Smart buildings: Architects using brain science for design guidance

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Smart buildings: Architects using brain science for design guidance
Corona del Mar Middle School in Newport Beach, California. Its design incorporates features to improve well-being and performance. // Photograph © Haya El Nasser
Smart buildings: Architects using brain science for design guidance
Corona del Mar Middle School in Newport Beach, California. Its design incorporates features to improve well-being and performance. // Photograph © Haya El Nasser

After entering the Corona del Mar Middle School campus in Newport Beach, and an unexplainable sense of well-being washes over visitors. The courtyard is airy. Every classroom has a window — some with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Glass panels stretch floor to ceiling. Native California plants grow throughout the complex. The building has staggered edges to avoid the off-putting appearance of a big box. Solatubes in laboratory classrooms provide lighting without affecting experiments. There are no school hallways.

The public middle school, which is part of a larger complex that includes Corona del Mar High School, now is attracting more students who would normally have gone to private school in this affluent Orange County district, said Principal Rebecca Gogel. “There has been a significant change in student behavior,” she said.

Yes, the school is pretty. But what has gone into the design of this school goes much deeper than sheer aesthetics. Architects are now applying neuroscience to design schools, hospitals, community centers and even single-family homes.

The meshing of architecture and brain science is starting to gain traction. Architects are studying the way the brain reacts to various environments through brain scanners and applying the findings to their designs.

“We’ve all known this intuitively,” said Betsey Olenick Dougherty, the Costa Mesa, California, architect who designed the middle school. “Now science can prove it.”

The push is on to incorporate brain science into design and architecture. A decade ago, the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture was formed in San Diego. Dougherty, of Dougherty + Dougherty Architects, is on the board. The topic is part of the American Institute of Architects’ conferences.

San Diego’s NewSchool of Architecture and Design is offering neuroscience courses to architecture students — the first school in the country to do so. ….

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