By Andréa de Paiva How can the spaces we create affect people who occupy them? Questions such as this have been driving architects, designers, psychologists and neuroscientists. The way people adapt to the physical environment can be influenced by various factors, making it a challenge to try to have a more complete understanding of it. Therefore, this paper represents an attempt to organize and categorize some of the many variables that can influence how buildings and cities can affect individuals.
Based on a previous paper published together with psychologist Richard Jedon, about the effects of the physical environment on the brain, this paper proposes a way of categorizing the analyzed effects in order to facilitate future investigation in this field. The way people adapt to the physical environment can be influenced by several factors, such as genetics, learned memories, and the frequency and duration of exposure to the environment. In addition, the brain and body actively interact with the physical environment: they are always engaged in some sort of activity, such as working, resting, buying, learning, recovering, remembering and creating. All these core variables affect how architecture can influence individuals, making it a challenging field to be researched. Not only that, but some of them are difficult to measure and test. Being one of the easiests to control and measure, time could be considered as a way to differentiate the groups of spaces and effects: spaces that are occupied for a short period of time (short-term exposure) or spaces that are occupied for a long period of time continuously or frequently (long-term exposure) and effects that have a short or a long duration.
The aim of this paper is to categorize the effects of architecture on the brain in accordance with the time/frequency of occupation of a space (short- or long-term exposure) and on the permanence of the effect (short- or long-term effect). This division leads to four possible combinations: (i) short-term exposure, short-term effect (quick alteration of the existing machinery to operate optimally in a new environmental condition); (ii) long-term exposure, long-term effect (slow reorganization of the existing machinery to adapt to the environment); (iii) short-term exposure, long-term effect (a mix of the two previous items); and (iv) long-term exposure, short-term effect.
Since the complexity that involves the relation between individuals and the physical environment makes it so challenging to do research in this field, the aim of such proposal of categorization is to help architects and neuroscientists to structure their thoughts and future research as well as to facilitate discussions between professionals of these two different fields.
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