The physical spaces we inhabit have a direct influence on how we feel, think and behave. Understanding this implicit dialogue between built environments and our minds continues to open new ways for architects to design physical spaces that better meet people’s needs. Neuro-architecture, interactive architecture, intelligent environments and virtual reality technology are among those exciting and partially overlapping disciplines that are currently on the frontline of the ongoing architectural revolution.
Where previously architects had to count on purely anecdotal and intuitive principles, neuro-architecture is now promising to provide a truly evidence-based neurobiological rationale for designing architectural spaces, be it your office, school or hospital. This is achieved thanks to a variety of techniques that allow researchers to quantify and measure human responses to different components that constitute a particular architectural environment, including by measuring the relevant regions of the brain.
Understanding the precise effects of each component on our mental and physical health is difficult to overestimate. Imagine being able to design classrooms whose very architectural configuration aids students’ concentration and improves learning or hospitals that accelerate patients’ recovery. The research can be carried out on existing buildings, models or in virtual reality simulations, before the actual structures are even built.
Virtual reality, in fact, can be extremely helpful when it comes to neuro-architecture research for several reasons. It allows to set up virtual environments where participants can navigate in life-like conditions, while at the same time researchers can have a systematic control of the introduced stimuli. Importantly, the response can be measured on different scales starting from an entire building to the scale of a room to a single architectural feature such as the height of the ceiling or the amount and quality of light allowed into the space. Some interesting research in this direction was conducted by the professor Eve Edelstein with the use of the virtual reality platform CAVE.
Those who think that the CAVE and other virtual reality rooms are not immersive enough, think, for instance, of the possibilities opened up by the much-talked-about Oculus headset. Contrary to virtual reality rooms, which are not easily accessible to everyone, virtual reality headsets are potentially available to every designer. Instead of fiddling around with physical prototypes, designers could now walk through their own creations and actually experience them. Spacemaker VR from Digital Physical is one example of how this technology can be used for the benefit of architects.
Read our previous post to learn about the eXperience Induction Machine, another exciting application of virtual reality.
Interactive architecture and intelligent environments:
The two terms are often interchangeable in many contexts, perhaps with a slightly more artistic connotation for the former and a more functional one for the latter. Whatever the difference between them, both are guided by the increasing penetration of computing into our daily lives to develop dynamic environments that can adapt their physical properties to the behaviour of the inhabitants. The ultimate goal, of course, is make people feel more at home and in harmony with their physical surroundings.
Many of the examples of interactive architecture are born from a mixture of artistic thinking and computational engineering. So far the researchers have been toying with some of the most fundamental parameters that are known to alter our state of mind. Unsurprisingly, light is one of the favorites when it comes to interactive architecture. Check out the two examples below, which include the Synthetic Oracle (former Hello Stranger) from the SPECS group at Pompeu Fabra University and BIOSTAGOG developed jointly by Platige Image and Bridge.