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Embodied structural ambivalence: a neurophysiological perspective on structural expression


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The paper attempts to provide a neuroscientific perspective on the discussion of structural expression. Taking human perception as the clue, this article starts with the notion of strong structures, take it as the base to review and analyses the principles of structural perception under the neurophysiological perspective. Based on the findings from mirror neuron and embodied simulation, this article further reviewed the impact of embodied structural ambivalence on structural expression and human perception from the concrete example to the theoretical implication. Therefore provides a neuroscience-based scientific perspective on the research of structural expression.
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23Proceedings of the International b Symposium on Conceptual Design of Structures
Sept. 16-18, 2021, Attisholz, Switzerland
Conceptual Design of Structures 2021
International fib Symposium
Switzerland, September 16-18 2021
Embodied Structural Ambivalence: A
Neurophysiological Perspective on Structural
Shuaizhong Wang, ETH Zürich, Stefano-Franscini-Platz 1, 8093 Zürich, Switzerland, shuai-
Toni Kotnik, Aalto University,
The paper attempts to provide a neuroscientific perspective on the discussion of structural expression.
Taking human perception as the clue, this article starts with the notion of strong structures, take it as
the base to review and analyses the principles of structural perception under the neurophysiological
perspective. Based on the findings from mirror neuron and embodied simulation, this article further
reviewed the impact of embodied structural ambivalence on structural expression and human perception
from the concrete example to the theoretical implication. Therefore provides a neuroscience-based sci-
entific perspective on the research of structural expression.
1 Intro: the question of structural expression
In the discourse since the enlightenment of European architectural modernity, Structural Expression
has always been a vital issue in bridging construction technology and constructive culture. The peren-
nial controversy over it stems from the game between technology and art. The Italian engineer and
architect Pier Luigi Nervi has described the dual meaning of architectural phenomena: physical struc-
tures constructed in obedience to material requirements and constraints, and aesthetic significance
aimed at generating subjective feelings [1]. These dualism comprehensions revealed the complex and
indispensable relationship between the material and expressive dimensions of the structural design.
Subsequently, Eduard F. Sekler, in his discussion of the relationship between structure, construc-
tion, and tectonics, describes structures as “the more general and abstract concept refers to a system or
principle of arrangement destined to cope with forces at work in building” [2, p. 89]. As anintangible
concept”, the structureis realised through construction and given visual expression through tectonics.”
[2, p. 92] . Therefore, the structures, on the one hand, constrained by the construction technique and,
on the other hand, bonded to the perceptual representation of the tectonic form. This tension between
technology and art forms the tension between structure and itsexpression, which is a crucial topic
when discussing the experience and perception of the architectural space. From the appeal for structural
rationality in the enlightenment period of modernity to the introspection on the relationship between
structure and ornaments in the postmodern period, then to the discussion of structural performance in
contemporary architecture. All of them are exploring the various degrees between “the truth” of struc-
ture and its expression. In other words, the degree of exposing or concealing structure in architecture.
2 The secrets in “Strong Structures”
On the description for using the supporting structure as a medium for architectural expression, Arthur
Rüegg proposed the notion of Strong Structures (Starke Strukturen) [3]. It was defined as “load-bearing
structures that do not secretly fulfil their function by carrying loads to the ground as discretely as pos-
sible, but instead make architecture out of this existentialist theme, this drama.” [4, p. 2] Strong struc-
tures describe structural thinking that focuses not only on a structure’s physical properties but also on
the structural visual performance and spatial concepts. At the end of the article, Arthur Rüger described
the current trend towards the strong structures: “However, their emphatically structural buildings are
not all that simple to decipher precisely like those of their predecessors. They contain secrets that can
only be unlocked by employing a certain amount of patience…This concealment of the flow of forces
is combined with a love of abstraction and the elimination of the boundary between inside and outside
space that has flared up at regular intervals since the time of early modernism.” [3, p. 11] In contrast to
DOI: 10.35789/b.PROC.0055.2021.CDSymp.P001
Embodied structural ambivalence:
a neurophysiological perspective
on structural expression
Shuaizhong Wang, Toni Kotnik,
general considerations:
24 exposed or concealed
Conceptual Design of Structures 2021
the obsession with the authentic expression in tectonic design in the discourse of structural rationalism,
the article also uses the Leutschenbach School and the New residential and commercial building at
Ottoplatz as examples to explain that the structural logic they express does not emphasise a clear and
direct physical and visual correspondence between the structural representation and the force flow, and
can even be interpreted as concealment of the structural logic.
