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Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture


Architecture. Neuroscience. Although they may seem like vastly different disciplines, the two worlds collided long ago. There was Imhotep (2655-2600 BC), the famous Egyptian considered by many to be the first architect, doctor, and engineer; his career arc spanned serving as royal physician and architect of the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Then, of course, there is the original Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), whose contributions to both science and architecture are well known and documented. Clearly, there is a rich history of interest in both science and the built environment.

Filmed by: Eve Edelstein in StarCAVE at UCSD experiences CAVECAD (TM), an immersive, interactive, 4D modeling software created by Calit2 the neuro-architectural visualization team.

In the modern era, NSAD is bringing these disciplines together. In 2003, Norman L. Koonce, then-executive vice president and chief executive officer of the AIA, had spoken to researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the nonprofit scientific research institute founded by Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, in La Jolla, Calif. Koonce learned about the power of architecture on the mind and that the environment enriches the brain, and he realized that San Diego was a nexus of ideas between neuroscience and architecture.

That realization led to the granting of the 2003 Latrobe Fellowship, a biennial award by the AIA of $100,000, to support the founding of the first offices of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) at NSAD under the oversight of Gilbert Cooke, then dean and president of the school. The first course on neuroscience and architecture at NSAD was taught by John Eberhard of the AIA, the founding president of ANFA. He was assisted by Dr. Eve Edelstein, whose unique background—she has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and an M.Arch. from NSAD—allowed her to help develop advanced courses on exploring ways that neuroscientific concepts might be applied to design. From the ANFA offices in NSAD, they launched professional workshops and educational programs, and ANFA began to take shape.

NSAD faculty continue to contribute as key participants in the academy, which supports studies, workshops, and university-based educational programs designed to explore research that integrates neuroscience and architecture. The academy is the first—in fact, at the moment, the only—such institution in the world to link neuroscience, one of the newest frontiers of knowledge, with architecture, one of the oldest disciplines of human civilization.

Eve Edelstein in StarCAVE at Calit2 views Rady School of Management, UCSD building designed by HMC Architects & Ellerbe-Becket (now AECOM)

Today, NSAD continues to support ANFA’s mission via Edelstein’s courses. In addition to Neuroscience for Architecture and the Seminars for Neuroscience in Architecture, she teaches other courses that link the two disciplines. In one such class, architecture students interned at the Salk Institute. In another, they collaborated with the University of California, San Diego (USCD) Calit2 scientists, looking at immersive technology, including 4D virtual reality caves, that explore the fourth dimension of time and the impact of light and sound on design.

Through its collaboration with ANFA, USCD, and other organizations around the world, NSAD gives its students the opportunity to explore the applications of cutting-edge science and technology with real-world design projects.

The horizons for the study of the intersection of neuroscience and architecture remains vast—we anticipate that the program will grow and will be offered across other disciplines at NSAD, including landscape, construction, design and architecture.

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