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The 10 lessons of Neuroarchitecture

The 10 lessons of Neuroarchitecture

FEBRUARY 2024 | 6 minutes

Space generates emotions and influences people's moods and health. And it does so in a way that is evident, tangible and quantifiable by the scientific method. This is the object of study of neuroarchitecture, a scientific discipline that has recently held its first congress in Spain. At the headquarters of the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), national and international experts and academics shared their studies, projects and scientific discoveries thanks to the work of the UPV's Institute of Neuroarchitecture, an organisation that has been researching for more than ten years.

Here we summarise the ten most interesting lessons on Neuroarchitecture from the congress, in which Actiu was present as a driving force and with the installation of a QYOS acoustic booth that created an oasis of calm in the meeting.


Lesson 1: Spaces influence emotions and science corroborates this.

Neuroarchitecture analyses the effects that architectural spaces produce on people and their emotions. And, according to Íñigo Ortiz of Ortiz León Arquitectos, it validates the work that many architects have been doing for years based on common sense and their affinity with nature.

At the UPV's Neuroarchitecture Laboratory, they apply subjective technologies - questionnaires and surveys - as well as objective ones, which measure people's neurophysiological response. Their technologies measure everything from eye movements to facial expressions, brain activity and electrodermal activity (sweat), among other physical responses.

science of spaces neuroarchitecture

Lesson 2: One Health, Nature is Health

The environment, animals, plants and people share a single health: One Health. A philosophy that identifies the care of nature as a transversal vector of health at all levels, hence the need for architecture to be aware of and integrate naturally into its surroundings, according to Elisabet Silvestre, a biologist and a doctor in Biology.

neuroarchitecture designed offices

Lesson 3: The next wellbeing challenge - equity

WELL certification measures the well-being of building interiors. After standardising quantifiable parameters - lighting, temperature, water, acoustic and thermal comfort, mind, community, movement, food, materials - the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) has now put the focus on inclusion and equity with its Equity Rating.

The director of Global Market Development ESG, Giovanna Jogger, stressed that diversity, equity and inclusion are "strategic imperatives" and referred to studies showing that this commitment to diversity translates, for companies, into improvements in innovation revenue (Boston Consulting Group), productivity (Academy of Management Journal) and profitability (McKinsey). And it helps team members to feel "welcome, seen and heard".

office with natural light

Lesson 4: Spaces are experienced through the senses

Studies by the Neuroarchitecture Laboratory of the UPV study the beneficial effect of spaces on people's stress levels. And they have found that issues such as natural lighting, the vision of natural landscapes, music therapy, the elimination of noise and the aromas of lavender and rosemary favour concentration, memory and cognitive and affective functions.

Colours, textures and materials can also influence the mood and bring reminiscences of nature, wellbeing and creativity to spaces.

colours and textures

Lesson 5: Green and blue spaces improve mood and health

Health should be understood as complete physical, mental and social well-being, not just the absence of disease and affliction. In fact, 23% of deaths worldwide are related to the environment.

From a positive perspective, that means that 12.3 million a year are avoidable, according to Cristina Vert of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. Her previous studies at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) certified the benefits for people of regularly seeing, feeling and hearing so-called green (nature) and blue (water) spaces.

Thus, parks and forests translate into less stress, longer life expectancy, better physical and mental health, better cognitive development and better sleep quality. In blue spaces (rivers, seas, ponds), which have been less studied, greater physical activity, better mental health, less stress and better self-perceived well-being are found.

offices that care for employees

Lesson 6: Rehumanising buildings and cities

Almudena Bustos, project manager for Decarbonisation at Sanitas, focused on the need to renaturalise and rehumanise buildings and cities, especially all those environments linked to health and care for people, especially the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable. In the case of people with altered sensory perceptions, all spaces need to respond to a domestic scale with solutions that are based on nature, with its consequent improvement of emotional well-being.

Soledat Berbegal, Actiu's advisor and Brand Reputation Director, agreed that the humanisation of spaces, whether they are health, educational or corporate, must transmit closeness, through textures, materials, furniture and lighting, generating spaces that people want to inhabit and that benefit both their health and that of the planet. And for this it is essential to promote movement and a healthy lifestyle for people. This is achieved through the architecture and design of spaces and also with agile, flexible, ergonomic and configurable furniture.

hospital space design

Lesson 7: light takes care of caregivers and patients

In this sense, the University of Seville is studying the influence of lighting on the state of health of caregivers and their patients through successive studies. Ignacio Acosta and Samuel Domínguez from the Architecture, Heritage and Sustainability: Acoustics, Lighting, Optics and Energy group at the University of Seville reviewed some of their projects.

With Dynalight, they intervened in the lighting of the Paediatric ICU of the Virgen del Rocío Hospital in Seville to generate a biodynamic system in the image and likeness of natural light to favour the biological regulation of cortisol and melatonin in healthcare personnel and patients. Furthermore, Chronolight incorporates ultraviolet illumination for the elimination of pathogens. Applied in three paediatric areas of the same hospital, it eliminates nocosomal pathogens that sometimes prolong patients' hospital stays.

Classroom design

Lesson 8: Space affects learning (and grades)

Carmen Llinares, from the UPV's Neuroarchitecture Laboratory, explained that, thanks to their virtual reality technologies and real field studies, they have been able to measure the impact that the configuration of educational classrooms has on students' perception and learning.

Some of their conclusions are that small dimensions favour attention and memory, that cool tones achieve better performance and that, in the case of light, the more light, the more attention, and the less light, the more memory. In addition, the inclusion of plants in interior spaces - and the use of green shades - improves concentration, comprehension and school grades. It also improves students' appreciation of their teachers' work.

how colour influences the office

Lesson 9: Colours that awaken the mind

Moreover, contrary to what it may seem, cognitive functions develop less in white spaces than in spaces with colour, according to the results of the UPV's Neuroarchitecture Laboratory. Specifically, blue and red favour greater activation in people from a neurophysiological point of view. And memory and attention improve as colour temperature increases.

Lesson 10: The user changes and the space must change with them.

Ultimately, it is all about people. In neuroarchitectural studies, it is essential to take into account the characteristics of the user - gender, age, origin... - as well as the objectives and uses of the space. But, according to Juan Luis Higuera-Trujillo of the UPV, this user changes over time, so, from an academic point of view, it is necessary to constantly redefine it. Thus, design guidelines can never be universal, as they depend on the user, but common patterns can be found that favour interaction between the person and the space and result in better physical and emotional well-being. And architects and designers must be aware of this.

architecture and design

All these reflections, and many more, will soon be available in a series of podcasts promoted by Actiu, which were recorded, in interview format, during the course of the 1st Neuroarchitecture Congress in a Qyos acoustic booth, installed at the UPV headquarters. An acoustically isolated environment that favoured conversation and allowed us to delve, in detail, into essential issues related to architecture and its connection with health, wellbeing and the environment.

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