For an architecture in harmony with man

Neuroscience applied to architectural design

For an architecture in harmony with man

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Articles - Insights

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20 July 2019

The contents shown below were discussed during the event on 7 September 2017 “The brief that creates value — Neuroscience applied to architecture “
di Lombardini22

As soon as you enter a space, if you listen to yourself, you recognize that you already have a judgment: you have not yet studied where you are, but you already have an idea. This idea arises from the ‘atmospheric’ quality that all the elements of architecture together determine. Geometry, topology, masses, light, rhythm, materials, sounds, smells, heat, pressure and textures: all these elements together, together, determine an atmosphere. The appropriateness of an atmosphere is such, if it supports the women and men who breathe that atmosphere in everyday life, day after day, in the use of the ‘institutions of man’.

The reverberation of research in the world of neuroscience on architecture becomes increasingly brighter. The discoveries made in the world of neuroscience in the last twenty years have produced a knowledge on the relationship between our body and the brain and between this unitary system and the space in which we are immersed, superior to what has been learned in more than two millennia of history of ‘ man. The awareness of all this cannot fail to transform the approach to the design of the places where we spend 90% of the time of our life.

In the United States, some realities have been consolidating for some years: Perkins + Will, one of the largest design companies in the world, has founded the Human Experience Lab, directed by Eve Edelstein, with the task of introducing, in an operational way, these scientific knowledge in the practice of project development. A similar laboratory was also born in New York, the International Arts + Mind Lab, directed by Susan Magsamen, within the Brain and Science Institute of John Hopkins University. Last but not least, for a decade now, the ANFA, ‘Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture’ has been active in San Diego, California, with the same purpose, that is to create a bridge between scientific studies on the functioning of the body & brain system and the development of architectural design.

In Italy too, steps are being taken in this direction. He was born in Milan TUNED, a new tool to guide the development of the architectural project in tune with the realization of the needs and expectations of the users of the spaces. The deep expectations of the human being can find an answer in architecture, not in aesthetic terms but in environmental terms.

Harmony is a word that has almost completely disappeared from the vocabulary of architects. Yet today, thanks to a renewed dialogue between science and humanistic knowledge, it is possible and necessary to rebuild a new harmony between man and his actions, his experiences and architecture. Bringing man back to the center of the architectural project: this is the ultimate goal of TUNED.

The characteristics of the designed space, in the case of new buildings such as renovations or interior design, can be defined by placing the human being at the center of the project, thanks to the knowledge gained in the scientific world. Studying the emotions and feelings expected by people in the course of experiences, lived in the spaces of the city, parks, streets, to go from home to school or workplace, the project adapts and transforms to bring closer, or better to tune, the signals that the light, the design, the materials, the sounds, the color of the spaces continuously transmit to our eyes and, more importantly, to our body .

TUNED, therefore, in a brief, elaborates documents and three-dimensional graphic diagrams, able to guide the final development of the preliminary project, making sure that, put together the quantitative needs, the regulations and the context, and using the assisted design and BIM, you can get there to sustainable architecture perfectly geared to people’s needs. The goal of TUNED is to develop works that are able to re-emerge in users emotions and feelings consistent with the deepest expectations that are triggered every day.

This balance protects the biological value and human potential together with the economic value of buildings and public spaces built according to this design method.

In Italy, one of the first companies to have believed in TUNED is Serenissima Sgr Spa, whose goal is promote and manage real estate funds aimed at maximizing the value of assets in the portfolio, developing initiatives also of an infrastructural value by placing shares with national and foreign investors.

Franco Torra, the company’s Head of Asset Management, said he was watching “With interest in the use of neuroscience as a driver to create guidelines that bring the reuse project to align with the expectations and needs of users, who have the true sentiment and knowledge of the activity to be carried out inside the immobile container”. The basic assumption is that “substantial parts of the existing real estate assets in Italy are now often devoid of users or hypotheses of reuse. Investors, who cannot ignore the relationship between property and its income-producing capacity, feel the need to restore value to these assets, going through a process that puts the user back at the center of the project, placing him as a central player in the process. of regeneration“.

This is echoed by Simone Panizza, Asset Manager at Serenissima Sgr Spa, who stated that the interest in neuroscience was born from the need to identify innovative tools that can enrich the property management process, especially in the most critical situations, in whose challenge is to identify the best approach to bring out positive elements and then make the most of them.

Real benefits

The aim of TUNED is to help create the context in which everyone can express themselves at their best. Never as today, the project has the most suitable tools to take care of the experiences of the people who use architectural spaces every day. TUNED is structured to support new construction, renovation, interior and landscape design interventions.

Michela Balconi, professor of Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuropsychology of Communication, and Neuroscience and Wellness in the Lifespan for the Faculty of Psychology of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan and Brescia, head of the Research Unit in Affective and Social Neuroscience, is firm in affirming that “today neuroscience, architecture, biology, anthropology, art and social sciences help to rebuild a richer and deeper bond between us and the place where we live. We are convinced that neuroscience can improve our knowledge of the environment. Consequently, the urban environment improves our life and the quality of the world. “

The expectations of human experiences

Every day, as soon as we return to consciousness after sleep, we begin to make decisions of different types and relevance. Each decision triggers an experience and produces an expectation. In everyday life, in the radar of consciousness, at its higher levels, the deepest expectations do not appear. The immediately payable objectives are visible, while it is more difficult to access a deep level of expectations: it is in fact pre-cognitive expectations.

