Neuroarchitecture: Architecture and Effects on the Brain

Have you ever been asked if you remember a person or an event and it takes you time to remember? Curiously, that thought and bringing it to mind happens faster if you remember in particular the space, room or building where it happened.

This is because the space where we live an experience, such as meeting a person, is often recorded in memory much more frequently and with emphasis than even the situation or the person himself. But why does this happen? Why do we usually remember people and events in relation to spaces? Is there a direct relationship between space and memory?

When we talk about spatial recognition, our brain is in charge of detecting the sensory stimuli we receive from the environment. Similar to a scanner, our eyes run through each of the spatial elements, such as walls, windows and doors, the source of light, and perhaps secondarily ventilation or even the way out of a place. In this sense, space is usually recorded in memory as an abstract map to learn intuitive navigation and in response to any threat that could happen to us in that place.

The perception of space and navigation are two relevant concepts in the conceptualization of architecture, and go hand in hand with the design elements used in a project. Neuroarchitecture unites two disciplines as the name implies, architecture and neuroscience, and its study is based on the analysis of the brain and sensory stimuli in relation to the perception of space.

Christoph Metzger, defines neuroarchitecture as “the science that combines aspects of neuroscientific research with architectural elements designed to generate sensory stimulation in people. A good architecture addresses a sensory spectrum. ” However, we cannot think of architectural elements only by their nature, since we must consider immaterial factors such as ideologies, cultures and conventions. In this sense, we can reflect that a design is subject, in addition to the use of architectural elements, to immaterial factors that will serve as strategies for brain stimulation through the senses.

Thus, the conceptual term of experience is derived from different factors. Experience is the recognition of an event based on personal (intimate) and collective (social and ideological) memory. For example, we usually remember what an apple tastes like, on the one hand this thought is intimate and is subject to personal and sensory taste in relation to pleasure or dislike; on the other to collective memory, which could condition the importance and benefits of eating an apple or even a negative connotation like the poisoned apple from the story of Snow White.

In this way something similar happens about the experience of architecture, we perceive intimately and collectively. “Perceiving, in terms of neuroscience, means recognizing a thing or an experience through a process initiated by the senses” - John P. Eberhard. Neuroarchitecture helps us evaluate perception and what it entails the use of architectural elements as design strategies for sensory stimulation, its effects on human behavior and the creation of experience.

Eberhard mentions that when we see something, say a door, it is because the retinas of our eyes have been stimulated by photons of light that bounce off the seen object, passing through a complex process that calls to our memory those doors that we have seen before and eventually we recognize as doors. In the same way we recognize voices, the smell of a rose, taste of a chocolate, feeling of a velvet, even standing up and sitting down and climbing a ladder. This is the answer to the understanding of the senses, the five we learned in life and the sixth, which very few people recognize as sense, called proprioception.

It is precisely this study of perception and its relationship with the brain that we are interested on studying through neuroarchitecture. We can now understand that each of the senses can be stimulated specifically with architectural and immaterial elements and that through these will be stimulated and might generate an new experience. Thus we can list the senses and evaluate the stimuli and behavior of people.

View: the sense most associated with architecture stimulation through lighting.

Ear: in relation to the experiences associated with a place, sound and noise.

Touch: on stimulation through textures and surfaces, wanting to provoke or want to touch.

Taste: about the impact of the conditions at the time of eating and the spatial materiality.

Smell: in relation to the smells of the context and the place where we are.

Proprioception: in relation to the body with the location in time and space.


Architects and neuroscientists still have a long way to go, however, we now seek to understand even more about the relevance of spatial design and its effects on the brain. Neuroarchitecture opens a dialogue on accessibility when designing not only a house, but schools and learning experiences, hospitals and health recovery experiences, geriatric residences in relation to dementia and space navigation, as well as gastronomic spaces and how people make decisions at the time of eating.

Studies about our brain are still limited, thanks to neuroscience we can recognize and understand its functions, and how we react to external stimuli. For the brain, architecture is a memory system, it plays an important role in the conception of a thought, the navigation of a space and the creation of an experience. Neuroarchitecture connects neuroscience, the theory of perception and behavioral psychology, with music, art and of course with design, but above all with clear intentions: to create good and better experiences in people's lives.

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