• I really love crossing disciplines—neuroscience, nanotechnology, says Maria Lorena Lehman. I love going outside architecture and finding things to bring back to architecture.

    Credit: Tracy Powell

    "I really love crossing disciplines—neuroscience, nanotechnology," says Maria Lorena Lehman. "I love going outside architecture and finding things to bring back to architecture."

How does memory play a role in the way we experience buildings? Or sound? Or optical illusions? What do advances in computing, power generation, lighting, materials, etc., mean for building design? How can "smart" environments affect our behavior or our mood for the better? And what about biomimicry? These are the kinds of issues Maria Lorena Lehman blogs about at Sensing Architecture.

The name, she points out, has a double meaning. "On the one hand, it’s about how we perceive architecture," she says. "On the other hand, technology is becoming embedded in architecture," and thus—slowly but surely—giving buildings the ability to respond to the people who occupy them.

Just a year old, Lehman’s website is the latest expression of a passion she has followed since her undergraduate days at Virginia Tech’s architecture school. "I was always interested in how architecture affects people," she says. She did spend six years as a junior partner at the Annapolis, Md., firm Boggs & Partners designing buildings, including the Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy, but the pull of academia proved stronger. Lehman moved on to study at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD)—where she focused on the intersection of digital media, building technology, and neuroscience—and received a Master of Design Studies with Distinction in 2004. Afterward, she spent time at the GSD as an instructor in digital media.

For now, Lehman is content to work on the informational side of architecture, advancing her knowledge and posting what she’s learned on Sensing Architecture. But she foresees a return to the tectonic world by way of consulting: offering tactics for firms’ projects, helping architects embrace what science can do for their buildings—and what it can tell them about those buildings’ occupants. The time is ripe for it. As she notes, "A lot of the research I did at Harvard is coming true."