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NeuroArchitecture, Message and Power

By Andréa de Paiva and Fabio Menezes

One of the most interesting experiences of a trip abroad is to try the public transport to have a deeper experience of the local culture. For instance New York underground, with its neglected look, delays on the trains and its habitual break dance performances. London underground, the oldest in the world, with stations dating from the XIX century and also with its traditional screens showing the time for the next train, the lines with different branches and the upholstered seats is another example. But what about Russian underground? The first time visiting any Moscow station is astonishing. They are so beautiful that they look like museums. But why were they built like that? And what is the link with NeuroArchitecture? In today's article we will discuss about the messages that the architecture can send and how this can be used to create unconscious impacts on the brain and behavior.

 Ploshchad Revolyutsii metro station, Moscow.
Ploshchad Revolyutsii metro station, Moscow. Source: triprussia.wordpress

As mentioned, the metro stations are works of art. From the oldest ones to the newest ones, all of them have a unique identity and a lot of luxury. Ploshchad Revolyutsii station, the nearest to the Red Square, for instance, is decorated with 72 statues that represent the people from the Soviet Union, from soldiers to soccer players. Partizanskaya station is decorated to honor those who fought against the nazi during World War II. Sportivnaya Station, next to Luzhniki Stadium (the oldest stadium in Moscow) has murals that refer to the Olympic Games. Other stations, even without a particular theme, have their own unique decoration, with beautiful murals, chandeliers and marble columns. 

Partizanskaya metro station , Moscow. Source:
Partizanskaya metro station , Moscow. Source:

If we consider that the first metro station in Russia were built during the soviet era, it is easier to understand how the communist government was able to use architecture to spread their message. The basis of communist thought defends an equalitarian society, without social classes and based on the common property of the production. Even though the power was still concentrated on the hands of just a few, the idea is to take the power from the upper class and share it with the people (proletariat). Therefore, one of the leader's goals was to make the people feel important, part of a gear that makes the country spin. They also wanted to make people feel that they belonged to a strong and vigorous Estate, to which each individual should contribute [1]. Hence, there were huge investments to create appropriate public spaces that displayed such messages. The large avenues, the well distributed green parks and, finally, the metro stations (one of the main transports of the people).

Baumanskaya metro station, Moscow. Source: 3yearsinmoscow
Baumanskaya metro station, Moscow. Source: 3yearsinmoscow

The metro stations were used as a way for the government to communicate with the people. Through them they were able to tell the Revolution's history , they showed how the Russian people was warrior, important and contributed to the society, each individual with its role. Even more than that, the luxurious and splendid stations were like constant propaganda of the soviet architecture, art and culture, stimulating national pride [2].

When we analise the stations through the lenses of NeuroArchitecture, we can notice that some architectural features are very efficient in helping to spread the soviet ideal and culture. First of all, neuroscience has proved that memorisation happens mainly through repetition or emotional impact [3]. This is why some schools teach through songs or some teachers make jokes, this helps the students to memorize the facts and formules. The metro stations, each with its own architectural decoration that reminds some aspect of the soviet history [4], are spaces with a huge traffic of people. Individuals use the stations everyday at least twice times. Their architecture help people to memorize  (or to remind) history through repetition.  

On the other hand, for those that came from other soviet cities and visited the capital, the relation with the stations was different. The contact with such impacting architecture that reveals the soviet identity and history raised emotions, evoked memories and generated goose bumps. If in our last article we criticised the loss of identity of the FIFA's stadiums, we can say that Moscow's metro stations successfully show the soviet identity. 

Besides this, another sensation that the stations evoked at that time, similar to what it does for tourists today, is surprise. We are surprised by the luxury and the beauty. As already discussed on our last article (Stadiums Identity), when the architecture surprise its users, it captures attention. On the other hand, familiar spaces let our brains be conducted by the "automatic pilot".  Therefore, since each station is different from the others and there are so many stations in Moscow, this works even for the people who live in the city. 

Lastly, another interesting feature at the stations is the enormous amount of statues, specially Lenin's statues. This can be seen as a tribute to the leader of the Revolution, but if we analise if through the lenses of NeuroArchitecture  we realize that the strong presence of soviet leaders might evoke a very important behavior: respect. As NeuroArchitecture  has already proved, the most primitive ares in the brain, responsible for instinctive and affective behaviors, are more ingenuous and easy to fool than our rational intelligence. Hence, those huge statues of leaders make people unconsciously feel observed, they feel the leaders' presence on their day to day life on the metro stations. No neuroimage exams are necessary to understand how the behavior of a people that feel watched on the public spaces can be altered [5].

In conclusion, Moscow's metro stations help us to comprehend how architecture (of a building or of a whole city) can stimulate different feelings, like proud, respect, belonging, patriotism, among others.  These feelings are evoked by our emotions, from fear to surprise and joy. As we discussed in the article NeuroArchitecture, Emotion and Decision, our emotions affect our way of perceiving reality and how we respond to it, our behavior. The relation between individuals and space directly impacts wellbeing and productivity. If in an office's scale it already make a great difference, can you imagine it in a city's scale or a whole country? This is why NeuroArchitecture, a science that changes everyday due to new studies and findings in neuroscience, is such a an important tool for architects. 

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Fabio Menezes dos Anjos, this article's invited co-author, is a psychoanalyst, has a masters degree in clinical psychology at the University of São Paulo, has had a clinical practice for the last 8 years and has experience in the fields of social work (NGOs), rehabilitation, sport psychology, among others. His main research focus are the areas of sport, society and discourses.


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