mit Gerald Hüther und Jan Teunen 2011
Space Brain Beauty
The Aesthetics of Architecture and its Effect
Beauty will save the world.
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
Human beings live in a space, just like any other living creature. But our unique quality is that we are aware of it. One of the reasons for this is that the spaces in which we live are also created and made habitable by us.
We have manifold options for the individual design of our living spaces – our potential is so great that we are able to provide habitation for ourselves anywhere in the world.
The spaces created by us become realms of experience, and the experiences gained there are anchored in the brain. As inner attitudes and philosophies formed on the basis of these experiences, they influence our thinking, feeling and action, and thus our further development.
The aspect of space that is characteristic for human beings is not its objective quality, but the subjective evaluation of its functionality and its aura. This evaluation is culture-specific, it is founded on the individual experiences gained in the course of socialization.
Beyond this basis of assessment thus acquired, there are other, profound criteria that are independent of enculturation and based on the biological circumstances of the human being and the organization of their brain: beauty and aesthetics. Every person has intrinsic knowledge, constitutive of their own physical quality, of how a space should be in order for it to be “beautiful”. As all human beings share this biological quality, from the latter perspective these assessment criteria are objective.
1. Space and man
1. Human beings strive to achieve a sense of well-being: welfare, contentment and emotional security. Well-being – also referred to as satisfaction and happiness – comes when a person is in harmony with the world, and at peace with themselves. It is when you feel relaxed, self-assured, motivated and full of confidence.
2. A sense of well-being can be encountered anywhere in the world. This expansive space – cosmos, universe, oikos – is where human beings live. It is where they experience a sense of cultural security. Modern man lives in houses. These are spatial sections of the world that have been designed and made habitable. Home and work occupy an important position within them. In this context, the three different elements of space, beauty and brain play a prominent role.
3. Space is the thread that combines all phenomena to form a unit which we call the world. Things that are perceived can always only be conceived in the context of space. Living creatures are “borne” by the space. As time is bound to space, both are involved in the construction of the world, the spatio-temporal fabric of our existence. However, for human beings, a space is always also a harmonious space.
4. Beauty is attraction and cognizance. Appeal and appreciation. But also understanding, because there is substance underneath the beauty. It is a factual basis that was originally – i.e. also in the animal world – important for survival. Awareness of this is only made possible by the human brain.
5. The brain is a relationship organ. Sensory organs are used to connect it with the outside world, and special nerve cells enable connection with organs and regions of the body. The typical characteristic of a human being is that the brain is both space and matter, producing that which is intangible – consciousness and intellect, feelings and ideas. These are created because the brain is able to communicate with itself – from area to area, storing experiences and exchanging information with other people. The brain processes sensory input and information, coordinates movements, initiates actions and performs internal operations. The body influences thinking, and knowledge influences the body.
2. Human habitation in the world
6. Human beings must create habitation for themselves in the world. Living in a house is a special way in which this can be achieved. The invention of the house marked the birth of architecture, which gives people a fixed place in the world. The specified space in the house means collection and order, control and influence.
7. When they begin to build houses, hunters and collectors turn into farmers. They domesticate or tame plants and animals, thus also taming themselves in the process. They must adapt their powerful motions to perform controlled procedures, refine sweeping gesticulation to make small gestures, and diversify their hunting and collecting to deal with animals and for the production of things.
8. The house is a substantial intervention in the self-conception of man, and it changes everything – physical and psychological state, thinking, feeling and action.
11. The house is a center of personal creative power. From their place of safety, protected against wild animals, people are able to reach surrounding areas, build more houses, and incorporate the area into the original territory. A house also brings the concept of ownership with it, and this marks the start of a process in which humans make the entire earth habitable and in which natural substances are transformed into equipment, tools, consumer goods, houses, streets and forms of transportation – culminating in the current world of things. This is the history behind how people established habitation for themselves in the world.
3. Architecture as a living space
12. Today, houses and architecture are the permanent stage on which people meet and interact. The spaces chosen by people for their existence determine the way in which they think and act, how they feel and how they live together with others.
