Sarah Williams Goldhagen

Managing Director of Human Centered Design at Turf Advisory, New York


Prior to the publication of the widely-discussed recent book, Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, I worked primarily as an author and essayist, including for many years serving asThe New Republic’s architecture critic. I have taught and lectured at numerous universities, conferences, and cultural institutions nationally and internationally, and spent ten years teaching the History and Theory of Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. At Turf, I currently lead the development of Human Centered Design protocols and practices for the built environment, a consultancy for urban, infrastructural, technology and architectural projects.

ANFA Themes

I have been developing a way to analyze and articulate how people experience architecture and the built environment for nearly forty years. After collegiate navel-gazing (by which I mean reliance upon self-reflection), I began to analyze the built world through the lenses of architectural history (PhD Columbia, 1995) and architectural theory, with a special interest in the phenomenology work of Merleau-Ponty and William James. Sometime in the late nineties, I discovered embodied cognition through George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live Byand their subsequent Philosophy in the Flesh; I realized that one of the twentieth century’s greatest architects, Alvar Aalto, drew upon on the work of late 19th-century scientific psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt to develop his singular design philosophy. Later, as cognitive neuroscientists began to publish their findings on mirror and canonical neurons, neuroaesthetics, and spatial cognition, I realized the importance of this intellectual lineage– from Wundt and William James to Maurice Merleau-Ponty to environmental psychologists such as Roger Barker and J.J. Gibson, and finally to contemporary cognitive neuroscience. The resulting seven-year project of creating a new, scientifically-grounded intellectual framework for understanding built environmental experience became the book Welcome to Your World.

It was during the writing of WtYW that I happened upon ANFA — then little more than a dormant website plus a biennial conference. I am especially interested in how cognitive neuroscience and environmental psychology can further our understanding of aesthetic (and an-aesthetic) experience in the built environment and am especially driven by the broad social implications of these findings. I look forward to working on ANFA’s Advisory Council to help further this pathbreaking mission.

Selected Publications

Louis Kahn’s Situated Modernism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

“Alvar Aalto’s Embodied Rationalism”, Stanford Anderson, Gail Fenske, and David Fixler, eds,Alvar Aalto and America(Yale, 2012); earlier version published as “Alvar Aalto’s Astonishing Rationalism” in Barbara Maria Stafford, ed, A Field Guide to a New Metafield: Bridging the Humanities-Neurosciences Divide(Chicago, 2011).

Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives(HarperCollins, 2017).