John Paul Eberhard
A tribute by Eve Edelstein
In 2003, a few good men and one woman changed architecture by leaping across disciplinary boundaries. They also encouraged and raised a new generation of research-based design professionals – the first of whom were all women. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we are fighting to change the world of architecture and working to save lives by design.
Now is also the time to celebrate the contributions of John Eberhard, FAIA. Almost a decade ago, Norman Koonce, FAIA, the CEO of the AIA at that time, Gil Cooke, FAIA and Alison Whitelaw, FAIA worked with John to lead a legacy project following the AIA National Convention in 2003 at San Diego. John’s work shifted architecture and evidence-based design from its axis.
The quest began when Koonce recruited Eberhard to be the director of discovery in an effort to understand how the disparate disciplines of neuroscience and architecture could combine. Admittedly, they were not sure how to cross the chasm between disciplinary thought, or how to leap from knowledge of the molecular and cellular biology of the brain to rigorous research-based design principles. However, Norman had spent hours listening in meetings with Dr. Jonas Salk talk about how his thinking changed as he worked from his lab perched atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Norman told me that when he heard that Dr. Gage’s research at the Salk showed that the brain changes in enriched environments, he declared, “That’s what architects do!”
John shared the history of architectural career, inspiring students. John created places for the mind. He built more than one hundred chapels, and masterfully crossed disciplines as a Sloan Fellow in the Management School of MIT, managing research programs for the Sheraton Hotel Corporation and later at the American Institute of Architects. Combined with his work as Dean of Architecture at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and at Carnegie Mellon University, John had the vision to build the theoretical.
In 2003, I walked into John’s office with a presentation slide deck that every scientist has in their back pocket at the ready. As the daughter of an accomplished architect Hal Edelstein, I had been schooled in the principles of design as a child while visiting his architectural sites. However, it was my studies and research in neurophysiology and anthropology that made it clear how the built world influences the brain, body, and behavior. My work at the lab bench conducting sensory studies, and clinical brainwave research demonstrated the means to measure the interactions between brains, bodies and the sensory environment. At the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery in London, UK, I was able to observe how patients with sensory, perceptual or cognitive disorders were impeded or supported by design.
It was the generous sponsorship by Norman, Gil and John, that I was able to complete a professional Master of Architecture, and contribute by teaching classes, engaging in workshops and mentoring independent studies at the Salk, and the University of California San Diego, among other activities. With the encouragement of Dean Cooke and the Graduate Chair, Kurt Hunker FAIA, we launched the first curriculum in Neuroscience for Architecture in 2004, and many courses, certificate and degree programs have followed.
Currently, as co-founder of Clinicians for Design and in leading the AIA COVID-19 Front Line Task Force, it is an honor to develop guidance for the design of healthcare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to collaborate with Dr. Desmond O’Neill at Trinity College Dublin, to publish perspectives about the value of research-based design in The Lancet and with the American College of Physicians journal. In addition, as part of the faculty of the Building Blocks for Clinicians, affiliated with University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, UK, we have taught over 250 doctors from around the world who are committed to improving healthcare by design.
Today, the field that John created by merging neuroscience and architecture influences all practice areas and typologies. I am only one of the first group of research-based designers that John Eberhard mentored, and who now have global impact. I have been grateful to participate in many opportunities that translate John’s vision into built projects, including leading the HxLab and working with the award-winning University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute design team at Perkins&Will. Collaboration includes doctors and faculty at Stanford University, the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children UK, Jacobs Medical Center at the University of California, San Diego, HMC Architects, Architecture+ and Zeidler Partnership Architects, among others.
The other pioneers leapt across disciplinary divides, crossing from architecture or evidence-based studies. First, Dr. Margaret Tarampi, completed her M.Arch. and went on to earn a PhD and is a professor in spatial cognition and physical environments. Melissa Farling, was honored as FAIA, using research-based design to bring form, function and delight to her award-winning projects. Dr. Upali Nanda, leads research projects in design practice that impact human health and perception. Meredith Banasiak integrates neuro and cognitive science concepts in her studio and lecture-based courses to facilitate designing for human diversity, and Kate Meairs, AIA specializes in experimental and prototype housing.
We are honored to have our efforts help to write the narrative of how John’s vision has inspired the many women who followed, the many men who have joined in, and the many firms and clients who now call for rigorous research-based design. Now and together, our influence can be strongly felt as we seek to save lives by design by helping front-line clinicians and staff, the vulnerable, either medically or socio-economically, and all of us who seek the respite of spiritual spaces as we suffer the plight of the COVID-19 pandemic.
John epitomized, ‘a scholar and a gentleman’. Just a few years after he launched the first Neuroscience for Architecture Workshops, a number of our original group of pioneers felt we should be assigned the more traditional titles of ‘research assistants’ or ‘research associates’. Now, in retrospect, and with greater appreciation of the insight and efforts led by John P. Eberhard, F-AIA, I for one, am very honored to be called one of John P. Eberhard’s pioneers.