Fig. 1 (a): Leutschenbach School, Zurich, 2009, Architect Christian Kerez, Engineer Joseph
Schwartz. Architect. (b): The structure model for the misaligned and repeated trusses in
Leutschenbach School © Walter Mair
Fig. 2 (a): New residential and commercial building at Ottoplatz, Chur, 1995. Architect D.
Jüngling and A. Hagmann, Engineer Jurg Conzett. (b): Simplified force flow in the façade,
the internal force pattern is similar to the V-shaped truss.
In the case of the Leutschenbach School, due to the limitation of the site, Kerez wanted to retain a large
green space area alongside the new functions. Based on the concept of superimposition from Kerez,
Schwartz cleverly transforms these constraints into an essential part of the structural expression and
gives the building a sense of lightness and floating (Fig. 1a). From the outside, the repetitive trusses on
the façade disappeared from the first and fifth floors of the building, making the whole building seem
to be levitated. Due to the partial absence of the structure, people cannot read the logic of the forces
throughout the building in a continuous manner, making for an intriguing and unusual structural ex-
pression. However, the structure of the whole building is apparent and logical - the structural anomalies
are on the one hand due to the inward movement of parts of the structure; on the other hand, the same
truss-like forms are composed regarding different types of force, but their similarity and repetitiveness
confused the human understanding of the structural logic (Fig. 1b). A similar expression also could be
seen from the building at Ottoplatz. Although it looks very different from the Leutschenbach School,
the structural system between the two is actually very similar - the hidden force flow behind this facade
is similar to the standard V-shaped truss (Fig. 2b). In the design of the building at Ottoplatz, in order to
maintain continuity with the tessellated façade layout of the surrounding buildings. The openings of
windows on the facade are presented in many rectangular solid panels and openings at each level (Fig.
2a). The structure of the building at Ottoplatz also leaves the first floor of the building “missing”, but
25Proceedings of the International b Symposium on Conceptual Design of Structures
Sept. 16-18, 2021, Attisholz, Switzerland
Conceptual Design of Structures 2021
the overall structure expression is very dissimilar to the Leutschenbach School - the form of the struc-
ture in the building at Ottoplatz does not directly correspond to the truss-like form of the internal force
flow, and the internal force flow only controls the dislocation of the solid and opening parts on the deep
beam. The contrast between these two cases clearly shows how to execute the construction, which is
the additional layer beside abstract structural logic, also strongly influences people’s understanding and
perception of structure.
It is worth distinguishing that these concealments are not the additional cladding to obscure or dec-
orate the structure [5]. On the contrary, the concealment in these two examples corresponds more to the
intuition of the people’s perception and design intention of structure. In short, the structural expressions
sought by strong structures do not care whether the logic of force or construction can be quickly under-
stood through the observation of the structure. In addition to the clarity and authenticity, strong struc-
tures also embrace the structural thinking that seeks to create an ambiguous “uncertain certainty” that
is even atectonic: the structure is exposed without revealing all the logic [6].
Then why do these architects unanimously choose to create this ambiguity or concealments in the
structural expression? And how people read these expressions and be able to feel into them? To answer
these questions, we could get back to the former discussed Intangible part of the structure, where
Sekler’s focus on the “visual” level of the structure reveals the essential medium for the experience of
the structure - perception. Intriguingly, Sekler draws an analogy between tectonics and the expression
of artworks in his description of structural perception, arguing that structural expression is an Einfüh-
lung (Empathy) between the built environment and the human body [2] [7], therefore intensifying one’s
experience of the internal forces in structural forms. Based on the human body and experience, this
article will rethink the relationship between the technical and expressive dimensions of structures, try-
ing to provide an interpretation to create such secrets in strong structures from the perspective of em-
bodied perception.