13. Modern man spends most time in living areas and at work.
14. As office work is a key social activity in our modern world, the office building and its furnishings are important media for almost all processes that impact the world. The quality of these media determines the quality of life for the people who work there. It can motivate, enhance creativity and increase productivity – or it can have the opposite effect and hampers efficiency. The same is true for schools, hospitals, retirement homes and factories.
15. People who design spaces should have extensive knowledge of the relationship between space and the brain. Tidying away and arranging furniture are existential activities that express how somebody is positioned in the world, how that person would like to be, and how they feel within the world. The necessary knowledge is gained not only by awareness, contemplation and logic, however, but also by intuition and feeling.
16. As office design must take commercial constraints into consideration, office workers are often unenthusiastic about their work and are unmotivated because unattractive rooms fail to inspire them. Therefore, companies need well-designed rooms and attractive, well-functioning office accessories to ensure that people gain pleasure from their work.
4. The brain as a relationship organ
17. The brain receives stimuli from both the outside and the inner world. Smells, noises, physical contact, foodstuffs and electromagnetic waves are encountered by the body. The outside world is a spatial world comprising objects and nature, settlements, people and cultural goods which follow the laws of nature and sociality. But the outside world is also immaterial. It is permeated with the ideas and feelings of other people.
18. On the inside, humans become aware of their breath and heartbeat, pain, confinement and their own voice, and also joy and a sense of well-being. The inner world is a “time world”. It is a world without a definite form and that is difficult to grasp. And it is where humans encounter their moods, needs and ideas.
19. New perceptions, insights and experiences must be considered significant before they can be anchored in the brain. For example, strong feelings lend particular significance to these perceptions, memories, insights or actions. Only experiences that are considered significant activate the emotional centers deep inside the brain, release neuroplastic messenger substances and establish new neural patterns in the brain areas that are particularly strongly activated in these emotionally stimulated conditions.
20. Something always becomes significant for a person when it affects them personally: either because it disturbs them or because it makes them happy.
21. Even at an advanced age, humans can have new experiences that are stabilized in the brain as new parts of the existing neural network and superimpose the older network structures that were created by previous experiences. The brain retains the ability to adapt to new usages and to expand, even in adulthood.
22. The reaction to a disturbance of inner order is regressive: a regress to the well proven. In contrast, the reaction to stimulation is progressive; it allows us to risk new activities with courage and willingness and to maximize potential.
23. In order to maximize potential, we need openness, creativity, enthusiasm, a joy of discovery and a thirst for designing. This is possible when people experience that something fits together when it was previously separated, or when a desire is fulfilled.
5. Brain and beauty
24. “Beautiful” describes something that leaves a pleasant impression, a feeling of harmony triggered by beautiful objects, beautiful movements, beautiful ideas or beautiful actions. In the animal world, beauty is an expression of health and fitness. It is expressed in symmetries, proportions, colorfulness or differentiated song. With human beings, these attributes – which guarantee successful reproduction – are joined by cultural elements such as morals, sociality and aesthetics, which influence well-being and beauty.
25. Stimulating spaces invite, encourage and inspire people to gain new experiences and stabilize new neural patterns in their brain. This ability is reduced in spaces that are unattractive or where people feel ill at ease. The same is true when they have to deal with other people who are egoistic, indifferent, argumentative, self-destructive and irresponsible. This results in huge losses that affect the business world as they hinder efficiency. Avoiding these losses is a crucial prerequisite of qualitative growth. If people are able to work in a team, if they are open and responsible at work, qualitative growth ensues. The biggest stimulation results from a relationship between people where all individuals are supported.
26. The thinking, feeling and also action of human beings always have a material – a neurobiological – basis, created by previous experiences in the form of neural patterns in the brain.
27. Human beings grow into the world in which they live, which is also a spatial world. This world is a world that has been shaped according to the criteria of previous generations. However, this is not necessarily a contemporary, humane or beautiful world, and therefore not necessarily a world with ideal conditions for the development of people and the brain.
28. People excel themselves if their basic need for attachment and emotional security and also for growth and autonomy is fulfilled, if they experience that they are part of the whole and are given the possibility to maximize their potential. For this reason, people often feel that something is beautiful if it appears closely connected yet at the same time free and autonomous.
