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New master’s course linking Neuroscience and Architecture launched at the University of Architecture of Venice (IUAV) in Venice. Ongreening meets with Giuseppina Ascione

Did you know that buildings and indoor environments can affect our state of mind and well-being? A new master’s programme has been launched in Venice to learn how in planning the environments, in which we live, work and play, architectural design changes our brain and behaviour.

Neuroscientists and psychologists have found a large amount of evidence demonstrating that the hippocampal region of our brains is attuned to the geometry and arrangement of the spaces we inhabit. Yet architects and interior designers have paid scarce attention to the potential cognitive effect of their creation on people’s behaviour and feeling.
In this context, the University of Architecture of Venice (IUAV) have recently launched a unique 9-month master’s programme offering architects and designers the opportunity to explore the link between neuroscience and architectural design.
While the Neuroscience Applied to Architecture Design programme (NAAD) is about to start in October 2017, it looks like that the interesting initiative has attracted huge interest from industry professionals.
To better understand about the neuroscience and the value of the course, I met with Giuseppina Ascione, an architect specializing in crossing relations between human behaviours, who is a faculty member at NAAD.

Interview with Giuseppina Ascione

OG: Alfonso Senatore | Ongreening; GA: Giuseppina Ascione

OG. What does ‘neuroscience applied to architectural design’ mean?

GA. Neuroarchitecture is an interdisciplinary field that encourage an integrated design approach with potential regenerative properties and promote wellbeing by considering perception as a multisensorial process affecting mind and body. Neuroscience is everywhere lately. While it is still considered a recent discipline, Neuroscience is rapidly taking ground within the industry, as it helps us understand human’s biological responses to all sort of stimuli that come from the built environment.

OG. This reminds me about Vitruvius, a well-known Roman author and architect of the 1st century BC, who dedicated part of his life investigating the essential components of architectural values such as the ‘Venustas’.

GA. Yes, Vitruvius considered ‘Venustas’ not only in its solely aesthetic meaning. He had a great intuition on perceiving the ephemeral but strong effects of architectural features on our mood and spirit. Unfortunately, he could not rely on scientific data to demonstrate it. So ‘Utilitas’ and ‘Firmitas’ were prioritized with shameful results especially in the last centuries. But before neuroscience was born there have been many attempts aimed to identify design guidelines and principles based on scientific rules and discoveries.

Human’s right hippocampus works with other brain regions in processing spatial layouts

OG. Do you refer, in particular, to the Gestalt movement?

GA. Gestalt was one of the first structured movements trying to establish a new design protocol, which was mainly focused on the impact of the visual perception on people’s state of mind. But there have been many other research mainstreams since last century, such as the Environmental Psychology, the Experiential Architecture. The latter started upon individual intuitions, before relying, today, upon research fields such as biology, neurophysiology and cognitive science. Juhani Pallasmaa and Harry Mallgrave, two of the industry-recognised experts who will teach at NAAD programme, embody these smart figures.
Human’s right hippocampus works with other brain regions in processing spatial layouts

OG. Tell us a little bit more about the NAAD master’s programme and its structure. Is a theoretical programme or a hand-on course?

GA. The NAAD is a year-long programme, structured in three theoretical modules delivered through class-based teaching activities grouped in one weekend each month. The reason is that this master is conceived for employers and industry professionals who are busy during the week and may need to travel long distances to get to Venice. Each module will deal with a specific theme but it is strictly connected with the others, with cross references being outlined. Attendees will also undertake practical assignments and hands-on activities with a final thesis applied to design projects and buildings. Works will be displayed at Biennale Architettura Venezia 2018, in connection to the exhibition ‘4architecture4people’, among the Collateral Events.

Daylight has a great influence on how mood and well-being. Peter Zumthor's Caplutta Sogn Benedetg in Sumvitg. Photos by Trevor Patt | Flickr

OG. What is the subject you will teach about?

GA. My contribution will be on lighting, considering light as an instrument to improve wellness not only through its architectonic and semantic aspects, but through its visual and biological effects on the people’s neurophysiological system. We will consider new parameters and values for light design, in addition to energy saving aspects.
Daylight has a great influence on how mood and well-being. Peter Zumthor’s Caplutta Sogn Benedetg in Sumvitg. Photos by Trevor Patt | Flickr

OG. Why should a designer attend the NAAD programme?

GA. The NAAD master’s course offers a multidisciplinary content and represents an extraordinary opportunity for architects and indoor designers to widen their professional skills and expertise while taking part in a state-of-art research which is to be continued. This master will not dictate new rules for design. Instead the acknowledged designer will continue to use a customary open-ended design process.

OG. Can we say that NAAD is leading the way to a new architectural design paradigm?

GA Yes, we can. According to some critics, architecture is dying as young professionals and students are disoriented (cit. Gregotti), but I would say that we are just living a metamorphosis. This master, and few similar initiatives around the world, will let architects acquire new expertise based on scientific (and not only technical) knowledge. Eventually this interdisciplinary, integrated approach will also provide evidence to quiet the debate over the arbitrariness and eccentricity of some signatures and promote healthy, pleasant, regenerative built environments for everyone.

OG. How can I apply to attend the NAAD?

GA. Applications are currently opened, even though there are very few weeks left before the closing date. So far, we have received a great response from design professionals, nationally and internationally. And this is absolutely exciting.   

For further info on Master’s Programme visit NAAD website
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