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What can architects learn from neuroscientists?

Neuroscience tells us how the human response to the environment is derived. Understanding the environments that architecture creates helps us to understand the result and responses. This fascination in the power of architectureover human behavior and human function goes back a long way. Leonardo da Vinci studied both the human body and architecture. Our first architect, Imhotep, was both an architect and a physician. We believe that the earliestwritten document that shows the word for "brain" and some of the structures within the brain dates back to his time.

What do you cover in your "Neuroscience for Architecture" course at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego?

Our course begins with an introduction to gross anatomy and the large structures of the brain. It's important that students represent what the brain is doing in accurate terms. And I want to dispel the myths that we have about the brain. One is that you're born with a certain number of brain cells andyou lose them as you age or go to too many college parties. An experiment at the Salk Institute has shown that enriched environments are associated with parts of the brain where memories are formed, and those parts of the braincontinue to grow in adults. And architects create enriched environments.

Much of your research has been for healthcare environments, but is it applicable across the disciplines and in different environments?

Neuroscience is looking at the biological bases for responses. We're looking at what unifies people's responses across cultures. If I observe in almost all animal species that light is the primary driving force for a circadian rhythm and humans also have multiple circadian responses, then I can be quite sure that what we discover in science will be applicable to the CEO working all night in his office, the doctor and the patient in a healthcare environment, the architecture student up all night in the studio, or people in their own homes where perhaps the lighting from the exterior or the interior is not giving them the type of lighting that we need.

Do you expect to practice as an architect?

I hope to get licensure. I am working as a consultant to several firms. We know a great deal of data, and it's our job to translate it into something that can be applied.