directly affected by the architecture or space they occupy. Architecture not only allows the senses to meditate information for the judgment of the intellect but also to articulate sensory thoughts.

Image 1: Jewish Museum, Berlin by Daniel Libeskind © Archdaily

Architecture tends to evoke a way into the peripersonal universe by eliciting multisensory, emotionally rich, nonconscious, and conscious cognition. Different cognitions ignite when there is a change in a visual axis, spatial sequence, or the composition of solids mass and volumes. When we focus only on a few aspects of the built environment, our mind subconsciously attends to how our surroundings function, in our lived experience, as a never-ending concatenation of what psychologists call primes. 

A prime is a non-consciously perceived environmental stimulus that can influence subsequent thoughts, feelings, and responses of a person by activating memories, emotions, and other kinds of cognitive associations. Our built environment is enigmatic with primes, and thus, a design can be consciously composed to nudge people to choose one action over another. Humans are non-consciously susceptible to environmental primes, and perceptions of the built environment are enmeshed in the human embodiment. Thus, skillful designs can rely on foundational knowledge about the operations of the way humans think and perceive. The way humans apprehend the built environment and their relationship to nature are profoundly intersensory. The understanding of such fundamentals of human cognition helps designers to create places that will long resonate in our memories.

Perception is acquiescent. Perception is perception for action, imagined, or actual. The brain’s canonical and mirror neuron mechanisms indicate that our experience of built environments does prompt us to simulate the process by which they fabricate. Architectural design is an iterative process that requires multifaceted consideration of diverse parameters. To optimize this process, architecture and neuroscience can be bought together to explore the short and long-term psychological effects of designs/spaces. Neuroscience has prospective significance to be applied in architecture and urban practices to pursue the design quality and performance of environments from the lens of psychology. With new interventions in technology, it is possible to measure and analyze the brain responses of users and interpret these readings to enhance environments while designing.

If you think of the first thing you notice consciously or subconsciously after waking up, even before you look at your phone- is your room! How does your room make you feel? How does your space or room affect your mood in the morning? That prompts us to think about how our environment plays a large role in our mental health. Yet this is not something we have discovered recently. For centuries, the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui and the Indian theories of Vaastu (Vaastu-shastra) have focused on climatology and other design elements like the structure, color, furniture of space that make the occupant feel. While simulating building interiors and subtly changing variables such as color, light, smell, sound, or temperature, the engagement of the brain in positive-negative responses is identified to create the best experience within that specific environment.

The experience of the built environment leaves quite an impact on the human mind as it involves more than how we process the swirl of sensory cues and impressions at the moment of apprehension. One such experience is the Jewish Museum in Berlin by Daniel Libeskind that is an odyssey of an emotional journey through history. The building is less of a museum but a real and sensorial experience that is difficult to understand. The building acknowledges historicism and stands as a true testament to the ability of Libeskind to translate human experience into an architectural composition. The museum precisely presents and integrates the consequences of the Holocaust physically and spiritually into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin. 

Architecture creates augmented reality used as a means of narrative and emotion to provide visitors with an experience of the effects of the Holocaust. It is a symbolic gesture by Libeskind for visitors to experience what the Jewish people felt during World War-II, the anxiety of hiding and losing the sense of direction in a way that even in the darkest moments, a small trace of light restores hope. When we hark back to such events, we infallibly access something about the environments in which they took place. It also involves the preconceived notions we use to interpret these cognitions, as well as the way we save them as memories, independent from the particularity of the place. Through these radicals, we realize and appreciate how prevalently architecture permeates and shapes human experience.

Architecture and neurosciences both have meaningful legitimacy that has the potential for real societal benefit. The perpetual quest of architecture is to manifest existential metaphors that relate and structure human’s being in the world. Along with architects and psychologists, society must be aware of the positive psychological and restorative impact of architecture. Anthropocene may affect the world we live in if the psychological impact of thoughtless architectural design remains unaddressed. Images of architecture reflect our ideas of an ideal life. All experience implies the acts of remembering, recollecting, and comparing. The human consciousness is penetrable in memorable experiences of architecture, space, matter, and time fused into one single dimension of being. The way we identify ourselves with space, place, moment, and dimensions, our very existence is formed.

Jinal Bhatt

Jinal is an architect whose goal is to create a vibrant time machine through her photography and writing for everyone to revisit some of the aspects of life. She is forever inspired by the nuances of nature and by the underpinning ideas of works of art.

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