The quality of the spaces where we live and interact undoubtedly, directly affects the quality of life we have and consequently our health. Some spaces make us feel good and full of life by motivating us, while others affect quite the opposite, often creating a state of loneliness or weakness. The urban spaces, neighborhoods and streets where we interact, the buildings where we live, all have an impact on our emotional state, behavior, habits and psychological perceptions. This happens also as a consequence of the emotional connection created intuitively with the spaces based on memories and information received from the environment through the senses. But the design quality of these spaces or buildings at the level of functional and material solutions, are not the only ones that affect our comfort and health. According to the latest research presented during the Virtual Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN), an increase in pollution and stress levels in urban areas, increases the risk of multiple sclerosis by 29%. By 2030, more than 80% of the European population is expected to live in urban areas, making cities play a key role in promoting and protecting public health and social and psychological welfare.
What is NeuroArchitecture?
Architects and urban planners have been responsible for years to craft, visualize, and design solutions for our physical bodies and their limitations. Today, while we evolve in our understanding of our surroundings, bodies, and the way they function, we become more conscious about other aspects of our lives, involving emotions and behavior, therefore we need to rethink the way we design. An urban layout or building, now and in the future should not fulfill just its physical aspect, by solving a problem of functionality but cover the psychological and emotional aspect of the people using it. The spaces of the future will be conscious spaces by melding together cross-sector creative solutions coming from neuroscientists, architects, urban planners, environmental therapies, psychologists, behavioral scientists, and community planners.
Neuroarchitecture represents an integration of neuroscience, psychology, and architecture that aims to show us how we perceive, imagine, interpret, and react to buildings to help create environments and spaces that can improve our behavior, health, and well-being of man and society as a whole. A discipline that studies the various responses produced by our brain during our presence in a given environment or space. These neural responses can directly change the emotional state and behavior of users in any space, both short-term and long-term. Neuroarchitecture as a research field dates back to the 1970s, when the first hypotheses of research into the psychology of environment and space, and evidence-based design were put forward in the 1980s, which has found use in recent years in the design of hospitals and some school buildings.
In NeuroArchitecture, technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR), research, and sensory technological apparatus come together to measure a person’s heart rate, body temperature, brain waves, eye movement, and “awakening.” The most common research methodologies combine the analysis of a number of other parameters such as: 1) brain stimuli (in areas of the brain that are active during the period that the user is in the environment); 2) responses produced by the brain in that environment; 3) vital signs that change in the environment (for example, heart rate, blood pressure) etc. In the long run, urban planning and functional solutions affect our habits and health, which is documented through monitoring the health performance of the population over the years. This data helps architects and urban planners, who can build spaces that contribute to the health of residents and citizens.
NeuroArchitecture helps physicians deepen their work in understanding the neurological nature of human behavior and interrelationship with the surrounding environment, as well as architects to design buildings and spaces that will have a more positive effect on our mood and senses, and ultimately on our well-being. By understanding how our relationship with space affects us, we are able to gain knowledge of how to design spaces, but also enable spaces to evolve over time to become more people-centered. Designing cities should make people feel comfortable and give them a sense of belonging: including public places and parks where people get together, where they feel welcome and comfortable, thus strengthening social cohesion.
During the ANFA conference in 2016, the architect Steven Holl displayed one of his watercolor drawings, in which he described the human body as an island in a sea called the environment, with the brain drawn as a structure on the island, and the mind as an area within this structure.
Neuroscientific research present a new opportunity in designing spaces for people with disabilities and special needs. The acoustic and tactical qualities of an environment, designed through careful materials and spatial choices, can help this typology of people move, interact and experience environments without limitation. Not only does such a design enhance the experience of everyone in a building; it also challenges the visual ways in which we often conceive and design buildings. Design typologies, such as re-education spaces are also expected to change, through neuroarchitecture these objects will not be designed as punishment spaces, but as healing and social interaction spaces focused on thinking and human behavior.
In a world that is evolving daily, where technology is taking an important place in our lives, the human connection to build spaces is also changing. Architects, urban planners, physicians and neuroscientists must help build stronger relationships between cities and their inhabitants by creating and inspiring productivity and habits for a healthy life.