3 Embodied perception
In the preface to Style, Harry Francis Mallgrave explains that Semper’s discussion of the reading of the
internal forces in forms led to the germination of empathy in the field of architecture and art at the end
of the 19th century [8]. It grew a long time scientific interests and debates on the human psychological
and physiological perception of form and structures [9] [10] [11] [12]. These researches are all attempt
to explain that the body for us is the most direct way we understand space and architecture - they are
the ontological principle about how humans read the emotion or meaning from the structures.
3.1 Neurophysiological embodiment
However, the theory of empathy from the early twentieth century was mainly driven by technology-
oriented formalism. It is essentially a semiotic approach that lacked scientific physiological or psycho-
logical basics to unambiguously explain or demonstrate how we feel or project our emotions into the
behaviour of others or the built environment and resonate with their forms [12]. Therefore, the theory
of empathy was mainly used as an explanatory approach instead of a design approach to inform a pre-
reflective embodied design method. The recent developments in the relatively new discipline of Cog-
nitive Neuroscience open up a new way of conceptualising structural design that expands our theoretical
framework through the notion of embodiment and embodied simulation. With the aim to investigate
representational and artistic mechanisms of perception, cognitive neuroscience provides an egocentric
perceptive on human physiological or psychological perception and understanding of structures [13].
Neurosciences findings can provide a rigour explanation and design factors for the ambiguity men-
tioned above towards structural reading and design in terms of embodied perception.
As the milestone of neuroscience, the discovery of the Mirror neuron in the mid-1990s, reveals that
our neural circuits, in which we simulate the actions of others, are in the same areas of the brain through
which we undertake our own actions [14]. It explains that the same neural structures involved in our
own body-related experience contribute to conceptualising what we perceive from the world both vis-
ually and motorically [15]. This embodied perception process is based on the mechanism that humans
will start the non-conscious or precognitive type of perception before consciously analysing it. The
former based on the activation of our previous bodily experience and its related emotions [16]. There-
fore, the mirror perception system is “a direct form of ‘experiential understanding’ of others, achieved
by modelling their behaviours as intentional experiences, based on the equivalence between what the
others do and feel and what we do and feel.” [17] This means that the human body is an essential basis
26 exposed or concealed
Conceptual Design of Structures 2021
for our perception to have an empathetic relationship with the world besides vision [14]. In brief, the
mechanism of mirror neurons is based on people’s memory of past bodily experiences and feelings.
When people observe a gesture similar to that bodily memory or repeat an action similar to that memory
later, they directly and unconsciously evoke the past bodily experience and mood corresponding to this
bodily gesture, thereafter realising our ability to read into things. This could explain the perceptual
commonality between the structural engineer and a random individual with no structural background
their first unconscious perception of structure is almost identical since they share a nearly identical
body. The structural engineer’s knowledge or other people from different educational/psychological
backgrounds and different cultural sensibilities, will appear in the conscious and analytical reading of
the structural system after the unconscious impression.
Based on the mirror neuron, the notion of “embodied simulation” was proposed as an extension to
explain the mechanism of how humans not only “see” the built environment but also feel and simulate
emotions and actions from the world through the medium of the body [17]. The findings of the embod-
ied simulation were based on the premise that perception and cognition inherently depend upon the
organisms’ interaction with their environment [18] [19]. Which meanings, human perception emerges
from the active dynamic interaction and movement, and thus get the “meaning” through the evocation
of similar experiences of our bodies, which is a form of “experiential understanding” of the environment
[17] [20]. The recent studies also show that our embodied simulation is not restricted to the social world.
Humans have the “precognitive capacity to mirror the tactile values of all objects or forms in our envi-
ronments, both living and non-living” [21]. This provides a solid theoretical basis for our embodied
understanding of the built environment like structures. The embodied thinking can vindicate the dis-
cussions of embodied perception in the theory of empathy and phenomenology from a scientific level.