29. A feeling of coherence, happiness and beauty always emerges when people experience that they are embedded in something that is bigger than themselves. For this reason, a sense of beauty is triggered by the experience that something is right, harmonious, feels pleasant and appropriate, and thus generates coherence. Not only are a person’s own possibilities realized, but the need for overcoming any incoherence is also awakened.
30. The knowledge of how something should be is anchored in the form of neural patterns in the brain. This is also retained if we perceive something that is inappropriate – unreasonable, ugly and disturbing. The knowledge is reawakened when we encounter the beautiful object again. Then the familiar needs, wishes and ideas are reintegrated into the inner attitude, approach and activity, and they enable inactive potential to be revived.
6. Beauty and quality
31. Quality comes from qualitas and means characteristic, property, feature. The goodness in something, an event or an action. If something is well-suited to a purpose, it has (a good) quality. The quality of the action and behavior of a person is directly related to its context. In production, it is not the finished product alone but the production process as well. Material, the choice of tools, interference with nature, dealing with colleagues, as well as fairness and transparency on the market determine the quality of a product.
32. Everything that is perceived by humans has an immediate effect. The body, and also its thinking and action, adapt not only to what is eaten, but also to what is said, smelled, heard and touched. A connection is therefore created between the things and gestures, spaces, nature and other people. The perceptions have a lasting impact. Pleasant impressions soothe the senses and the mind – unpleasant ones cause discomfort.
33. Pleasantness generates coherence, triggered by quality and beauty. People are touched by quality. As the soothing perceptions influence thinking, feeling and behavior, they open up new perspectives. Quality creates motion from within and allows humans to become at one with themselves and the world.
34. Quality refines the senses and increases the capacity to absorb things. It enables people to perceive nuances and shades. Such positive effects also encourage an ethical attitude such as fairness, political conviction such as responsibility and an aesthetic need for beauty.
35. Creating quality as appropriate human action within nature, culture and among people is gradually integrated into rules that determine human interaction. Quality thus becomes the moral for ideas, action and things. It gives people a feeling of lightness, uplifts them and gives them dignity.
7. Space and motivation
37. Motivation is only possible if a person has been emotionally affected. This feeling is triggered by the perception of quality and appeals to all the senses. Motivation as an inner emotion means joy, inclination and incentive, which boosts a person’s initiative. The perception of the quality of things, events and personal interaction leads to an increase in the quality of life.
38. A person’s motivation is infectious and also encourages action by other people. As human beings must be motivated to consciously shape the future, producing quality must be a key social responsibility.
8. Working environment
43. Spaces are well suited if they are spaces of trust, stimulus and recollection. The emotional security experienced as a memory forms the basis for trust and creativity.
46. It is best if workspaces are designed in such a way that they are suitable both for teamwork and also for focused individual activity. This is always most successful if they facilitate both personal and team-related rituals, which contribute to the success of good teamwork. Symbols and rituals, and the spatial sections allocated to them, make it easier to create common ground because they are the true places of encounter.
47. Even when a person is working, personal matters still occupy their mind at the same time. This cannot be described as an annoying digression, but enables their work to be shaped by personal traits as a result of encouraging creativity, the ability to exchange information, and individuality.
48. This is why office spaces need to provide opportunities for privacy. Focused work and creative relaxation are rhythmic processes that require breaks. Spaces that offer privacy contribute to inner calm and thus radiate a soothing atmosphere. Only those people who are able to repeatedly retreat and recuperate in this way will be able to maintain the necessary willingness and composure for teamwork.
50. Furniture, tools and everybody objects are used by humans to provide habitation for themselves in the world: in their own, personal world and in the world of social networks. If this is successful, people talk about a place with a “good atmosphere”. The things support the physical and psychological state. Beautifully furnished rooms generate coherence.
51. Office furniture and equipment lend spaces both structure and atmosphere. However, they need a good atmosphere in order to provide orientation, open up paths of communication and offer stimulus in the world of work, inviting office workers to concentrate and communicate, to take a break or become active.
© Jan Teunen, Gerald Hüther, Hajo Eickhoff 2011