October 31, 2014
Carina Clark

Information moves at the speed of light with today's technology and means of communication. However, there seems to be a disconnect between architecture and how we are designing spaces that have an effect on the human brain. How can architects narrow the gap and design spaces that enhance the human experience?

The Academy for Neuroscience and Architecture Conference (ANFA) held at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California on September 18-20 was a connection point for neuroscientists and architects to present new technologies, radical advances in discovering how our brain works, and innovative ideas to how we can design for our brain.

The conference provided an opportunity for attendees to view the numerous virtual reality technologies at the Atkins Center, including the StarCAVE, a fully immersive chamber with 15-foot walls that allowed the user to experience interior and exterior environments through 3D glasses. Another immersive environment, NexCAVE, was displayed using 15 LED screens, a joystick for movement, and a location cap for optimum participant immersion. NexCAVE is currently being used for Alzheimer's research.

Presentations continued with more portable solutions to tracking human data, such as EKG helmets and temporary tattoo computer chips. These devices could provide researchers, neuroscientists, and the architecture industry with an in-the-moment collection of tools for workspace evaluations. The opportunity for architects to learn about how wayfinding affects the typical patient or how the amount of physical stress a worker has at the office can play a huge role in how we design in the future. What was the best part? Knowing that technology is only going to get better and that we need to take advantage of it.

2014-ANFA-Recap-02StarCAVE

2014-ANFA-Recap-03Epidermal, temporary tattoos

Friday's sessions started off with the age-old question of "wayfinding," but this was not your college studio class. These sessions looked at wayfinding and how we perceive finding solutions to our own maze from a neurological side. In one of the studies presented, rats were analyzed by tracking a single nerve fire in the brain while they explored a box or a maze. As the rats moved about the empty box, researchers found that connections fire and continue to fire in nearly the same location of the box. In fact, the larger the box becomes and the older the rat gets, the more the single nerve triggers there were throughout the box and, suddenly, a grid forms. See this article for more information on research that was recently awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

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In another study looking at the progression of AD and DLB, special errors were looked at during the progression and severity of the diseases. In the example shown, participants were asked to copy a drawing of a clock, then, from memory, draw a clock showing ten of eleven. Results showed differentials in spatial and conceptual errors among other issues. Watch the video recording here.

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In Friday's afternoon session, research on the senses was introduced starting from the light comparison between two iconic homes: the Gamble House and the Bailey House. See this recap by Architect Magazine or this video recording. HKS' Upali Nanda and Carina Clark then presented, "Blue Sounds, Black Smells." Their presentation was an overview and awareness about how we, as designers, sometimes forget about the senses other than sight. Contact either Upali or Carina for more information.

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Overall, this conference is a sure repeat if HKS wishes to be not only on the forefront of research, but leaders in designing for the user and user experience. Although it may take time to truly connect the knowledge between architecture and neuroscience, conferences like ANFA are creating the opportunity to help move things in the right direction.

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As a final note, a huge thank you for HKS for supporting the "Blue Sounds, Black Smells" presentation, especially Ana Pinto-Alexander. I also thank Upali Nanda for her support of this budding research-influenced designer.

2014-ANFA-Recap-09The Salk Institute

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