Therefore, based on the embodied neuroscientific perspectives, we can extensively reveal the struc-
tural perception logics of the Leutschenbach School. As embodied simulation emphasises, our percep-
tion of the built environment is primarily based on our previous bodily experience, which means that
the people’s “imagination” of the force flow behind the structure is also based on how our motor-sen-
sory felt the forces when we project ourselves into it. However, the partial “missingin the overall
structural relations of the Leutschenbach School direct interrupting the perceptual continuity. From the
human bodily experience, all gravity associated with our bodies is transmitted continuously from head
to the ground. Suppose we jump up and off the ground, as the body can only remain floating for an
instant due to gravity. Therefore, our bodily muscle memory will perceive this movement as a state of
instability. This means that embodiment will imply unstable and instant emotions if people do not see
this continuity, then they get incomprehensible, curious, abnormal, and nervous. They are the main
reasons for the feeling of “secrets” in the structural expression of the Leutschenbach School.
3.2 Neurophysiological ambivalence
It is also noteworthy that the repetition of the same truss-like elements in Leutschenbach School is
intended to stimulate the perception of the missing part in the holistic structural continuity, thus rein-
forcing the mystery of “floating”. From the perspective of embodied perception, these structures delib-
erately set up the anomalous expressions to our everyday bodily motor experience, thus evoking our
curiosity and intensifying our attention. This approach reveals, intentionally or unintentionally, that the
activation of embodied mapping is a very crucial part of embodied perception. Our embodied percep-
tion can only occur if our perception is activated and then trigger the starting point for the process of
embodied perception. This eliciting of the embodied perception by the structural ambivalence can be
more precisely explained under another notion from cognitive neuroscience: arousal, which is central
to the emergence of embodied perception [22] [23] [24] [25] [26].
Noteworthy, the balance between the everydayness and the abnormal of the perception stimulation
is also crucial and subtle. The findings from arousal indicate that either too little or too much stimulation
tends to be disregarded by the individuals [26] [27]. For example, in the case of Leutschenbach School,
besides its’ unusual structural expression of continuity, the chosen specific structural elements are the
common and standard trusses. It is the perception that these structural elements are familiar and under-
standable in the first place that accentuates their relationship. If the single structural element were al-
ready complex and alienated, it would instead interfere and even deprive the possibility of embodiment.
The above neuroscientific research and case studies could show that the appropriate structural em-
bodiment could stimulate and evoke corresponding bodily sensations, emotions, and movements, thus
directly shaping people’s perception of space and atmosphere.
27Proceedings of the International b Symposium on Conceptual Design of Structures
Sept. 16-18, 2021, Attisholz, Switzerland
Conceptual Design of Structures 2021
4 Embodied structural ambivalence
Not only strong structures emphasised the ambivalence perspective on designing structures, Pérez-
Gómez, for example, used to define that architecture is not just about imitating a comfortable environ-
ment to suit our needs, and it is about to arouse our embodied pre-reflective perception to feel the
presence. He extensively reveals that rather than pleasing us, architecture is like a “heteropoietic sys-
tem” that challenges our perception to get more imagination [28]. According to embodiment simulation,
the human body is the primary medium through which we experience gravity and force. Many design
projects have already practised similar structural thinking using perceived “force” and ambivalence
within structures to evoke bodily experience memories. For example, Antoine Picon’s interpretation
reveals that the structural forms designed by Eduardo Torroja are intended to play with the radical
structural expression regarding the static equilibrium to challenge the embodied feeling [29].
However, in using similar bodily implication principles to create the drama of strong structures,
different architects have different ways and aims. In the case of the Leutschenbach School, the embod-
ied structural ambivalence is more likely to create a sense of lightness, openness, and levitation, thus
challenging the visual-body perception. The appropriate combination of embodied structural ambiva-
lence and architectural concepts can further enhance and convey the design intentions by implying and
guiding the human embodied perception. For example, in the case of Tanikawa House and Plantahof
Auditorium, both architects claimed that they intended to create a sense of spatial ambivalence, which
successfully shaped the spatial tension with structures. Although their structural expressions are all
related to embodiment, the underlying reasons and design methods are different from a neuroscientific
point of view.
