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Conceptualizing Einfühlung's Theory

Updated: Sep 29

Invited authors: Lorí Crízel, Caroline Ogura e Maurício Dallastra


Since our study is focused on NeuroArchitecture, we can say that we seek to better understand the relationship between the nervous system and how it absorbs and translates information from an architectural project. In this sense, a recurring practice within neuroscience applied to architecture is to put ourselves in the place of the other to better understand the context and extract experiences and scenarios that allow us to improve the exercise of our profession, that is, to practice empathy. Therefore, it is possible to perceive several proposals for the study of empathy, as well as practical techniques for application in projects, aiming at a more humanized result.

Imagem de Gerd Altmann por Pixabay

One aspect that articulates empathy with design practice within architecture is Einfühlung's Theory, which we will first contextualize with this excerpt from the book Saber Ver a Arquitetura, by Bruno Zevi:


Of different value, and fundamental in the history of architectural interpretations, is Einfühlung's theory, according to which artistic emotion consists in the identification of the viewer with the forms, and therefore in the fact that architecture transcribes the states of mind in the forms of construction, humanizing and animating them. Looking at the architectural forms, we vibrate in symbolic sympathy with them, because they elicit reactions in our bodies and in our spirits. Based on these considerations, the symbolist sympathy tried to reduce art to a science: a building would be nothing more than a machine capable of producing certain predetermined human reactions (ZEVI, 1996, p. 161).


Naturally, as it displays an aesthetic bias, architecture can be interpreted from different perspectives. Bruno Zevi (1996) lists as area of ​​interpretations: political, philosophical-religious, scientific, economic-social, materialistic, technical, physiopsychological, formalistic and spatial. Einfühlung's theory, also known as empathy theory, is classified by Zevi as a physiopsychological interpretation and, when looking for references on the topic, it is noticed that the movements around the subject happen in a common nucleus of philosophers and thinkers, mainly in Germany in the middle of the 19th century. This term describes empathy as the faculty that is given to us to understand and emotionally establish some relationship between human beings and, later, came to be used to describe the relationship between man and nature. This relationship involves three components / fields: the sensory, the cognitive and, consequently, the behavioral. Great references and contributions as design techniques for us to have tools in NeuroArchitecture come from studies derived from Einfühlung theorists (Vischer, Lipps, Wölfflin and Göller). It was through the advances achieved by this theoretical current that it was possible to bring into the project field tools that worked to stimulate the cognitive, sensory and behavioral fields of users.

Einfühlung's theory in the design context: constructive lines


It is important to highlight that the German term, developed in the scope of aesthetics to understand the emotional effect of - especially, but not only - spatial forms (GALLAND-SZYMKOWIAK, 2017). Mallgrave (2009) describes that Friedrich Theodor Vischer, considered one of the first theorists of Einfühlung, understood architecture as a “symbolic art” and that, through it, the architect's role is to print vividness with linear features and suspended plans. Briefly, its concept points out that external factors influence in a particular way and, involuntarily, our emotional state, translating and interpreting the symbolic image that the brain received. More objectively, Vischer notes that vertical lines bring the feeling of uplifting the human spirit, horizontal lines enlarge it and curved lines move with more energy than straight lines. His successor, Robert Vischer, refines the proposition by stating that a horizontal line can look nice because it conforms to the structure of our visual apparatus. In contrast, a diagonal line would not bring such a pleasant sensation because it requires a less usual movement of the ocular globe. The same happens between an arc-shaped line and an irregularly shaped one. A form that has regularity is more interesting because it is similar to our body regularity. The study of emotions that we can translate from lines and shapes (vertical and horizontal straight lines, curved lines, helical, circle, ellipse, cube and sphere) will be covered in the book “NEUROARCH® - Uma proposição entre Neuroarquitetura e Teoria de Einfühlung aplicada às práticas projetuais”. The book will be released soon and is written by Lorí Crízel with the participation of Caroline Ogura and Maurício Dallastra in a chapter that conceptualizes the theory. Einfühlung's theory in the design context: Classics and Baroques


When addressing the terms "classical" and "baroque" in the design context, it should be noted that the classic and baroque nomenclatures continue to designate stylistic, aesthetic and architectural composition languages ​​as a style applied in a given period. Such references do not cancel or become uncharacterized. These same words are applied as design techniques applied in the universe of architecture, now contemplated by this new design bias, NeuroArchitecture.


