What Architecture Is Doing to Your Brain

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By Emily von Hoffmann
November 10, 2014, The Atlantic CityLab

Looking at buildings designed for contemplation—like museums, churches, and libraries—may have positive, measurable effects on your mental state.

At a particular moment during every tour of Georgetown University’s campus, it becomes necessary for the student guide to acknowledge the singular blight in an otherwise idyllic environment.

“Lauinger Library was designed to be a modern abstraction of Healy Hall…,” a sentence that inevitably trails off with an apologetic shrug, inviting the crowd to arrive at their own conclusions about how well it turned out. Much of the student population would likely agree that the library’s menacing figure on the quad is nothing short of soul-crushing. New research conducted by a team of architects and neuroscientists suggests that architecture may indeed affect mental states, though they choose to focus on the positive.

Studies on architecture struggle for funding because, Bermudez sighed, “it’s difficult to suggest that people are dying from it.”

I spoke with Dr. Julio Bermudez, the lead of a new study that uses fMRI to capture the effects of architecture on the brain. His team operates with the goal of using the scientific method to transform something opaque—the qualitative “phenomenologies of our built environment”—into neuroscientific observations that architects and city planners can deliberately design for. Bermudez and his team’s research question focuses on buildings and sites designed to elicit contemplation: They theorize that the presence of “contemplative architecture” in one’s environment may over time produce the same health benefits as traditional “internally induced” meditation, except with much less effort by the individual. Read more…

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