The Tanikawa House (Fig. 3a) was designed in 1974 by Kazuo Shinohara. To create a dialogue
inside the building with its’ nature context, Shinohara exposed all the structures, including a large area
of natural soil inside the house. Inside the building, the white roof and dark earth slope, the slenderness
of the column, the proportion between the open space and the living area, was design to augment the
contradictions between functional and non-functional, balanced and unbalanced, artificial and natural,
inside and outside [30]. This opposition-oriented ambivalence in structural expression could stimulate
human’s embodied perception in twofold. First, the seemingly unbearable scale of the slender columns.
Standing inside, the exaggerated height and the pristine white roof make the ceiling appear almost flat,
reinforcing its sense of sky-like scale from the human perspective. The exaggerated sense of scale is
reinforced by the two slim columns that hold up the roof, enhancing the sense of instability of the roof
and structure. From the perspective of embodied perception, one can directly imagine the bodily op-
pression generated by two skinny people attempting to hold up a sky with their arms. Secondly, the
interior of the building leaves almost three-quarters of the area to the exposed earth but compresses the
living space into the second storey on one side of the building (Fig. 3b). In contrast to the traditional
way of habitability, Tanikawa House creates a spatial tension between the everydayness and the non-
everydayness, functional and non-functional, that could make people feel nervous. Therefore, “people
began to walk back and forth, trying to relieve their anxiety. There are many kinds of ways to interact,
from which a variety of meanings will be generated.” [31] With this movement, people start walking
on the soft earthy ground, and the feeling of the gentle slope activates the bodily experience of being
outside and nature. Therefore, it generated a body-oriented mental connection between being inside and
outside beside the physical approach. Consequently, in the Tanikawa House, the structural expression
is conveyed through ambivalence-evoked bodily memory. The exaggerated and unstable naturalistic
sense of scale inside the building, the direct exposure of the earth, and the inversion between the artifi-
cial and natural space are all intended to convey peoples previous bodily experiences in nature. The
building creates a connection and dialogue with the architectural context and atmosphere from an em-
bodiment perspective. Therefore, the structural ambivalence becomes the medium to connect the con-
textual concepts and concrete building in Kazuo Shinohara’s design.
The structures in Plantahof Auditorium designed by Valerio Olgiati have different motives for cre-
ating structural ambivalence expression. In Plantahof Auditorium, Olgiati designed a diagonal brace
with an exaggerated scale to support the roof. This giant diagonal brace was also designed to be in an
unusual misaligned position - it pierces through the vertical wall and sticking out of the exterior, only
exposing a short portion of the support (Fig. 4a). Like the Tanikawa House, this dramatic inclined
structure and unreadability in structural relations could stimulate human’s embodied perception from
twofold. First, the diagonal brace activates the human bodily experience of an inclined bodily gesture
and carrying loads. From the exterior of the building, this 45 degree inclined bracing appears to support
28 exposed or concealed
Conceptual Design of Structures 2021
the massive wall load with its exposed relatively small volume. Therefore, one’s understanding of this
structural expression would directly correspond to the bodily experience of the difficulty in maintaining
stability when our bodies are tilted to 45 degrees, which consequently evokes a sense of imbalance.
Furthermore, the contrast in scale between the vast wall and the smaller exposed part of the structure
directly evokes the bodily experience of attempting to hold up a massive and heavy object with our
bodies, thus experiencing a sense of oppression. Secondly, as this inclined bracing penetrates the wall,
people can only partially read the structure both from inside and outside (Fig. 4b). This fragmented
representation of the structural system is very similar to interrupting the expression of the structural
continuity in the building at Ottoplatz and the Leutschenbach School; it makes the overall structural
logic unclear and unreadable and thus creates a sense of confusion and curiosity. Olgiati explained the
structure thinking of Plantahof Auditorium as: “the Plantahof Auditorium has an outer shape that does
not allow one to understand the entire building organism. From the outside it seems that this building
does not need and supports. On the other hand, if we only see the building from the inside, it also seems
as if no restraints are necessary. Only when we see the entire building, do we begin to recreate it in our
mind and understand why it has supports, why they have the dimensions they do, and why they are
positioned as they are… This is all the more so because of the specific location of these structural
elements in the room…I am convinced that if people are confronted with something that resembles
nothing and something that they cannot yet handle, they begin to fathom this and ultimately experience
it positively…” [32, p. 64] This ambivalence structural relations makes the structure becomes a trigger
to encourage people to move and interact with the building actively - in Olgiati’s words, it could “stim-
ulate thought”, thus allowing people to be involved both physically and mentally.
