Article by Mark Bessoudo*
Can neuroscience teach us about the built environment? If so, how can these insights be used to create urban spaces and technologies that improve human health and wellbeing? And to what extent can industry and governance help in achieving these goals?
These were just some of the many questions that were debated at the Conscious Cities Conference that I attended in London in early May.
“Conscious Cities” is a relatively new concept that proposes we replace the focus on efficiency in the built environment with a focus on health and wellbeing. Furthermore, it explores how advances in data analysis, artificial intelligence, and the cognitive sciences can help create built environments that are more dynamic, aware of, and adaptable to peoples’ needs. In the words of one of the co-founders of the Conscious Cities movement, “neuroscience can inform design and shift it from efficient to effective”.
As was evident in the theme of this year’s conference – “Bridging Neuroscience, Architecture and Technology” – the event brought together leaders in the fields of cognitive neuroscience, architecture, planning, computer science and engineering. The topics discussed offered many lessons for building professionals to consider.
Cities as an extension of your mind
Consider this: the city exists as an extension of your nervous system, as a sort of “extended mind”. Technology influences not only the design and operation of a city, but also how we perceive, experience and interact with the urban environment itself. Several familiar examples abound: Google Maps has influenced not only how we navigate a city, but quite literally changed our brains’ memory processes and navigational ability; WiFi has changed how people interact in (and with) public space and retail property – for example, by changing the nature of cafes and restaurants, wherein people linger often for extended periods of time. Other emerging, more advanced “enhanced reality” technologies will further influence how buildings and infrastructure are designed, built, operated – and experienced – in ways that we are only just now beginning to understand.