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Title: Architecture and Neurophenomenology: Rethinking the Pre-reflective Dimension of Architectural Experience
Tutor: De Matteis, Federico
Keywords: neurophenomenology
architectural experience
enactive approach
corporeal schema
Issue Date: 16-Jun-2015
Abstract: The essential benefit of neurophenomenological investigations in architecture is to be found in the capacity to provide us with the closest currently available approximation of the human being in its biological and cultural complexity, which can be used in architectural design and thinking. The prevailing praxis of creating abstract, conceptual designs, which favor reflexive and intellectualized over existential, perceptually based experience of architecture, is being increasingly recognized in architectural circles as contradictory and inadequate interpretation of our involvement with architectural spaces. This renewed interest in rethinking the experiential dimension of architecture coincides with the neurophenomenological understanding of recent interdisciplinary findings, which unequivocally confirm that the experiencing – architectural – subject is a profoundly embodied, enactive and situated human being. Neurophenomenological analysis of architectural experience is aimed at understanding the conditions of our embodiment, how we relate with architectural environment and essentially, what it is about architecture that has the capacity to sustain and nourish a meaningful human existence. By emphasizing the pre-reflective dimension of experience, intention is to raise architects’ awareness that our engagement and understanding of architectural spaces is to a large extent determined by profoundly embodied and preconscious processes. Importantly, neurophenomenology has the potential to articulate the implicit architects’ knowledge: there is neurophenomenologically valid evidence that the workings of dynamically intertwined brain and bodily mechanisms have been intuitively used by architects throughout architectural history as a pre-reflective architecture-body communication, in order to shape the overall embodied experience and atmosphere of an architectural setting. Architectural theories like late-nineteenth century idea of empathy (Einfühlung), Le Corbusier’s promenade architecturale, Steven Holl’s “enmeshed experience”, Juhani Pallasmaa’s “architecture as a verb”, Jan Gehl’s “life between buildings”, have neurophenomenological correlates in sensorimotor theory of perception, mirror neurons, hard-wired emotional responses, brain plasticity and the concept of enriched environments, to name but a few. In this sense, a crucial advantage of a dialogue between architecture and neurophenomenology lies in the compatibility of ideas already present in architectural discourse and the theoretical background of neurophenomenological approach. Establishing a common ground facilitates more accurate definition and overlapping of investigative goals, while the phenomenologically enriched scientific hypotheses allow for the exploration and protection of the intrinsic poetic nature of architecture.

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