Fig. 3 (a): Tanikawa House, Karuizawa, 1974, Kazuo Shinohara. (b): The floor plan of Tanikawa
House, the left narrow part is the living room; the right empty part is the exposed earth.
Fig. 4 (a): Plantahof Auditorium, Landquart, 2010, Valerio Olgiati. © Javier Miguel Verme (b):
The interior of Plantahof Auditorium. © Javier Miguel Verme
Whether it is the Leutschenbach School, Tanikawa House, or Plantahof Auditorium, the design of the
structures in these projects is to find the balance of statics, dissolving the conflict of gravity and force;
whereas their structural expression are all contrarily tending to creates an unbalanced, discontinuous,
29Proceedings of the International b Symposium on Conceptual Design of Structures
Sept. 16-18, 2021, Attisholz, Switzerland
Conceptual Design of Structures 2021
and even disordered spatial condition to stimulate human perceptions. Their simultaneous consideration
of embodiment and ambivalence implicated in structural expression expressed a paradoxical structural
condition that is logically balanced in statics but unbalanced in its expression. Both of these approaches
contribute to creating the drama of strong structures and successfully convey their architectural concept
by considering bodily experience.
5 Conclusion
What is significant about the research of neuroscience in architecture is that it reveals the natural prin-
ciples of perception. It allows us to re-examine the question of structural expression in more rigour and
scientific way. From a perceptual point of view, the perspectives of mirror neuron and embodied sim-
ulation seem to answer the question that architects and structural engineers have debated for many
years: why and whether to express structure authentically in architectural space [11].
In the light of neuroscience, the architecture may or may not be a wholly authentic expression of
structural logic. The exposure of the structure is not the aim or the criterion. From the neurophenome-
nological perception point of view, the appropriate conveyance of the structure expression to the em-
bodiment of bodily gesture and muscle experience, and the stimulation of bodily movement and inter-
actions, are the true objectives of structural design - to positively influence and enhance design inten-
tions. What noteworthy is, only the appropriate degree of perception stimulation in the light of arousal
could positively enhance the design intention instead of overload it.
Indeed, structural clarity is the basis for readability, but above this clarity, the degree of embodiment
of the structural form is the determining factor in the embodied experience of structural expression.
What truly matters is whether the degree of embodiment of structural expression can act as attention or
stimulation cues under human embodiment principles.
This awareness is not limited to the interpretation of structural expressions but can also influence
the future of structural design. Like the vision that strong structures are chasing, neurophysiological
perspectives allow the structures to go beyond their load-bearing properties and be associated with
human perception, emotion, and behaviour, becoming an embodied structure.
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... The final materialization of The Canopy demonstrated that all the design intentions, functional requirements, and site constraints were met. The thinking process behind this project reflects the interaction between form and force, creating a space of "Strong Structures" [33] through a synergy of structure, construction, and tectonic aspects with an extremely lightweight and minimal intervention. The Canopy ultimately succeeded in providing an attractively proportioned and functionally partitioned temporary space for the conference, always respecting the existing space in which it was immersed. ...
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This paper illustrates the design and fabrication process of the temporary installation The Canopy, developed as part of the fib Symposium on Conceptual Design of Structures 2021. The geometry of the perforated hanging membrane that forms The Canopy is the result of seamless integration between the disciplines of architecture and structural design, which was one of the driving inputs for the entire process. Particularly, the use of geometry-based models and graphic statics allowed activating the interplay between these disciplines. This was the key to balancing the relationship between architectural spaces and structural requirements, and to informing the multifaceted design exploration of The Canopy from conceptual design to construction.
