The Architecture of Life: Your Brain on Architecture

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Your Brain on Architecture

I ran into an interesting article by Michael Cannell in Fast Company Magazine called This is Your Brain on Architecture.

It tells a story about Jonas Salk, stymied and discouraged while working on a cure for polio in the basement of his Pittsburg lab, deciding to visit a 13th century monastery in Assisi, Italy.

As Cannell tells it, "There, among the cloisters, he felt his mind unwind. Fresh lines of pursuit came to him, including the breakthrough that led to the vaccine."

He points out the following: "Neuroscientists are uncovering how the design of your home or office can make you smarter, faster, happier."

Then he asks a question that was dear to my heart. "Is brain science the next big design trend? Are we on the verge of a new field of emotionally intelligent design?" Anyone who reads this blog would know what I have to say about that.

It's a good article - listing a few of the many findings from evidence based design studies - but as always, what is missing is something to report from the halls of academic architecture. But that's not the author's fault.

I posted a snarky comment pointing out that we had been using human factors interviewing techniques that are informed by neuroscience and psychology for almost a decade in our architecture firm.

I couldn't resist pointing out that within a few months we will have a beta version of the same type of design criteria development tool on the Internet at

Almost all disciplines that involve designing things - with the exception of architecture and interior design - are informed by systematic applied methods that help designers create products and experiences that fit people. Examples are user experience and user interface in IT and ergonomics in product design.

These days design anthropologists are a normal hire at Microsoft and NASA. Human factors sciences informs organizational design.

Where are such methods in architecture?If it is possible to create buildings that are truly fitted to people - and it is - then why is the well-being of people not central to our ethics as designers?

Thanks to Fast Company for fighting the good fight.


nicolette said...

Well-being in the mind of a designer is sometimes different. Usually, as long as no one well get hurt as a result of the design, and it looks good, it's good design.


Christopher K. Travis said...

Perhaps, Nicolette.

But if you could did have the information you needed to create a design that was not only beautiful - but also enhanced the well-being of your clients - wouldn't that be worth a try?

That is what we are talking about here. We are talking about the possibility of designers not just making nice looking living spaces - but creating environments that actually improve the life of their inhabitants in specific ways...and doing that in ways that fit the needs and tastes of their clients in very specific ways