Could neuroscientists be the next great architects?
ARCHITECTS HAVE BEEN talking for years about “biophilic” design, “evidence based” design, design informed by the work of psychologists. But last May, at the profession’s annual convention, John Zeisel and fellow panelists were trying to explain neuroscience to a packed ballroom.
The late-afternoon session pushed well past the end of the day; questions just kept coming. It was a scene, Zeisel marveled—all this interest in neuroscience—that would not have taken place just a few years earlier.
Zeisel is a sociologist and architect who has researched the design of facilities for Alzheimer’s patients. Architects, he explains, “understand about aesthetics; they know about psychology. The next depth to which they can go is understanding the brain and how it worksand why do people feel more comfortable in one space than another?”
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New neurons continue to be born throughout life, particularly in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that processes new information on its way to being stored as long-term memories. This means that your capacity to add new memories and learn new skills can continue to expand. And how fast these cells are added seems directly influenced by the richness of our interactions with our environment. When Gage introduced these findings to architects at the American Institute of Architects’ 2003 convention, he pronounced an idea that is still sinking in: “Changes in the environment change the brain, and therefore they change our behavior.”