We all get one life to live and gain knowledge about the world’s mysteries. Lucky are those, who are really fortunate enough to spend rich and enlightening years to gather and gain knowledge at a young age. Meeting Iranian-born architect Mariam Khademi from Arup’s Milan branch has been indeed an enriching experience and truly enchanting encounter for me. Her amazing repertoire is truly second-to-none. I was not only impressed by her love to gain knowledge, but also am in awe with her educational quest!
Coming from a family, who owns a Pharmacy, Mariam Khademi reveals, “My father comes from economy and management’s background. My mother is a Pharmacist. It seemed natural for me to follow in their footsteps (smiles). In High School, my fascination with life sciences grew. I went onto study Cellular and Molecular Biology. Ever since my childhood, my father encouraged my love for arts and music. It was a source of comfort and expression of my growing up years.” As the old adage goes ‘destiny decides who one would be’, being an architect was written in Mariam Khademi’s destiny.
The Resilient Office
“One of my father’s dear friends was an architect. I would occasionally accompany my father to the architect-friend’s studio. His studio left a lasting impression on me. I can still vividly recall the abstract paintings hanging on the walls, the sizable drawing table and the gentle precision with which he handled his drawings. Every visit filled me with immense joy, as I observed his movements closely,” reveals Mariam. She adds, “Even to this day, I find it fascinating how an architect’s physical attributes can influence their thought processes and designs. Each one of us has some distinct bodily characteristics that can contribute to the remarkable diversity in our creations. Halfway through my Bachelor, I knew Biology is not my future. After graduation, I moved to Rome to study architectural Engineering.”
Mariam Khademi talks to Johnny D about her amazing journey into the architectural world and her Master’s thesis ‘The Resilient Office’.
What was your childhood ambition? Did you always wanted to become an architect?
I always had an interest in both Science and Arts. Science held a significant place in my family too, and one phase stands out vividly in my memory when I really wanted to become a Scientist. I also went through doctor, teacher, civil engineer, and architect phase (smiles). As a teenager, I had the privilege of attending a high-ranking school that provided ample opportunities to excel in Biology and participate in National Olympiads. This journey eventually led me to pursue Biology as a university degree.
Upon entering university, I felt a strong desire to express myself through my profession. I always had a diverse range of interests and engaged myself in various activities. Discovering my true path and committing to it was not an easy task. Finally, I can confidently say that my unconventional journey has prepared me well for Arup, a visionary company that embraces holistic design (smiles).
You have an interesting repertoire with B. Sc in Cellular and Microbiology from University of Tehran, Master’s degree in Building Engineering and Architecture from Sapienza Università di Roma, and Master’s in Neuroscience Applied to Architectural Design from UniversitàIuav di Venezia. Briefly elucidate your academic journey.
My background in Cellular Biology, as remote as it might sound from what I do now, gave me an understanding of nature’s works, a base of analytical thinking and a drive to search for proof. When it became clear to me that I want to pursue architecture, I was happy to find a Master’s degree that combined engineering and architecture. As engineers we learn to make efficient choices, but I was intrigued to understand beauty. I am not the first person that questions if beauty can be expressed in a scientific way. It led me on the journey I started by enrolling at IUAV. I believe I am on a path to be able to see the bigger picture and that makes me excited!
Brain Reward System
Briefly elucidate how has or can neuroscience influence architecture to benefit the society at large.
Consider the impact of an over stimulating environment, such as a classroom with bold colours, this can result in distraction of the child; evidence-based design helps us use them in appropriate rooms to nudge the suitable behaviour, for example a play room. Similarly, when under stimulation, it can lead to boredom and a loss of engagement. Let us take the example of being on a well-lit, normal staircase but suddenly feeling off-balance. By understanding our cognitive processes, we can leverage environmental cues to guide people towards healthier lifestyles too. Possibilities are really endless.
Scherer’s Component Process Model
Briefly elucidate the significance of your Master’s thesis.
My Master thesis was about attachment to non-territorial offices. With the rise of hybrid working and desk-sharing, these offices offer cost-effectiveness and space-saving advantages. However, the challenge lies in employees’ lack of attachment to their workplace, as personalization opportunities are limited. We investigated attachment as a driver for architectural design of “The resilient office”. The model for tomorrow’s workplace offers different affordances based on type of users’ cognitive tasks and emotive states. Employees, who work in these workspaces, are more engaged with their team, ask for help when they face a difficult task and commit to their employer for longer. In our thesis, we defined attachment as an emotional bond and translated its constructs into architectural features.
For example, agency is a construct of attachment. It means for users to have the faculty to manipulate the environment based on their needs. As non-territorial offices do not allow for desk personalization, this lack must be compromised by flexible furniture, movable partitions, adjustable lighting, and other personalisation opportunities. Currently, many organizations are going through office refitting to adapt to the new generation’s expectations from their workplace.
