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Neuroscience: Changing the Way You Design for Function


Maria Lorena Lehman


Founder — Sensing Architecture ® Academy

‍Image Credit: © | Fotolia

Seeing Function from a New Perspective

The design of environments often occurs through a “default” way of thinking. This means that many designers are not pausing to really question whether the functions for which they design, are indeed happening in the best way possible. It is easy to simply design for dining, healing, learning, or working without really questioning if the way we all carry out those functions is the most effective. For example, might a restaurant have a heightened dining experience if they changed the way dining occurs? Perhaps a particular restaurant has a unique way that they position the tables within the architectural space to completely change the way dining happens.

This renewal and reinvention of function is an interesting path to consider when designing. After all, design has the power to guide occupants toward better experiences that enrich and uplift their lives. For instance, there is a museum that has hired a neuroscientist to research how to better display the works of art within their museum spaces. (1) This is a very interesting undertaking, as the museum can change the context, and thus the way a work of art gets perceived. Thus, the act of viewing an artwork changes --- as does the perception of the thing observed.

Innovating the Way We Live

Architecture that uses neuroscience to improve function, connects not only a person with an artifact (like art), but can also connect a person with themselves, with others, or with their community in new ways. Just imagine how a school might help a child to learn better, if the function of learning was improved using neuroscience. Perhaps the school’s environmental spaces could promote collaborative learning, learning from play, or even delve into entirely new learning techniques in the classroom.

Yes, findings from the field of neuroscience can help architectural practitioners to design better spaces that improve and uplift experience for building occupants. But those same findings, if interpreted more deeply, can also renew and innovate the very functions that exist in the first place. Perhaps there are better ways to dine, to work, to learn, or even to play.

Use neuroscience to not only improve life as we currently know it, but to also question and innovate the way we live. I have a hunch that it will unlock new and exciting ways for people to perceive and interact with the world around them --- all because the environment does not take function for granted.


(1)    Hopkins, Christopher Snow. This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art. [Accessed Online: July 6, 2017]


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 visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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