This is a first in GEN Z Series that I have interviewed a NeuroScientist, who has made her exploration in the world of ‘NeuroArchitecture’. Her journey in this specialized field has just begun. However, her valuable insight about ‘NeuroArchitecture’ would open doors for many youngsters around the world, who are good in applied sciences and architecture. I must confess, I came to know about ‘NeuroArchitecture’ through Veronica Giorgia Carlotta Giannini. My inquisitive mind instantly went into the research mode to increase my knowledge about this amazing field.
On the 1st of July 2021 at the Media Architecture Biennale – Building for Well-Being conducted by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, many renowned researchers, architects and experts in the field discussed greatly about ‘NeuroArchitecture’ in a roundtable session. I learned a great deal about the field through their expertise.
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences Researcher Frank Suurenbroek kicked off the session by formulating the context of the roundtable: “Neuroarchitecture is able to inform us, maybe for the first time ever, about the unconscious relations between the way we perceive space and the way designs are actually built. Neuroarchitecture is still a rather young discipline that transmits knowledge and technologies from the field of neuroscience into the professions of spatial design. Its goal is to get better informed design solutions, promoting human and non-human well-being in our public spaces, especially in newly built high-density urban settings.”
In the year 2020, Veronica Giorgia Carlotta Giannini completed her Masters in Neuroscience Applicate al Design Architettonico (Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design) from Universita Luav di Venezia, Italy. Veronica’s enthusiasm towards the scientific and medical field led her to pursue Psychology. Her interest and sensitivity towards visual arts and humanistic disciplines saw her continue her studies in Cognitive Neuroscience and Clinical Neuropsychology, and finally in Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design. ‘NeuroArchitecture’ combined her scientific expertise with her interest in design and architecture. Veronica and her interior designer friend Giulia Mastrocinque have co-founded S Y N S Ē A – a NeuroScientific Consulting Studio.
Veronica Giorgia Carlotta Giannini is currently working as a Researcher and Consultant. Johnny D interacts with Veronica to know the scope of ‘NeuroArchitecture’ in modern architectural design.
What was your childhood ambition? Did you always want to become a Neuroscientist in the field of architecture?
I have landed in such a specific field of expertise that I highly doubt any child might be so peculiar; hence, no (smiles)! I actually dreamt of being either a pilot or a veterinarian. Still to this day, I love flying and I adore animals, but keep these passions outside of my career.
My mother was an interior designer and artist, whilst my father is a linguist, writer and teacher. I did not realize how much they influenced my scientifically-driven path, until I felt the urge to broaden my expertise and give a more humanistic, creative and empathic imprint to my professional career.
Briefly elucidate how has or can neuroscience influence architecture.
Neuroscience is a field which studies the human brain and nervous system, meaning the complex data-elaborating structure which, amongst other things, allows us to perceive stimuli from the surroundings and elaborates it into information. Simplistically speaking, these stimuli are captured by our sense organs and can contribute to neurophysiological, cognitive and emotional modifications. Understanding this process means recognizing that the environment has the actual power of contributing to our physio / psycho-cognitive states and, hopefully, our wellbeing.
Neuroscience (alongside to environmental psychology, neurophysiology and all other very close and equally essential fields of research and study) is the fundamental link for designing spaces that resonate with our social and sensory needs, ranging from the urban and large-scale mobility, down to our interactions within our peripersonal space.
Architecture is as ancient as the first human civilization, but ‘NeuroArchitecture’s existence is less than two decades. How do you see architects adapting neuroscience in their design creations?
I do not believe it is a matter of adaptation, but rather of integration. If it is true that our sensory, physiological and emotional needs should be at the very center of the design process, realistically speaking there are many variables and constraints which come into play and that often clash with this human-centered perspective. I am not advocating for a revolution, but for an obvious and much needed addition. I have to admit that old habits are hard to dismantle and to this day, not all architects are willing to broaden their viewpoints, with all due respect to them.
What is the significant role of Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, USA, which was established by the San Diego Chapter of AIA, in the year 2003?
