In today’s world, integration of and synergy between disciplines is common, since many fields of study, especially those that involve human beings, are connected. Using this notion as a basis, we must clarify what the prefix neuro- means, before explaining the relationship between neuroscience and architecture design.
Neuroscience is a discipline that brings together other fields of study that focus on how humans behave in different environments and in response to different stimuli. Its focus is strongly scientific in nature and it serves as a basis for other fields such as programming, robotics, marketing, and others. It is close to yet far from the more theoretical psychology, feng shui, and other areas that are just as interesting, but do not apply the objective protocols of the scientific community and are based on more subjective notions. Its origins trace back to around 2002, when an article in Forbes magazine presented studies that investigated how different areas of the brain were activated upon using different consumer products.
This approach to human behaviour gives rise to this direct connection with architecture, which is created by and for human beings. It is here where we can see the true point of interest for architecture, which we can divide into two main facets:
- Give scientific, objective, and specific reasons behind most of the decisions that have been made in architecture. These decisions were born from experience, trial-and-error, or even popular knowledge itself, giving a more educational and explanatory response about what is produced and why.
- The ability to have a number of specific technological tools that can give us timely solutions to some considerations that require more objectivity.
“Neuroscience in architecture is like a thermometer for a doctor.
It is a tool that is freely available for use”
Thus, we can deduce that neuroscience does not demand anything, it is just a tool and a source for objective explanations in architecture.
Neuroscience and architecture design
When referring to human beings in a structure or environment, we must understand that, through our senses, we receive stimuli that we integrate into our brain and that generate an experience based on our personal and collective perception. The stimuli that we receive are integrated both consciously and unconsciously, meaning that they are “recorded” by our mind, giving rise to different levels of:
- Motor Response
At the same time, this simplified neural process is comprised of other, more complex reactions such as the stimulation of hormonal production in the pituitary gland, activation via the optic nerve, activation of the amygdala, an increase in heart rate, a reduction in cortisol, the creation of spatial memory, and a long list of further processes whose descriptions are loaded with scientific terminology.
If we only focus on emotion, we get stuck in phases that are far prior to what really happens. In addition, we would get into the debate of “what is emotion?”
Specifically, thanks to psychophysiology (a sub-field of neuroscience), we have technology that is capable of recording the reactions produced by particular stimuli, and how these correlate with the overall experience, which can be verbalised or not. But we shouldn’t forget that this has its limitations, as the brain is a highly complex mechanism, and this knowledge area is one that is continuously being expanded.
**Technology such as: electroencephalogram (EEG), galvanic skin response (GSR), facial recognition of emotions (facial code), facial electromyogram (EMG), respiratory rate, heart rate, eye-tracking, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), among others. All of these should be performed using a specific study design, in real (which is preferable) or virtual environments.
In the daily tasks of an architect, in which their type of projects obviously has an influence, it has to do with taking their professional vision a step further; in a very general sense, this would mean:
- Being more conscious of how their projects affect human well-being.
- Understanding how the mental processes of experience perception, emotions, levels of focus, memory formation, and emotional imprinting work.
- Keeping up-to-date on scientific publications regarding how environments foster certain behaviours and abilities such as: creativity, cognition, concentration, learning, memorisation, socialisation, relaxation, well-being, and others.
- Analysing, using existing technology, the spaces they create, the materials they use, the scenery they incorporate, and how they adapt to each client type.
- Having the ability to communicate emotional aspects from a more objective point of view, favouring the understanding of certain decisions with the end client.
In our specific case here at ARK Architects, the head architect, Manuel Ruiz Moriche, has defended and communicated for years that the architecture he creates is “by and for mankind”. Thus, the creation of a specific sub-field of neuroscience applied in the firm can be further validated if we keep in mind that our main concern is the overall development of projects that are 100% focused on the person. Within this, aspects such as well-being, the creation of emotional states, attention to detail, the use of natural light, the integration of spaces with nature, and the textures of natural materials are fundamentally important in the development of each project, where reason and emotion have always been present.
For all of those who trust us, it is an added feature of the guarantee in what we do, as well as a step further, that we have the ability to make the client understand the projects before they are constructed. The next step is with the completed project; this is the moment of truth, where the more emotional “wow effect” comes into play. It is a key moment that, to date, has been continually confirmed thanks to our ample experience and a more human approach.
Somehow, we have managed to unite reason and emotion, so that the projects have plenty of soul while still featuring a high level of objectivity in many decisions.
The application of neuroscience in this sector is a pioneering development in Spain in an architectural firm such as ARK, which builds upscale single-family homes. The high rate of acceptance from our clients has surprised us.
In a very general sense, there are some standard criteria that would need to be specified in each case.
- Spaces that are visually open and natural light produce greater activation of alpha waves in our brain. These waves are activated when we find ourselves relaxed, calm, lucid, and in the absence of complex thoughts.
- Understand the so-called “brain GPS system”, the discovery of which was awarded with a Nobel prize in 2014. It is made up of the following cells: GRID, place cells, and boundary cells, which, in general, allow the brain to generate spatial maps. If we want to facilitate their interconnection and not generate stress, the layout and functionality of the spaces should be very clear and easy to understand. Within these, it is important to keep egocentric and allocentric spatial processing in mind.
- Overstimulation, in overloaded environments, triggers an increase in heart rate. It is necessary to re-direct attention to focus it and avoid a spike in adrenaline, which can cause changes in heart rate and a conscious feeling of anxiety.
- For areas of social interaction, depending on the place’s function, the lifestyle and way of socialising of those who are going to inhabit the place must be understood. A space that keeps the above in mind can foment an increase in dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter implicated in heart rate and blood pressure, sleep regulation, attention, and motor activity. The frontal lobe regulates functions such as memory (hippocampus), attention, and problem solving. The conscious result is a change in the emotional state.
- Natural light has a direct effect on our biological clock and has repercussions on sleep quality. The orientation and direction of artificial and natural light, and how these change in each room, affect our chronobiology. This means that the stimulus that triggers melanin secretion can be disrupted; this hormone is the one that tells us it is time to go to sleep. A high number of sleep disorders can be attributed to light.
- Balanced temperatures. Large changes in temperature perception stimulate the amygdala in our brain, alerting us to a dangerous situation; it can even trigger an activation of the immune system.
- Direct contact with nature is related to better working memory and improved focus.
- The sense of smell is implicated, as it has a direct connection with the central nervous system. This gives rise to long-term subconscious memory, and that is why we use artificial or natural smells such as orange, lemon, basil, and lavender.
In conclusion, with all of the experience gained at ARK Architects and the scientific advances in neuroscience applied to architecture, we can affirm that:
- Neuroarchitecture is implemented as a tool and a discipline to collaborate with and help the architectural sector.
- It raises awareness on the impact and importance of spaces on human well-being.
- It provides scientific, objective solutions regarding how we can integrate reason and emotion into the design and creation processes.
- It helps us understand how the processes of human perception work and how we can integrate this understanding into our day-to-day work.
- It gives us a set of technological and digital tools that we can use to objectively measure attention, emotion, memory, and overall experience.
- It gets us closer to a sector that evolves alongside the society of the future, seeking greater productivity, efficiency, well-being, and health for human beings, within an increasingly digitalised environment.
More info – AREA NeuroARK