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Trend: Measuring physiological responses–including brain activity–to design stimulating, “conscious” cities

Stan­ley Park, Van­cou­ver. Cred­it: Alamy Stock Pho­to.


The hid­den ways that archi­tec­ture affects how you feel: An era of “neu­ro-archi­tec­ture” (BBC Future)

We shape our build­ings and after­wards our build­ings shape us,” mused Win­ston Churchill in 1943 while con­sid­er­ing the repair of the bomb-rav­aged House of Com­mons. More than 70 years on, he would doubt­less be pleased to learn that neu­ro­sci­en­tists and psy­chol­o­gists have found plen­ty of evi­dence to back him up…

Last month, the Con­scious Cities Con­fer­ence in Lon­don con­sid­ered how cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists might make their dis­cov­er­ies more acces­si­ble to archi­tects. The con­fer­ence brought togeth­er archi­tects, design­ers, engi­neers, neu­ro­sci­en­tists and psy­chol­o­gists, all of whom increas­ing­ly cross paths at an aca­d­e­m­ic lev­el, but still rarely in prac­tice…

Today, thanks to psy­cho­log­i­cal stud­ies, we have a much bet­ter idea of the kind of urban envi­ron­ments that peo­ple like or find stim­u­lat­ing. Some of these stud­ies have attempt­ed to mea­sure sub­jects’ phys­i­o­log­i­cal respons­es in situ, using wear­able devices such as bracelets that mon­i­tor skin con­duc­tance (a mark­er of phys­i­o­log­i­cal arousal), smart­phone apps that ask sub­jects about their emo­tion­al state, and elec­troen­cephalo­gram (EEG) head­sets that mea­sure brain activ­i­ty relat­ing to men­tal states and mood.

One of Ellard’s most con­sis­tent find­ings is that peo­ple are strong­ly affect­ed by build­ing façades. If the façade is com­plex and inter­est­ing, it affects peo­ple in a pos­i­tive way; neg­a­tive­ly if it is sim­ple and monotonous…Another oft-repli­cat­ed find­ing is that hav­ing access to green space such as wood­land or a park can off­set some of the stress of city liv­ing.”

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