The Resilient Office Affordances
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 to better their design creations?
Architecture was historically practiced by master builders, skilled in art, engineering and craftsmanship. Their knowledge was passed down through generations. They had a profound connection with nature and the human body. Today, we live in a world of wicked problems and no single mind can contain the information and knowledge required to construct a complex project. We lack the natural environments our bodies are adapted to and our designed world can cause pain, stress, and diseases.
Architects often fail to understand the sites and people they design for, relying on outdated guidebooks. We can no longer afford to rely on the trial-and-error, evolutionary methodology of the master builders, as we are exhausting our planet’s resources. Integrating neuroscience into design can prevent unforgivable mistakes, and I envision a future where neuroscientists actively participate in the process alongside other stakeholders.
Attachment and Architecture
What does your work consists of at Arup? What is your signature approach while designing a project?
Arup is a multidisciplinary firm. We believe in total design and looking at a problem from several angles, while including more specialists in solving it. My dual degree in architecture and engineering has prepared me well for this mindset. I communicate well with different disciplines, foreseeing issues that could arise in further phases. Communication is the key and having such brilliant people around means constant learning. I am part of the architecture team.
In Milan, we mainly work on sport venues. User experience is part of the job. When designing, we have inclusion and fan experience in mind. One little exercise I like to do is to imagine the space and think of different personas and imagine self to be them, and what they would do? Where would they go? Where would they look? How would they feel? When I am designing, I like to talk to myself, telling myself little stories. This helps my creativity boost and my mood to rise. Empathy and imagination are main part of an architect’s job. I feel so lucky to do this daily.
Plan – Ground Floor
Which National or International architect has inspired / influenced you? Please specify as to why?
Oh, the list is long to name a few. I want to start with Carlo Scarpa. The craftsmanship, attention to detail, combination of textures, the balance in creating spaces that stimulate sufficiently and not excessively. Louis Barragan and Steven Holl for multi-sensorial design, use of light, colour and nature in creating breath-taking spaces that evoke emotional responses. When it comes to sports design, gmpArchitekten, where I had the privilege of working before joining Arup, is a huge source of inspiration. Their stadiums are iconic, efficient, have that unforgettable atmosphere you want to experience when watching a match.
Spatial and Architectural Features
Will NeuroArchitecture be able to tackle the herculean challenges of ‘Climate Crisis’? If so, elucidate.
Integrating neuroscience into architectural design is crucial for achieving sustainability in a comprehensive manner. By ensuring the quality of the built environment we could extend the life cycle of the building. (Embodied carbon reduction) Furthermore, biometric measurements and AI could unlock a range of smart building functions that could reduce operational carbon; technologies such as automated adaptive lighting and ventilation, and so on.
Plan Type and Roof
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.
I agree! I believe some architects have that intuition to create spaces that promotes cognitive well-being, without any neuroscience background. However, there is certain knowledge coming out of neuroscience and medicine faculties that architects need to incorporate into their design. Designing for neurodegenerative conditions for example requires involvement of physicians and neuroscientists.
Experiment and Evidence-based Design
Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you liked the most, and why?
I recently came across ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ It is a great initiative! I love that it gives a voice to young architects, who are fresh out of various universities around the world, could potentially bring so many innovative ideas into the industry. We want to empower the younger generation to disrupt the current design methodologies to create a socially equal and sustainable world.
What advice would you give to youngsters, who wish to pursue the specialized field of Neuroarchitecture?
It is a field of science, and it is important to treat it as such. There is no room for speculations that could potentially damage the path we are on very easily. Of course, as an architect it is not always possible to make in-depth research on each problem. But we need to look carefully for the evidence that applies to each case. There is no standard solution and we need to acknowledge that.
Operationalisation of Attachment
How many architectural firms are currently making use of ‘NeuroArchitecture’ globally?
NeuroArchitecture is an emerging field. Studios like Arup, 3XN, Foster and Partners, Lombardini22, HKS, and more have implemented it. Architectural firms are increasingly recognizing its importance and hiring neuroscientists as external consultants. To create a significant paradigm shift, it is crucial for municipalities and public administrations to adopt a new mindset too. By involving neuroscientists in the process, from preparing briefs to incorporating research data, we can transform the planning and execution of the AEC industry.
Schematic Façade and Context
Looking at the past in the current present, what are the futuristic architectural changes you would like to see in your home city? Elucidate the reasons for your vision.
I recently relocated to Milano and might need more time to make any judgements. I used to live in Berlin, where in some areas the car lifestyle is dominant and overall, I would not call it human-centric. What I like about Milan is the scale. It is a walkable and well-connected city. However, there is room for improvement in green areas, especially in the city centre. A few more trees could improve a lot the microclimate and overall well-being of the citizens.
Honours and awards related to architecture, if any.
With gmp, we won the prize for the NeubauKurhaus in Bad Homburg competition.
Image Courtesy: Mariam Khademi