A new conference hosted by the Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture, Sculpting the Architectural Mind: Neuroscience and the Education of the Architect moves into the question of how neuroscientific data might impact architectural pedagogy. Organized in collaboration with ANFA by architects Dan Bucsescu and Ralph Steenblik, along with Michael Arbib (a founding Board Member of ANFA), the conference has mirrored intentions: to better understand the mind of the architect through neuroscience, and to let these lessons guide pedagogical priorities. The conference points particularly to the generational shift toward digital design tools – a drastic change with poorly understood cognitive effects and precedents. Much of the two-day syllabus addresses age-old design motifs, such as the hand-to-mind connection, two dimensional representations of three dimensional spaces, virtual realities, and way-finding, with presentations and panel discussions from artists, historians, architectural theorists, and philosophers alongside the neuroscientists and architects.


In recent years, architects have been mining new research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, object-oriented philosophy, and experimental biology for design concepts and for accounts of the new conditions of materiality. Architects borrow from these discourses to formulate and justify a wide range of design processes, especially digitally-driven ones. But we have failed to discuss how neuro-scientific knowledge can impact architectural pedagogy. A generation of architectural students has been trained in digital design tools, and younger students now generate nearly all of their design through digital media. What forms of design cognition has this change in representational systems yielded? Research from the sciences of the mind might help to unpack the implications of this shift.

This conference considers the roles that applied neuroscience has played and might play in the education of architects. What cognitive skills should be developed through an architectural education, and how has the long history of exchanges between biological and neuroscientific knowledge generated current models for architectural design? Which insights from neuroscientifc research should architectural educators be aware of as they formulate pedagogic platforms? Given what we are learning about the role of the body and the hand in learning from recent mind-brain research, how can we best integrate training in digital tools with other tools that engage the body in the process of design? Finally, what impact might a new approach to the cognitive development of architectural students have on our built environment?

The symposium is structured around invited presentations and panel discussions with neuroscientists, architectural theorists, historians, philosophers, and artists. Hosted by Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture in collaboration with the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. It is free and open to the public.