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On Body (Fall 2014)

AB’s “Body” issue coincided with the publication of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s long-awaited latest, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Viking Penguin 2014), and came close on the heels of an extended New Yorker piece on the neuroscience of memory, “Partial Recall, Can neuroscience help us rewrite our traumatic memories?” (New Yorker May 19, 2014 by Michael Specter).  In AB Craig Dykers piece (“Body as Mind”) explores the way the body “thinks”, much as van der Kolk is exploring the healing potential of yoga for his trauma patients.  Mikyoung Kim’s “Finish” piece, titled “Waiting to Exhale”, explicitly identifies physiological and emotional reactions to environmental stimuli, specifically with regard to their power to generate the body’s healing energy.  Researchers are finding that trauma is a catastrophic mismatch between the expectations of the self and its environment.  Now that researchers can identify the chemical activity in the brain that coordinates genetic, hormonal and emotional activity it is only a matter of time before the construction of the built environment is guided by this powerful knowledge-base, with the well-being of the human nervous system as a principal goal.  While we have long recognized the truth of Churchill’s truism that our behaviors, thoughts and feelings are shaped by our buildings, the exploration of the actual physiological basis for this claim can empower us to make the built environment a source of health, harmony and happiness.  Whether or not ArchitectureBoston follows up this wonderful issue with another titled “Brain,” I trust that the intricate, intimate, and intriguing correlation between these two poles of human being-ness will continue to find its way into these pages.

Vernon Woodworth FAIA
AKF Group

As Niels Diffrient’s widow I have read with pleasure your Fall 2014 “Body” issue, on subjects very close to Niels' heart. ("Sitting, Still" by Galen Cranz.)
Although the omission may be unintentional, it seems odd that his name is not also mentioned in the “user-friendly” discussion between Josh Safdie and Ellen Lupton, particularly since you illustrate the first page with “Humanscale 1a Body Measurements,” the pictorial selector that would never have been made if it weren’t for Niels’ efforts to persuade his partners at Henry Dreyfuss Associates that it was worth doing. The first set of 3 selectors was done in-house at HDA. However, for the second and third iterations, Niels helped obtain a grant for the from the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities which partially funded the work. It has sold for 25 years. Although it is natural that the product is credited to HDA, Niels is at the top of the list of authors on the cover.

Helena Hernmarck
Ridgefield, Connecticut

In “Body as mind,” Craig Edward Dykers calls attention to the connection between the subtle influences that shape architecture and the pushback architecture exerts in return. As architects, the way in which our design impacts the body in motion and at rest lies at the base of our understanding of the built environment. However, we should also aspire to design for the intan gible part of the mind that is not fully aware but ultimately has a profound effect on actions and feelings. An authentic connection between a place and those who will occupy it can come down to the slightest design details, such as the placement of a window or the amount of natural light that is let in. As the study of architecture grows in its capacity of understanding the shared human condition, so, too, should our ability to design for those unconscious receptors that are inherent in all human beings.

Michael Ellis
5+design Hollywood, California

Craig Dykers’ timely “Body as mind” piece points to the growing trend of considering human intuition and hidden responses to the environment as a factor in design. “Much of how we style our lives is based on unconscious tendencies that are formed by how our bodies interact with their surroundings,” he writes. Indeed, scientists say that 95 percent of what happens in our brain is outside our awareness, and even our conscious thoughts are all subconscious first. With advances in cognitive science and tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging devices (fmri), we can now track our brains at work, reacting to the world well before we are aware of it. Top product designers and computer innovators (think Steve Jobs) have long held that the more we understand human behavior, the better we can design for it. Being aware of key subcon-scious tendencies — from the fact humans are a thigmotactic, or “wall-hugging,” species (we tend to avoid the center of places), to the fact we are face-obsessed, with more of our brain engaged in facial recognition than in any other object—has huge implications for understanding our experience. This sort of information, which pre- vious generations never had, can’t tell us how to design, of course, but it can inform us about the impact of our creative palette; promote better conscious and subconscious conditions; and, we hope, a world that will be more humane.

Ann Sussman AIA and Justin B. Hollander
The writers are co-authors of Cognitive Architecture: Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment (Routledge, 2014)