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This is your brain on “contemplative architecture”

Fr Lawrence Lew OP CC

Daniel Esparza - published on 04/16/16

Science proves that buildings designed for contemplative purposes affect our mental states. Spend more time in church or at the library.

Emily von Hoffmann, for an article for  The Atlantic, had a long conversation with Dr. Julio Bermúdez, the director of a study that uses neuroimaging methods — basically, MRIs — to capture the effects of architecture on the human brain.

What Bermúdez discovered (back in 2014), as von Hoffmann writes in her article, is what he has labeled “contemplative architecture” or “phenomenologies of our built environment”: that is, that the constant presence of a certain kind of architecture in everyday life produces the very same health benefits that traditional induced meditation (i.e., the voluntary practice of meditation) does. But, obviously, with way less effort invested by the person.

It is, let’s say, an “automatic way to meditate.”

Nicolas Lope De Barrio CC

“Contemplative architecture” generally includes a series of elements that have always been part of religious architecture. Bermúdez explains that it is logical to expect that “societies do not only perceive the direct relationship between beauty and the experience of beauty throughout time, but that they also seek to exploit it and use it in any building,” regardless of where it was built, for religious, academic, scientific or even personal purposes.

One of Dr. Bermúdez’s experiments consisted of showing 12 architects a series of pictures of contemplative and non-contemplative buildings, from their façades to their inner spaces. He then measured their brain activity to map their reactions as they looked at the pictures and imagined themselves entering the buildings.

Jeffrey Bruno

The image catalogue for “contemplative places” included the Alhambra, Agrippa’s Pantheon, Chartres’ Cathedral, the Salk Institute and LeCorbusier’s Ronchamp Cathedral. So far, the research has proven that, against what some of the apostles of practicality preach, architectonic design is not a mere accessory.


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