13 December 2019 Reflections on the evolution of architecture and its future challenges
Being a professional who congregates the act of making and teaching architecture makes me raise a series of questions about the direction the profession takes, taking into consideration the adaptation to the evolution of humanity. Architecture, as well as other areas of human knowledge, has benefited from discoveries made in laboratories by neuroscientists, in order to take ownership of such knowledge when thinking about projects.
This attitude is still considered to be new for some professionals, while being demanded by clients, mainly in the commercial area, who have the opportunity to assemble multidisciplinary teams to think together the results desired with the project. Facing such a scenario, I invited the born architect and researcher Oliveira Júnior so we can reflect together on the paths that architecture has taken, in this tireless search for promoting a complete experience to those who appropriate their spaces. Check out this exclusive interview:
Lorí Crízel – In your trajectory as an architect and researcher, what is your opinion about architecture adopting knowledge from neuroscience?
Oliveira Jr. – Actually, this is something new. It is interesting that we are talking about it. When we bring the subject into the classroom, we see that this is not part of the repertoire of future architects. I see in the formation of the architect, and I say this knowingly because I dedicate myself to both undergraduate and graduate courses, that neuroarchitecture is not a subject that has been widely discussed. Usually the focus is on much more technical knowledge. In the classroom, it is much more expected to address creative processes based on geographic issues, from a cultural, historical, environmental point of view, more linked to the issue of comfort, landscape and the construction process.
In my search for answers about the evolution of architecture and how neuroscience has contributed to it, I came across the following statement that architects should design more fiction than function. Therefore, this concern to work with people’s history and how they appropriate these spaces is much more interesting than making a purely functional building.
We know that the issue of functionality is fundamental. But architecture should not be only about that. During the construction process of the China Central Television Headquarters, signed by the OMA office and which counted on the participation of more than one hundred architects directly involved, the great challenge was to design a building that would serve ten thousand people. How to think about a project of this magnitude? In the case of this example, the strategy was to centralize the studies in five specific personas who would use this space. From then on, they started to dedicate themselves to understand how these five different profiles would appropriate this space. Only from this understanding did spaces start to be actually designed.
This is something new, although it is happening in large offices. Neuroscience reverberating its concepts in architecture is something that has been currently better observed. I see that this main concern in thinking about how the person appropriates this space is something that is starting to gain more and more space in architectural practice. But we still need to broaden our view to insert such knowledge in the classroom.
I understand that graduation courses go after what is being done in the market. That is why we have a wide field to explore in the academic environment, to contribute to the projectual practice.
Lorí Crízel – Can we say that, with this new way of thinking about projects, we return to looking at human beings as the main element when thinking about designing a space?
Oliveira Jr. – The human being has always been at the center of architecture. The fact is that often the professional architect ends up putting themselves as the protagonist of this project. In fact, the human being has always been in the lead. However, we are currently trying to understand how the human being reacts to what architecture is proposing to him or her. We have to understand the current moment in two aspects: the empirical question and I will discuss the question of phenomenology, where you access the human being in order to understand which aspects of the project reverberate in him. Seeing the human being as a social, economic being, in the environment in which he or she lives, and how the aspects of space and form influence his or her understanding of the world.
In my research, I came across an article on the ArchDaily portal that talked about an experience which used virtual reality glasses to capture how eye movement occurs when facing a building facade, for example. These glasses managed to capture which parts called the most attention from the human eye, and with this information, the architects themselves understood the points that could be better elaborated in their projects.
When an architect designs a building, they are creating an aesthetic and often this aesthetic is supported by the functionalist, cultural issue, which establishes a visual relationship with the city and the place where the work is inserted. These concerns end up overcoming the interest in knowing how people will appropriate these spaces.
The second aspect is to understand how people perceive these created elements. If I, as an architect, understand what attracts people’s eyes, I can also start designing the elements on purpose, with greater assertiveness. Therefore, when doing a project, we try to do a briefing where it is possible to bring as much detail as possible of what we should contemplate in this project. It is up to the architect to seek to bring to the briefing the maximum expectations of human beings. There are some aspects that we can measure. Especially because not everything we express represents what we feel faithfully.
Lorí Crízel – From the studies that you have had access to on human behavior, which ones are helping you to better understand this central element of architectural projects?
Oliveira Jr – Nowadays, we have access to the data collected by the algorithms, which have the purpose of mapping human behavior based on the digital traces that we leave when surfing the internet. I watched an interview with Netflix founder Reed Hastings, where he said that people using the streaming service consume “salad” and “fast food” at the same time, making an analogy to content of higher intellectual density and others of pure entertainment, for example. That is, it is only possible to understand people in their truest way when we observe elements that they do not even notice they are doing. When people are being monitored, they will not always show themselves in essence.
