There are houses that generate restlessness, anxiety, sadness, lack of concentration and illness. And there are houses that produce the opposite effect. Some are shelters; others are prisons. The pandemic has shown, even more if possible, that buildings have effects on humans. They affect your mental and physical health.
Architecture can, and should, satisfy the neurological needs of its users, given that the population of cities spends between 80% and 90% of their time in closed spaces. This is what neuroarchitecture is about, which is nothing more than the application of neuroscience to architecture. A young discipline whose beginning is attributed to the virologist Jonas Salk, who developed the first vaccine against polio in 1950 in the convent of San Francisco de Asís, in Italy, and at the same time discovered that the environment plays a very important role in the mind . Upon his return to the United States, he built the Salk Institute in California, considered the first benchmark in neuroarchitecture.
The few architects who work in this discipline in Spain, called to lead a revolution in the way of building, realize that their main client is of a high socioeconomic profile and that, although it could be applied in all types of homes, the most common is that they are large houses, in which “it is easier to manipulate the space”, says Antonio Ruiz, Neuroscience advisor at ARK Architects. “The main applicants are businessmen or large European managers,” they say in this study, which has 35 neuroarchitecture projects (completed or in process). All are houses between 700 and 3,000 square meters between the Costa del Sol and Madrid. The architect and interior designer María Gil has soccer players among her main clients. This is the case of the home of Arturo García Muñoz Arzu (former Betis soccer player). In works is that of Adrián San Miguel (Liverpool goalkeeper). In April work begins on the house of Raúl Navas (former player of CA Osasuna and current defender of FC Cartagena).
Neuroarchitecture has nothing to do with the aesthetics of the house or its more or less avant-garde design. Is much more. “Some architectural examples that we find in design magazines are an attack on the human nervous system, although aesthetically they are impeccable buildings”, says María Gil. He gives as an example the Jewish Museum in Berlin, by the architect Daniel Libeskind, which induces the visitor to a feeling of anguish and unease to convey the horror suffered by the Jews. “The design was intentional, but in other cases they are architectural accidents that can be avoided.”
This way of doing architecture “allows us to delve into the cognitive-emotional state of users and determine the most appropriate design guidelines at this level, even if they are not aware of it,” reasons Juan Luis Higuera, architect and researcher at the Neuroarchitecture Laboratory. from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. In a home this would imply, for example, improving rest or performing better at work or study.
When a house has most of the design variables (geometry, lighting, color, patterns …) misconfigured, the person residing there is not immediately aware of the consequences it has for their mental health. However, “these mild effects, but sustained over time, have a high impact throughout our lives. They can influence both quality and life expectancy ”, Higuera comments.
A house that applies neuroarchitecture cannot be seen, it cannot be seen with the naked eye. But it feels. “And we feel it through all our senses, even when we sleep,” says María Gil. This architect talks about the importance of creating safe environments to increase well-being, health and even intelligence. “People need an environment that is sustainable with their autonomic nervous system. This security does not understand either video surveillance cameras or bodyguards ”, he says.
The architect’s first task is to get to know his client (age, experiences, culture, status, tastes…) and the design factors that neuroarchitecture has discovered to influence the physical and mental state. “We would start by creating environments for social connection, so it would be important to unite some spaces, even if it was visually; kitchen-living room would be a good marriage, ”says Gil.
You have to make a sensory architecture that connects the resident with nature in a real or simulated way and that implies designing large windows that are a psychological escape. “Either we bring nature to urban areas or our body will get sick,” says the architect. Natural light regulates the biological clock, so it is advisable to use warm and soft lights after sunset. “We cannot have the same light in the morning as in the afternoon,” explains Antonio Ruiz, from ARK Architects. Important are the smells, which evoke memories and generate moods. “In the air ventilation system we install fragrances that depend on the culture of the client, their country of origin or the stimulus that is sought. For example, aloe vera and orange blossom relax, ”says Ruiz.
There are materials and shapes that reassure through touch and sight, such as wood, stone, cotton or leather. It is important to eliminate or minimize low and high frequency sounds, such as elevators, traffic, hallways, air conditioners or sanitation, because they activate defense systems unconsciously. Sharp angles are interpreted as aggression, high ceilings encourage creativity and low ceilings promote concentration. Of course, issues such as indoor air quality (more oxygen, elimination of mites and allergens …) or electromagnetic pollution are essential in neuroarchitecture.
In Spain this discipline is a great unknown and there are very few architecture studies that apply it. Nothing to do with the United States, where the University of San Diego includes it among its subjects. What is most applied today in Spain is neuroarchitecture based on scientific literature, which has a lot of research on emotional design, says Juan Luis Higuera. In this case, it does not have to suppose an economic extra cost for the client, it is a question of design. The problem is that, on occasions, “there are supposed applications of neuroarchitecture, in which design issues are present that go against some of the configurations that have been shown to be positive,” adds Higuera. For this reason, the neuroarchitecture group of the Polytechnic University of Valencia develops protocols so that the user has a guarantee of quality.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.