In this sense, one can articulate the work of Heinrich Wölflin - theorist of Einfühlung and one of the most influential 20th century art historians - entitled Fundamental concepts of Art History (2006) with the human existential aspect investigated by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Origin of Tragedy and the Spirit of Music. Philosophy versus art history versus man in the face of his interpretation of the world, Nietzsche also brings the nomenclatures "Dionysian" and "Apollonian" to compose part of the characterization of interpretations of the world that human beings develop throughout their existence.


When these considerations are translated into the universe of architecture, it is noted that "Dionysian" establishes a direct relationship with "purity, cleanliness and objectivity" typically related to a more classicist stylistic language, the so-called classic. In a similar analogy, "Apollonian" brings a more focused relationship to "movement, information and adornment" that is also found in the Baroque stylistic language, the so-called Baroque.


Einfühlung's theory, if applied to NeuroArchitecture, shows us that these classifications are biased, that is, we do not have someone 100% classical or baroque. What we are dealing with here is a profile of experiential tendency that each of us develops with the universe around us. A person may tend to be classical, but in some moments or circumstances develop baroque readings. The reverse can also happen: someone who tends to be baroque, can, depending on many factors, adopt a classic posture.


Important now to point out that people with a more classical profile dialogue with the outside world directly, succinctly and objectively. They have a personality focused on practicality, agility and the immediate. When inserted in an environment, they make a strategic reading, without paying attention to details. A quick reading space is enough to capture what that environment offers, in a direct, succinct and objective way. From there, it defines how it will relate to this spatiality.


In contrast, a profile that tends to be baroque is attracted by the diversity of information that the outside world can offer in terms of experience. The environments that best suit the Baroque are those rich in information, in detail, as their perception of the world is aimed at recognizing each one of them. Once this interpretation is traced, the relationship with space is established.


Understanding classical and baroque helps us to understand how world readings are made and how spaces are mapped. However, what we have seen so far is still not completely sufficient to answer how these people appropriate spatialities. Soon, neuroscience and architecture will continue to advance in studies that seek to interpret, by understanding the way genders relate to the environment, the way in which male and female cognitive relationships are related, therefore, to spatialities. And, of course, Einfühlung's theory systematically helps to bring about these conditions to qualify the experiences that we want to attribute to a project.


Final considerations Thinking environments in an integrative way, mixing resources such as colors, shapes and textures with concepts that permeate neuroscience makes the user enjoy a multisensory experience in relation to the room in which it is inserted, which is, therefore, an essential job in the current social context.


Based on Einfühlung's theory, which invests the entire building, the relationship established between individuals began to be seen as a fundamental part of the architectural process, placing them as guiding elements of the projects. To understand the theory of empathy, it is necessary to develop a less technical and more human look at the creative process. Understanding the studies from this theoretical perspective leads us to understand what mechanisms can be applied to develop affinities, promote empathy between individuals and between the spaces they inhabit and enjoy.


Therefore, Einfühlung refers to a complex concept, in some cases it presents an ambiguous approach, but at the same time, it proves to be fundamental for the current period, since it contributes to the development of ways of understanding other people's feelings and intentions from individual perceptions and experiences, leaving objectivity aside, just as artistic manifestations and current architecture have been based (NOWAK, 2011).


This theme has been, over the last few years, at the heart of the research developed by the authors, resulting in the publication of the book “NEUROARCH® - Uma proposição entre NeuroArchitecture e Teoria de Einfühlung aplicada às práticas projetuais”, which addresses in an objective way and practice the concepts imbricated to empathy and between the sensitive, complex and intriguing relationship between the individual and the built environment. References: GALLAND-SZYMKOWIAK, M. Formes, forces, Einfühlung. L’esthétique de l’espace de Theodor Lipps. Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale, 2017. MALLGRAVE, H. F. The Architect’s Brain: Neuroscience, Creativity, and Architecture, 2010. NOWAK, Magdalena. The complicated history of Einfühlung. Argument: vol. 1. 2011. PALLASMAA, J.; MALLGRAVE, H. F.; ARBIB, M. Architecture & Neuroscience, 2013. WÖLFFLIN, H. Conceitos Fundamentais da História da Arte. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2006. ZEVI, Bruno. Saber Ver a Arquitetura. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1996. Authors: Lorí Crízel E-mail: contato@loricrizel.arq.br | Instagram: @lori.crizel Caroline Ogura E-mail: carolineogura@gmail.com | Instagram: @carologura Maurício Dallastra E-mail: mauriciodallastra@hotmail.com | Instagram: @mauriciodallastra


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