Neuroarchitecture or how to design spaces that generate emotions


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Neuroscience has allowed us to understand how certain stimuli provoke a specific response in people. How our brain processes all the information it receives and transforms it into sensations and feelings, generates mindsets that have given us the key to creating anything from products to the most successful advertising campaigns.

But while marketing and advertising have merged with this discipline and taken full advantage of it, neuroscience has proven its usefulness in other areas. Understanding how the brain works can lead us to a better interpretation of our surroundings, and to create environments that benefit us.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes we reject hospitals, or we revere sacred places? Beyond the obvious answer regarding what happens in both places, the structure, decoration, and design of the same generate an emotional response in us.

We talk about the white of the hospital and we feel loneliness; it is an impersonal environment. We see the majesty of a church and are impressed; we feel a sense of belonging. We think of our home, and we immediately picture a specific place in our house where we are safe and comfortable.


Sheldon Cooper’s example

For years, we watched The Big Bang Theory, one of the most successful sitcoms in the United States, where Sheldon wouldn’t let anyone sit on his spot on the couch. According to the character, this was the place with the best ventilation, light, and visibility on that couch, and his reaction has a logical explanation.

The majority of spaces are designed to meet criteria such as functionality, safety, material resistance, cleanliness, maintenance, and durability of the structures based on a budget, and responding to a specific visual aesthetic.


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What the brain tells architecture

Neuroarchitecture seeks to understand how we can enhance this set of things to create environments that affect our brain in a way that can, in turn, affect our emotional state and behavior. Therefore, architecture should design experiences.

A very interesting example is given by the Swedish architect Roger Ulrich. He was able to demonstrate in a research conducted in 1980, that patients recovered faster after surgery if their room had a beautiful view. So, if your work is stressful or generates anxiety, one way to achieve the opposite effect is to have a window overlooking a park, or a place with lots of green areas. If this is not possible, you can opt for adding decorative plants to your office.

If your work is creative or artistic, high walls and good lighting will help your imagination flow. On the other hand, if you have an administrative job that requires a lot of concentration or is routine, low ceilings, and small spaces will help you concentrate.

It sounds simple, but neuroarchitecture is a bit more complex than that, its objective is for architects to get a sense of the people who will live in the structure. They understand what must be achieved with those structures, and the contribution they must make (construction, distribution of spaces, light, colors, etc.) to create the desired state of mind.

Thus, neuroscience applied to architecture can influence people without them realizing it. This technique, known as priming, consists of introducing a stimulus that affects people’s subsequent behavior, even if they don’t remember the stimulus in the first place.

According to neuroscience, we can divide the brain into two systems: fast thinking and slow thinking. Fast thinking is below the conscious level and is responsible for controlling and monitoring the functions that maintain the body. Slow thinking is conscious, systematic, explicit analytical, and thoughtful.

Both systems complement each other so that we can function. The interesting thing is to understand that we respond more emotionally than rationally. And the challenge for architects is to integrate this knowledge to design spaces that excite and stimulate us.


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