An arrow into the quiver of an Architect

26 August, 2017

"The human brain is, in fact, a rich soup of chemicals controlling or modulating neural activity, and, with the scrutiny these chemicals are now receiving, it is likely that researchers will soon have something to say about their interaction with the built environment."

H. F. Mallgrave , Neurologist

The human brain is made up of 100 billion little batteries that charge electricity through themselves that then send signals to control our body.  These batteries are called neurons, they are made up of a middle nucleus, a stem called an axon and at the end of the axon are synapses, which actually send the electrical signals through to other neurons. The neurons at their opposite end of the nucleus have receivers called dentrites.  So the brain is made up of 100 billion little batteries that send information to one another – just like a positive and negatively charged battery.

50% of this 100 billion batteries in your brain you are born with and the other 50% are forged and created through your life experiences.  There are roughly 50 different types of battery ends (synapses) and around 200 trillion of them overall.  Each battery (neuron) therefore, has the capacity to send specific information all over the brain in an infinite manner.  As Hebb reminds us, neurons that fire together, wire together. When one of these batteries fires and wires, they literally grow in size and make a memory and store information and this changes the way they fire and wire in the future when they’re next activated.  For instance, I will view 25 Baroque churches in my lifetime, many of which have a synaptic affect upon me and store information.  When I view my 26th Baroque church, the previous 25 are recalled by batteries through an electrical memory charge which enhances my opinion of the 26th Baroque church and my perception is awakened.

These neural circuits and electrical connections are continually processing the world around us.  Touch, colour, smell, form, height, horizon, motion , sound, light and shadow all make architecture, and these disparate elements are processed and perceived by different parts of the brain.  Architecture has the power to make peoples brains fire and wire in different ways.

When a piece of architecture is processed by the brain and the body of the person leaves the space, the pulsating neurons and synaptic networks do not stop firing and wiring – the architecture has had a physical effect on that persons brain and it literally resonates within their minds - as long a) as the original architecture inspired them and b) the current architecture inspires them and is reigniting these electrical networks. The brain's plasticity and ability to grow and store information for future firing and wiring should be an important lesson for architects. If you stay the night in a medieval castle overlooking a lake and a forest in the UK for one night, your brain will collect electrical memories of the whole perceived scene and store it for future use. If you also stayed one night in a skyscraper overlooking a Dubai harbour in the Gulf, the brain will collect electrical memories of the whole perceived scene in a very different way. These two different experiences will then change your brain, and how you observe architecture - and change the way you perceive future architecture depending upon the experience.  Architects should view this scientific information like a quiver into the arrow of their existential being.