... Of course, in many cases, we can also see a difference-the structure does not directly resonate with the body, but its absence or anomalies can stimulate the imagination of the structure, which in turn triggers an interaction with the structure to induce another level of structural embodiment. For instance, Kerez's Leutschenbach School (Fig. 4) deliberately conveys a discontinuity in the force flow by offsetting the structure, evoking a sense of lightness and floating [71]. This approach is consistent with the neuroaesthetic of arousal, in which the appropriate stimulus arouses our curiosity in order to perfectly reorganise or rationalise the missing parts of the structural expression from bodily experience, thereby completing a conceptually similar reorganisation of a "dismembered body." ...
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Structural art should not be marginalised as an integral part of structural design. By reviewing historical understandings of structural art, this article discusses the ambiguous and neglected perspective of structural art on architectural design and human perception dimensions, concentrating the attention of structural art on the question of human aesthetic perception. Based on significant changes in how art is perceived due to recent neuroaesthetics research, this article introduces recent findings from cognitive neuroscience regarding embodied perception principles, sheds new light on the aesthetic experiences inherent in the built environment, and clarifies and expands previously held beliefs about structural art. Finally, while emphasising the significance of structural art, this article attempts to provide a body-informed perspective on structural art that can aid in incorporating human neuroaesthetic perception principles during the conceptual phase of the structural design process, thereby redefining the effect of structures on architectural space and aesthetics, thus redefining structural art.
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Over the last few years, the efforts to reveal through neuroscientific lens the relations between the mind, body, and built environment have set a promising direction of using neuroscience for architecture. However, little has been achieved thus far in developing a systematic account that could be employed for interpreting current results and providing a consistent framework for subsequent scientific experimentation. In this context, the enactive perspective is proposed as a guide to studying architectural experience for two key reasons. Firstly, the enactive approach is specifically selected for its capacity to account for the profound connectedness of the organism and the world in an active and dynamic relationship, which is primarily shaped by the features of the body. Thus, particular emphasis is placed on the issues of embodiment and motivational factors as underlying constituents of the body-architecture interactions. Moreover, enactive understanding of the relational coupling between body schema and affordances of architectural spaces singles out the two-way bodily communication between architecture and its inhabitants, which can be also explored in immersive virtual reality settings. Secondly, enactivism has a strong foothold in phenomenological thinking that corresponds to the existing phenomenological discourse in architectural theory and qualitative design approaches. In this way, the enactive approach acknowledges the available common ground between neuroscience and architecture and thus allows a more accurate definition of investigative goals. Accordingly, the outlined model of architectural subject in enactive terms—that is, a model of a human being as embodied, enactive, and situated agent, is proposed as a basis of neuroscientific and phenomenological interpretation of architectural experience.
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A half-century ago the Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck encouraged designers to think about "space and time" not as abstractions in themselves but rather as cultural events better approached through the medium of "place and occasion." Van Eyck made this point on the basis of his own travels and through his extensive readings in cultural anthropology, and his prescience is only now acquiring the credibility that it deserves through the work of a multitude of interdisciplinary researchers. Phenomenologists argue that we are embodied organisms-acting-within-environments, and these inhabiting abodes are constructed of both material and cultural dimensions. We are thus preeminently social in our range of self-consciousness, and intensely ceremonial in every facet of our being. Evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists are currently locating the origin and development of our most basic social behaviors far in our pre-human past; neuroscientists are today modeling our social circuits in the deepest reaches of our brains. Architecture would gain much from an updated cultural theory grounded in these new models of human existence.
A burgeoning interest in the intersection of neuroscience and architecture promises to offer biologically inspired insights into the design of spaces. The goal of such interdisciplinary approaches to architecture is to motivate construction of environments that would contribute to peoples' flourishing in behavior, health, and well-being. We suggest that this nascent field of neuroarchitecture is at a pivotal point in which neuroscience and architecture is poised to extend to a neuroscience of architecture. In such a research program, architectural experiences themselves are the target of neuroscientific inquiry. Here, we draw lessons from recent developments in neuroaesthetics to suggest how neuroarchitecture might mature into an experimental science. We review the extant literature and offer an initial framework from which to contextualize such research. Finally, we outline theoretical and technical challenges that lie ahead.