Can Inspired Design Help Sick People Feel Better?
The Nature Trail—an LED wallpaper installation at the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London—is designed to reduce the stress of young patients en route to surgery by inviting them to interact with illuminated animal shapes in a forest scene. It was walking through the white Romanesque arches of the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in Italy that inspired Dr. Jonas Salk to conceive of the medical solution that led to the polio vaccine. Can spaces be designed to empirically help people think and feel better?
Recent research from neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and behavioural economics shows that while we previously looked to pure reason as the basis of rational thought, it’s actually the result of a complex interaction between reason and emotion. This relationship begins at the unconscious level—humans use emotions to assign value to things, and this value then becomes the basis of reason. This basic concept is being structured into a new humanistic perspective, which is increasingly influencing areas ranging from business to design.
Following the well-established line of inquiry into “biophilic” design, “evidence-based” design, and psychologically informed design, the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture is exploring how the physical and emotional qualities of built environments can measurably affect the performance of the brain. This research may challenge long-standing architectural practices. Rather than designing hospital rooms for premature babies to accommodate medical equipment and caregivers, for example, should they be designed to promote the development of the newborns’ brains? Can a new humanistic approach to architecture produce a rigorous design discipline based on how humans respond to built spaces on a neurological level?