Waiting is an unknown and as such produces an imbalance, a vibration. It triggers a tension that changes the homeostatic equilibrium of our organism: thus a basic emotion is configured, connected, at the level of the proto-self, to the basic emotion of fear. The goal of alert consciousness, which formulates choices, is to bring our body back into balance through experience. If the inputs that this experience transmits to the body are in tune with expectations, a condition of equilibrium is gradually restored: fear is reabsorbed and the homeostatic picture is balanced. 

What form do expectations take? 

They present themselves to the subject’s nuclear consciousness as basic feelings, they are in fact the very essence of every experience. When, in the course of the experience, the feeling that resurfaces is in tune with the initial expectation, it is awakened to ‘annidamento’ one of the basic positive emotions of our depth: joy, research, care or pleasure. Matured in the course of evolution, expectations are therefore universal, even if they are always interpreted in a different way, in every cultural and geographical context.

The architectural environment, in which this process takes place, can play against or in favor of rebalancing. Its effects, recorded by the receptors of the body-brain complex, can burden or facilitate the constantly active rebalancing process in each individual. “The next step will be to understand how the sensations stored and produced by the symphony of the body’s sensors, then mapped in the brain circuits, can be translated into signs and shapes, materials and lights in the space of architecture.

Only if this step, in fact, is successful, can the fundamental condition be created for the initiation of the embodied simulation that allows the subject who has direct sensory experience of the final product of this transfer, that is of the architectural form, to unconsciously relive movement of rising from the ground and therefore the connected emotion, until the underlying feeling emerges in consciousness, as the essence of the experience of listening and doing “. Tuned Architecture, Davide Ruzzon and Vittorio Gallese.

It was necessary to create a new terminology capable of giving a name to components and factors previously ignored in architectural making.

cluster they are a collection of units (cores) which in the overall perception must produce an emotional reverberation of the expected feeling. Each individual cluster is associated with a sensorimotor metaphor. Each nucleus is associated with one of the phases that make up the body movement — balance, load, energy release.

The sensorimotor metaphor acts on a prelinguistic and precognitive level. Only in the last phase of the evolutionary history of our species did man develop abstract linguistic and conceptual skills. In previous evolutionary states, communication was prelinguistic and used sensorimotor metaphors to convey meanings and emotions. These evolutionary states are inscribed in our sensor-motor system and are revealed in our life in embryonic development up to the first part of childhood, since ontogenesis summarizes phylogeny. When man becomes an adult he expresses himself linguistically with abstract concepts that nevertheless underlie the sensorimotor metaphors. The linguistic dimension of the world is based on a bodily approach to the world itself. This means that our language and our abstract thoughts inevitably trigger mechanisms related to the sensor-motor system which is divided into teleceptors (smell, sound, sight), exteroceptors (temperature, pressure, touch), interoreceptors (beat, breath, digestive system), proprioceptors (musculoskeletal system, inner ear).

TUNED performs a physiological analysis of the four groups of receptors in the human body for each of the phases of movement that generated the sensorimotor metaphor.

In each nucleus of the clusters, the architectural components are adjusted to produce the same responses detected in the physiological analysis on the four groups of receptor systems (teleceptors, exteroceptors, interoreceptors, proprioceptors).

After evaluating the conditioning that the physical context produces on the architectural intervention, we proceed to identify the characteristics that the space to be created will have to assume, in order to transmit signals to the sensory system of the users, capable of triggering the embodied simulation of the sensorimotor metaphor.

The three phases of movement (balance, load, energy release) coincide with the three nuclei of the clusters. Through the sequential perception of architectural stimuli, the emotion and feeling related to the sensorimotor metaphor are gradually recovered from memory.

Each layer of the motor system corresponds to an aspect of the architecture (topology, geometry, rhythm, proxemics, color, texture, materials, geometry, light).

The embodied simulation is an experience that takes place when a user has a significant perception: in this case, signals are recorded at the sensorial level which, when integrated, are able to re-emerge from the memory a sedimented, lived or imagined experience. with their own emotional kit.

The memory also reactivates the emotional charge of the body movement. On the basis of these emotions, thanks to the conscience, an underlying feeling quickly coagulates. When this coincides with the underlying feeling expected from experience (for example: heal, learn, live) harmony is achieved, and intense pleasure is experienced. The place thus appears adequate for the purpose. The physical and design dimension is merged.

The methods, therefore, to build the passage of the sensor-motor metaphor to architecture, to allow the development of an embodied simulation, can be summarized in four phases:

  1. Analysis of the modifications of the receptor system of the human body.
  2. Identification of architectural signals (FEG).
  3. Realization of the space according to the brief.
  4. Remergence of feeling through simulation.

Not only does Italy not arrive last, therefore, in the international competition at the meeting of the sciences and the arts, but this operational process appears to be able to clearly indicate how to ground knowledge that seemed to belong to the ether, to the world of pure knowledge. The link between earth and sky, between application and theories, was precisely the body, its movements and connected emotions, which in the design of space are translated and then recovered in the multisensory perceptual experience.


TUNED is the new tool for guiding architectural design in harmony with the realization of the needs and expectations of the users of the spaces. Wanted by Lombardini22 and Davide Ruzzon, Paduan architect, scientific director of NAAD ‘Neuroscience applied to architectural design’ of the IUAV, University of Architecture of Venice.

NAAD, is the first master dedicated to neuroscience applied to the field of architecture.

The lessons divided into three modules – Anatomy and physiology of architectural perception; Architecture and the system body-brain; Pre-cognitive human demands and experience of architecture – will provide the tools to design architectures capable of ensuring well-being, starting from scientific axioms made available thanks to advances in neuroscience studies, with particular reference to public and private spaces such as retirement homes, hospitals, offices, prisons, stations, social housing, shops and sports facilities.

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