Architecture & Neuroscience at Taliesin West
The imagination of the mind of man is an awesome thing to contemplate. Sight comes and goes in it as from an original source, illuminating life with involuntary light as flashes of lightning light up the landscape. The Desert seems vast but the seeming is nothing compared to the reality. —Frank Lloyd Wright
Last November a symposium called Minding Design: Neuroscience, Design Education and the Imagination was held at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and architectural masterpiece rising out of the Sonoran Desert in Scottsdale, Arizona. This collaborative program of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/School of Architecture and the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture featured lectures from the eminent Finnish architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa, award-winning architect Jeanne Gang, and world-renowned neuroscientists Michael Arbib and Iain McGilchrist.
The symposium sought to explore the connection between architecture and neuroscience with the following premise: We are biological beings with senses and neural systems that have been developing for millions of years. We spend 90 percent of our time inside buildings but have little understanding of how these built environments “shape” (an architect’s term) our thoughts, emotions and well-being. Neuroscientific findings help us better understand how our buildings affect our interactions with the world around us and may perhaps help architects design in a way that sustains our minds, bodies and social/cultural evolution.
What is architecture, and what goes on in the mind of the architect? In his preface to Sarah Robinson’s engaging treasure of a book, Nesting: Body Dwelling Mind, Juhani Pallasmaa writes, “We inhabit our physical world through structuring it into mental space; by turning infinite and uniform natural space into distinct places and giving these places specific cultural and mental meanings.”