That is why, when you are surfing the internet, you are looking for things that are not always expressed in your daily life. When I am surfing the internet, the algorithm is able to show me content based on my preferences, while we are not always aware of these preferences ourselves. The importance of neuroscience is in trying to understand the human being in what they do not even know they prefer. Because if I know this being with such depth, I can create much more assertive and productive environments.
Lorí Crízel – Do you believe that architecture can promote in its environments the way you want people to appropriate that environment? For example: when designing a store, can the architect use elements that make their users fit for consumption?
Oliveira Jr. – In the past, when analyzing retail, we saw that salespeople would even “push” products for people to buy. The salespeople came to the person, praised the customer when trying the product and the person ended up buying it, influenced by the seller. This issue of the seller-centric role has changed a lot. Today, they are regarded as sales consultants. Faced with this new attitude, this consultant started to help the consumer to find what he or she needs to satisfy a specific consumption need. The store can contribute to these purchasing decision-making processes by creating scenarios that favor this decision-making. For example, a store focused on young people and that sells clothes to be used in the “club” can perfectly adopt lighting that is more consistent with the night, so that, when trying the product, the person has the feeling of wearing it in the environment in which it will enjoyed. This is a device designed by the architect and which directly contributes to the sale. The architect can create conditions and situations that place the customer in the atmosphere in which the product will be enjoyed. I start to try to understand how the human being wants to use this product to think about the format that I will design this space. If we understand how people process the information received, we will be more assertive in the composition of architectural projects.
Lorí Crízel – How can we help students who are preparing themselves to enter the market to understand neuroarchitecture?
Oliveira Jr. – In the classroom, I say that the biggest concern is focused on the technical issue, how much more important it would be if we understood people. By understanding about people, we can create or manipulate our technical knowledge to serve people. When I talk about the algorithm and about behavioral economics, for example, we see that studies today focus on understanding how purchasing decisions are made. When we are able to map people’s behavior within a commercial environment, we will be able to deliver value and not merely a product. Because anyone can deliver a product. But delivering value is much more important. It allows people to consume in a much more assertive way. After all, decision making takes place in the field of emotion, not reason. If I can map people’s behavior, their preferences, imagine the power that will be given to consumer design.
Lorí Crízel – Through your research on consumer behavior, have you been able to understand what mechanisms are accessed in a person’s brain when they want something?
Oliveria Jr – I am still in full research in this area of neuromarketing. What I can say about the decision-making process is based on the psychology of consumer behavior. Traditional marketing exposes people to products, and with that they keep them as a reference. At the moment when there is a need to buy, at this stage of the decision-making process, memory is used, in the search to recognize what has been heard about that product. In the second moment, the person goes out to the field to find out which products will best satisfy their needs. And today, we have countless ways to obtain information about products. Until the person arrives at the store, several actions are taken. Social influences, exercised by family and friends and their personal impressions about a certain product, enter this field. All these steps are followed until the consumer chooses their desired object.
Lorí Crízel – And how should the architect think of this store to allow that person to effectively decide to complete their shopping experience in the store he has designed?
Oliveira Jr. – When addressing consumer behavior in stores, in order to capture their attention and lead them to the act of purchase, the architect is expected to know how to create the ambience in relation to the briefing, to print the store’s identity to its audience. Knowing how to work the store’s identity, trying to bring a way the target audience will identify themselves to the environment of the store is fundamental. In order to do so, I need to know in depth who its target audience is. From then on, I must know how to position the products in order to better qualify them to be perceived and chosen. It is important to understand that people need to have contact with the product, especially the tactile ones, feel textures and even taste them.
Lorí Crízel – What are the challenges of architecture regarding the contributions brought by neuroscience?
Oliveira Jr. – Architecture based much of its design decisions on observation. Neuroscience comes in to help us map the movement of the eyes, for example, of a certain person when faced with a work. To help us to scientifically interpret how the reading that the person does in the cognitive field occurs, even without them realizing that they had such mental triggers activated. The great challenge of neuroscience linked to architecture is to promote the simplification of these mappings. In the case of commercial architecture, it is possible to map with the use of instruments the movement of the consumer’s eyes, its displacement to identify hot and cold areas of the store, and how the brain reacts to the stimuli presented by the environment. Bringing the results of this brain mapping into the design practice is something that sets up a new stage of the architect’s performance, allowing his or her projects to evolve in parallel with the evolution of humanity.
About Oliveira Júnior:
Oliveira Júnior is an Architect and Urbanist. Holds a master’s degree in Urban Engineering from the Federal University of Paraíba. Founder of the 7S34W office, where he has developed projects on the areas of architecture, interiors, and urbanism since 1991. Awarded by the Institute of Architects of Brazil – Department of Paraíba, he has several works and projects published in national and international specialized journals.