The mission of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture is to promote and advance knowledge that links neuroscience research to a growing understanding of human responses to the built environment. The Academy benefits from the expanding body of research that has evolved within the neuroscience community in the last two decades, and the promise of even more in the coming century. Some observers have characterized what is happening in neuroscience as the most exciting frontier of human knowledge since the Renaissance. All of humanity stands to benefit from this research in countless ways, still to be determined. The profession of architecture has become a partner in developing the application of this knowledge base in order to increase its ability to be of service to society.
What does you work actually consists of, and what is your signature approach to this intriguing and very intricate field of research and application?
I like to keep it as ‘linear and simple’ as possible. I am not for complicating things and try to avoid big scientific terms as much as I can. My approach depends on the type of project(s). Are there sufficient funds, tools, time, sample size, etc. to carry out an experimental research protocol? Very rare, but if so – wonderful! However, in most cases, the research part is theoretical and based on existing studies and publications. I start by analyzing the type of users and their needs, mostly from a neurophysiological perspective.
From there, I put together as much information as I possibly can to figure how features from the built environment, which are perceived through all our sensory channels, can impact these requirements. This part can range from studies in endocrinology to neurogastronomy (for the specific case of restaurant design); it really all depends on the variables regarding the nature of the space in object. I then proceed with gathering all the information that is necessary to inform designers about my findings, which is the translational, and definitely the most difficult part as our technical jargons are very different (smiles).
Will NeuroArchitecture be able to tackle the herculean challenges of ‘Climate Crisis’? If so, briefly explain.
From the way I see it, it probably works the other way around. Neuroscientific studies can help us understand the way human beings adapt to climate changes and their worrying consequences (temperature fluctuations, trauma caused by natural disasters, urban re-adjustment, etc.) on different levels (meaning, once again, on a scale that ranges from social behavior on an urban scale, to mental health and neurocognitive modifications).
Architects, Engineers, Urban Planners and Interior Designers are in fact neuroscientists in their own sense, because their design creations create spaces and places which are directly dealing with the physiological requirements of us – humans – your perspectives as a neuroscientist.
I will have to entirely disagree with this statement. It is actually a perspective that I very strongly battle against. Architects are architects, engineers are engineers, and neuroscientists are predictably, neuroscientists – Each to their own. It is a matter of labels which, in some cases and in my humble opinion, shall be respected. Architects and designers create spaces with remarkable tools and knowledge that are not neuroscientific in nature, and if they do “deal” with our sensory requirements, it might actually be in the wrong way. Which is why they must trust and consult other professionals in order to fill in the missing gaps and the other way around, obviously.
Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you liked the most, and why?
I love the ambition of creating a world-wide meeting point for all architecture enthusiasts, and the possibility of getting to know other professionals through your interviews. It is so much fun and intriguing to predict what other colleagues might think and answer, and it really contributes to a much-needed, mind-opening exercise.
What is your advice to youngsters like you, who wish to pursue this specialized field?
If you are an architect: know and respect your professional boundaries, do not be afraid to broaden your team’s search for and accept collaboration with other figures. Do not improvise; educate yourself as best as you can, but accept that you might not be sufficiently trained to cover all the roles. If you are a neuroscientist – this is going to sound rough, I have been there; but you have to accept and work around researches’ limits. If, like me, you are a lab freak, you have been trained to be a strict, disciplined researcher and all you know is how to set up the idyllic perfect experimental setting, then you are up for a frustrating ride. You are going to have to let go of your expectations and be less strict with the statistics and the interpretative process. I am not going to lie, it is very challenging. At the same time, it does teach you to be more flexible.
How many architectural firms are making use of ‘NeuroArchitecture’?
Surely not enough to this day! For this reason, me and my dear friend, interior designer Giulia Mastrocinque will be shortly inaugurating to the public our own neuroscientific consulting and interior design studio S Y N S Ē A, with the aim of offering the best support to architectural firms for integrating neuroscientific insights into their design process.
Image Courtesy: Veronica Giorgia Carlotta Giannini