Arbib Neuroscience & Architecture Course at the UC San Diego, Winter 2018

Arbib 1. Overview + An Action Oriented Perspective on Space

This is the first (and longest) lecture of the course. It provides an overview of the course followed by a presentation on ” An Action Oriented Perspective on Space.” Key concepts include the action-perception cycle and Gibson’s notion of affordances. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, it is approximately one hour longer than most of the remaining lectures.

Arbib 2. Towards a Cognitive Neuroscience of Architectural Design

Architectural design from a cognitive perspective: What goes on in the brain of an architect during design? We look at Peter Zumthor’s perspective on “Thinking Architecture” to extract challenges that architectural design offers to cognitive science/neuroscience; and explore Jørn Utzon’s design of the Sydney Opera House. We contrast this with an attempt at a neurocognitive architecture of design that challenges us to do better.

Arbib 3. Atmosphere as a Kind of Affordance

The third in the UCSD series. It introduces the notion of atmosphere in architecture as a form of affordance for emotion complementing Gibsonian affordances for motion/action. We discuss the debate over what neuroscience adds to phenomenology, and review challenges of bridging from brain imaging to neural networks, and. The last part of the talk assesses “Externally-induced meditative states: an exploratory fMRI study of architects’ responses to contemplative architecture” by Julio Bermudez et al. Alas, the last segment is audio only since Microsoft Windows initiated a system update that I was unable to stop — preventing video access to slides for this part of the lecture.

Arbib 4. Mirror Neurons, Empathy, Emotions & Architecture

The fourth in the series of lectures linking neuroscience and architecture presented at UCSD in January to March of 2018. We start with an exposition of the views offered by Mallgrave and by Gallese & Gattara of empathy as the way we approach the experience of a building, and of mirror neurons as the brain’s realization of empathy. We then take a deeper look into the neuroscience of mirror neurons and of the systems “beyond the mirror” in which they are embedded. On this basis, we offer an appreciation and a critique of Mallgrave and Gallese & Gattara which opens up a conversation about future pathways in the study of aesthetic judgement in both neuroscience and architecture.

Arbib 5. Neuromorphic Architecture

“Neuromorphic Architecture” seeks to transfer lessons from neuroethology — the study of how the brains of animals guide their behavior in the environment — to develop the “information infrastructure” (“brains”) for buildings interacting with their inhabitants within the environment that the building providers. The talk proceeds from a classic example — ADA, the interactive space, from 2002 — to a number of prototypes including a preliminary design of an apartment for a blind resident.

Arbib 6. From Hand to Symbol and Back Again

This talk sets up a “debate” between Juhani Pallasmaa’s “The Thinking Hand” and Arbib’s “How the Brain Got Language” to assess how the brain “augments” the hand not only in its role in embodied experience but also in mediating the evolution and expression of language. We further explore the way in which neuroscience can dissect phenomenology by revealing the subconscious interactions of diverse systems that underlie the apparent unity of consciousness. We discuss whether the language-ready brain is also architecture-ready, and close by examining a variety of architectural drawings in preparation for the next and final talk of the series.

Arbib 7. Drawing, Language, and the Representation of Architectural Space

The final talk of Arbib’s UCSD series turns to the role of the hand in sketching, seeking in the process to offer a fresh perspective on topics from earlier lectures. We examine drawing from life and from imagination and look at paintings by Turner and Constable to show how line is complemented by texture and color in creating atmosphere as well as delineating or hinting at objects. We argue that the way the human brain evolved to become language-ready also made it drawing-ready. After a brief discussion of ways in which architecture is and is not like a “language,” we use a discussion of Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to focus a discussion of the interplay between sketching and model-making in the development of the design for a building. The talk closes with the debate over whether sketching on the computer can be as successful as sketching with pencil in hand. The course finishes with a call not only for neuroscience to yield insights of use to architects but also for architecture to offer new challenges “beyond the lab” for research on the brain.