THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
2017 Built Environment Symposium
University Club of Chicago
September 30, 2017
Science is now informing us that our perceptual engagement with the environment, including the built environment, is enacted at the most basic level as a multisensory “whole-organism experience.” Implicit in this view is the idea that architectural design is more than a symbolic or conceptual language—it is a process by which minds, bodies, built environments, and cultures interact with each other in a developmental process on multiple levels over the course of generations. This symposium will explore the inevitable shift of perspective from the “object” of design to the “experience” of those inhabiting the built forms, and consider the implications for the practice of architecture.
In 1954 architect Richard Neutra published his book Survival through Design. The momentous gains in our knowledge of ourselves today bring urgency to the perspective that he summoned.
Harry Francis Mallgrave is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Illinois Institute of Technology. He is an architect and award-winning scholar, translator, and editor. He has published more than a dozen books on architectural history and theory. His latest book, The New Culture of Architectural Design (in press), considers the biological and cultural relationships of the human organism to the built environment.
Whereas Richard Neutra’s work is renowned for its sleek expressions of canonical Modernism, a closer read reveals an extraordinary repertoire of sources that sets him apart from his iconic twentieth-century peers. These sources inspired work and writings that defined good architecture as the balance of sensory forces between human and habitat. Even as an acknowledged artist of proportion, Neutra rejected solely subjectively-contrived form in favor of “diligent investigation” that supported a “planned environment that must never militate against our own biological necessities” as he wrote in Building and the World of the Senses.
In her dissertation (University of Liverpool), Barbara Lamprecht, explored the roots of Neutra’s ideas in the scientific and landscape theories of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. She has since written three books on the architect. Her professional work focuses on the restoration and rehabilitation of 20th century historic buildings and landscapes, including Neutra’s former Garden Grove Community Church and Tower of Hope (1962-68), and Neutra and R. M. Schindler’s Jardinette Apartments (1928).
The insights emerging from the human sciences about how we respond to built environments have created an exceptional opportunity to enlarge ways designers think about design more reliably. The abundance of material available today is enabling architects to design the kinds of places to which they and their clients aspire. It remains for schools and the profession to translate this knowledge into the day-to-day teamwork where actual design decisions are made
Robert Lamb Hart is Chairman Emeritus of Hart Howerton, a global firm practicing architecture, planning, landscape, and interior design. He earned a Masters of Architecture under Walter Gropius at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a Masters of City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania during the Louis Kahn and Ian McHarg years. He is the author of A New Look at Humanism in Architecture, Landscapes, and Urban Design (Meadowlark Publishing, 2016).
The architecture and urban environments of the last half century have been amply criticized for their ocularcentric/rational bias which fails to engage our emotions, elicit our empathy, or captivate our imagination. Meanwhile, research in neuroscience has been eroding long-cherished divisions between subject and object, mind and body, and emotion versus reason. This talk explores how the implications of these findings present architects with renewed possibilities to engage and reinforce the full range of human consciousness in our designs
Sarah Robinson is a practicing architect who studied philosophy at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. She did her graduate studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin West, where she later became the founding chair of the Board of Governors. She has written Nesting: Body, Dwelling, Mind (William Stout, 2011) and co-edited, with Juhani Pallasmaa, Mind in Architecture: Neuroscience, Embodiment and the Future of Design (MIT Press, 2015).
Vittorio Gallese is a Professor of Physiology at the Department of Medicine and Surgery’s Unit of Neuroscience, University of Parma; Professor of Experimental Aesthetics at the Institute of Philosophy’s School of Advanced Study, University of London; and Adjunct Senior Research Scholar at the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University. In the early 1990s he was a member of a four-person team of scientists who discovered “mirror neurons” in macaques. His list of scientific and philosophical publications is extensive, through which he has drawn upon our growing knowledge of mirror mechanisms in humans to propose a theoretical model of social cognition known as embodied simulation theory.
What goes on in the brain of architects designing a building or in the brains of people exploring the building? Even more challenging, what goes on in the brain of the architect in imagining the impact of a possible future building on both the aesthetic appreciation of the building and on satisfaction in the use of the building? And how do these relate to the placement of the building in its environment? This talk will present first steps towards a neurocognitive theory of architectural design, calibrating the attempt against the history of Jørn Utzon's design of the Sydney Opera House
Michael Arbib is a pioneer in the interdisciplinary study of artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and computation. A major effort has involved studying the evolution of the language-ready brain, while a more recent study explores linkages between neuroscience and architecture. After 30 years at the University of Southern California, he now pursues these interests at the University of California at San Diego and The New School of Architecture and Design. He currently serves as Director of the Advisory Council of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.
Five percent of our cone of vision is central or focused vision. The remainder of the visual cone is peripheral vision, which is less focused yet equally essential to maintain a stable frame of reference. To date there has been little research seeking to define the interchange between central and peripheral vision within urban settings. This pilot study (funded by the Driehaus Foundation) in virtual reality (VR) - proposed by a scientist absorbed in how we are in space and an architect attentive to how the biology of the eye informs the perception of buildings - endeavors to define some parameters between central and peripheral vision, in anticipation of taking this science outdoors for the study of people in real places.
Colin Ellard is a psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, Canada, where he also has his own research laboratory. He has engaged in several research projects related to the built environment, a few of which are discussed in his book Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life.
Bob Condia is an architect and professor at Kansas State University, where, over the last few years, he has taught seminars and studios on the importance of the new biological and humanistic models for design.
Architectural theory, education, and practice have traditionally viewed architecture as the composition of visually aestheticized, material forms and spaces, yet John Dewey, already in 1934, argued that art and architecture are constituted in human experience and not in the physical object. Phenomenology is today emphasizing the experience—that is, the complex interactions of perception, memory, imagination, emotion, and identification. At the same time, interest is turning from form and geometry to formless and immaterial “quasi-things,” such as atmosphere, feeling, resonance, and attunement. This emphasis on experience also questions the hegemony of focused vision and underscores the role of the embracing and omni-directional senses. Our experiences with the world and architecture are fundamentally tactile, embodied, and existential. Our most important architectural sense may well prove to be the existential sense of being and self.
The internationally acclaimed architect, educator, and writer Juhani Pallasmaa has authored more than forty books relating to the multisensory and existential dimensions of experiencing art and architecture. He is the former Rector of the Institute of Design, Helsinki; Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology; and Director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture. He has had visiting professorships at a number of North American universities, and lectured and conducted workshops at numerous universities across the globe.
Cover image: Carlo Urbino, Codex Huygens, fol. 54 (latter half of the 16th century). The unfinished treatise, inspired by the work of Leonadro da Vinci, is an examination of movement, proportional theory, and the design of perspective. The Morgan Library & Museum. 2006.14:53. Purchased in 1938.