The Neuroscience Certificate Program at NewSchool San Diego

The Neuroscience Certificate Program at NewSchool San Diego


The Neuroscience Certificate Program at NewSchool San Diego

Kurt C. Hunker, FAIA


Given the NewSchool of Architecture and Design’s long relationship with ANFA, it seems natural for the school to offer a Certificate in Neuroscience for Architecture. The certificate is one of two new offerings developed by the graduate program and launched in the fall of 2015 (the other being a Certificate in Healthy Urbanism). While developed by the Graduate Program in Architecture, the certificate is open to undergraduates as well as graduate students and is also available to non-degree-seeking students. Some of the courses are “stand-alone” and therefore open to any qualified applicant seeking some exposure to the topic and not the certificate.


NewSchool was the first “home” of ANFA. John Paul Eberhard, FAIA, founding president of ANFA offered the first courses in neuroscience in 2004. The certificate builds upon the existing curriculum to create a sequence of four courses designed to give students a comprehensive background in aspects of neuroscience as they relate to architecture and the built environment: Environmental Psychology, Neuroscience for Architecture, Seminars in Neuroscience and a concluding neuroscience-based Design Studio. Together they total 15 quarter credits. Currently, the first three occur fall/winter/spring quarters with the studio scheduled for the following fall quarter (the school is studying the possibility of also offering a summer studio option).


Environmental Psychology introduces neuroscience-based topics and the relationship between environment, people and behavior. Research methods are taught through a search-and-analysis process utilizing a review of the literature. Students study neuroanatomy and neurophysiology for a basic understanding of the brain and its functions. Other selected subjects are covered including architectural design for the senses and universal design. Eve Edelstein, M. Arch., Ph.D., a long-time NewSchool instructor, teaches the class with an emphasis on the role of evidence in the creative process.


Next in the sequence is Neuroscience for Architecture, taught for many years by NewSchool Dean Emeritus (and current ANFA President) Gilbert Cooke and Visiting Scholar Eduardo Macagno, Ph.D., Founding Dean of the Division of Biological Studies at UCSD and a former president of ANFA. In this second course students apply neuroscience to design problems concerning such topics as wayfinding, “lifespan” architecture and place-making. It builds upon concepts learned in Environmental Psychology with advanced discussions of an evidence-based design process, the expression of emotions and higher brain functions.


The third lecture course, Seminars in Neuroscience, has been expanded for the certificate program to permit further study of applications in architecture. It is taught by a new collaboration for the school, that of computational neuroscientist Michael Arbib, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science and Professor of Neuroscience at USC and NewSchool Associate Professor Tatiana Berger. In this course students study how evidence-based design can enhance the programming and design of buildings through investigations into building types such as libraries, schools and facilities for the aging. Aspects of neuromorphic and “smart” architecture are covered as well.


Finally, the Design Studio is a hands-on neuroscience and architecture-focused workshop that challenges students to apply concepts learned in the preceding course work to a design problem such as the creation of a building or a set of spaces. Here, creativity and neuroscience research merge within an evidence-based design process in the pursuit of architectural solutions that address how we experience the built environment. This concluding course is taught by NewSchool design faculty with contributions from the neuroscience community.


The Certificate in Neuroscience for Architecture is an exciting new development for NewSchool and for its Center for Healthy Environments, the school’s first such research enterprise operated through the non-profit NewSchool Foundation. Questions about the certificate may be directed to Professor Kurt Hunker, FAIA, Chair of the Graduate Program in Architecture, at