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Your Brain: How Architecture is “Food for Thought”

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © Darrenw | Dreamstime


The architecture which surrounds you influences your thought, and subsequently your behavior. Understanding this relationship between the environment and your mind is important – particularly if you are a designer of such environments. Your brain is not only hard-wired to interpret certain spatial characteristics in certain ways, but your mind also plays a role in how you make decisions based on those interpretations. All in all, architecture is a type of “food for thought” where your designed surroundings impact not only how you perceive that world, but also how you interact within it.

In Scientific American Mind’s most recent issue, an article by Emily Athens called “Building Around the Mind” highlights various architectural factors that influence the human mind. As described in the article — through the brain, architecture can impact our creativity, focus, health, attention, mood and social ability. (1) Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg … Architecture plays a major role for our brains, not just as we perceive space; but also as we engage in interactions, behaviors and thoughts.


“Building Around the Mind” describes a particular 2007 study by Joan Meyers-Levey where the ceiling of a room was determined to have an affect on how subjects process information. As was determined, a lower ceiling within a room promotes greater attention to detail by occupants. Higher ceilings promoted greater abstract and creative thinking by occupants. As Athens’ article points out, different situations call for varying ceiling heights. (1) The latter study is just one example of how architectural spatial qualities can affect how humans operate within an architectural space. Just think what might happen if architects truly considered such influences while they design.

By designing with greater insight into how the human mind processes architecture, design professionals might really be able to influence occupants to live healthier, more meaningful and happier lives as architectural qualities of an environment really do trigger a wide variety of human response.


The beauty of architectural design is that, it too, can be designed as interactive – embedded with sensors and actuators that allow it to respond as well. For example, occupants within a space that may need to have great focus and attention at one moment may later need to relax and meditate. As architecture gains greater and greater flexibility, it will get better at providing for such variations in occupant needs. In addition, architecture’s ability to coordinate with other surrounding elements, like nature, also makes architecture a wonderful way to feed your thoughts via your senses.

The main idea is that your brain interprets architecture through your mind and plays a role in influencing your thoughts and subsequent behavior. As architects, we should try to harness this understanding. Great architecture is always sensitive to making spaces humane – by truly factoring for human response.


(1) Anthes, Emily. Building Around the Mind. American Mind. April/May 2009.





what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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