Seeds of Enlightenment

Minding Design symposium brought together the fields of neuroscience and design education.

On a flight into Phoenix I was thinking of light as a metaphor for ideas. I thought of the city lights as a field of minds in a network of shared ideas. As I found my way to Taliesin West in northeast Scottsdale, memories ebbed and flowed with the illumination of the roads that, at each turn, gave way to an experience that embedded itself in my personal map of this metropolitan area in the Arizona desert. There is always a moment before reaching Taliesin West at night where city lights disappear. Suddenly suspended in the darkness of the desert, I turned on my inner light—my knowledge of the place that has been embedded in my memory through living at the camp where Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered the principles of Organic Architecture. Slowly, the camp reveals itself through deliberate lighting, as ideas to be contemplated. I walked through this silent masterpiece, listening to the old ideas and observing the potential ones to come from Minding Design, a symposium on neuroscience, design education, and the imagination. Last November the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and School of Architecture hosted this full day symposium, bringing together the ideas and research of architects and neuroscientists in a series of presentations and panel discussions. Juhani Pallasmaa, Michael Arbib, Jeanne Gang, and Ian McGilchrist were the keynote speakers in a dialogue that explored the opportunities of cross-pollination between architecture and neuroscience. The range of discussions was impressive and left my mind saturated with seeds of light/ideas and questions to contemplate and assimilate into my own design process.


Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary scientific study that examines the nervous system and integrates biology, chemistry, physics, linguistics, computer science, and psychology. When emphasizing the academic span of neuroscience, Dr. Michael Arbib noted that every year the Society for Neuroscience receives over 1,500 research papers for review for their annual conference, clearly a growing field.

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The nervous system is the way in which we perceive and communicate with our world. Architecture and design have a direct impact on these perceptions because, as Pallasmaa said, it acts as a mediator between our relationships with the outside environment. How can this mediation tool be a source of study for neuroscientists and architects through the examination of spatial and programmatic needs? The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture is an essential resource in mapping research and direction of this interdisciplinary dialogue.


How does the designer or architect expand the boundaries of perception through tools and knowledge we gain? Design education requires a transference and integration of basic knowledge, skills, and systems. As a student, one must prove to have an understanding of the theory, history, and tools that influence our contemporary culture. Within the safety zone of an academic pedagogy, students are given the opportunity to implement new solutions to design opportunities. What is the neuroscience of how we learn from this process? How do we better establish a record of the rational and intuitive decisions that form our habitat in the professional practice? Jeanne Gang discussed her inspiring office culture and design approach, which is currently being exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute. Studio Gang provides a powerful look into how design education can integrate with professional practice.


Gang’s studio establishes a reading list with notes for each project so that the decisions maintain a “DNA” of sorts for new participants read. They allow room for mockups and experiments with an emphasis in material exploration. The unique bridge between digital and analogue tools is continually explored. Gang always provides a place for collection, curiosities and dialogue by staying open to the learning process and staying engaged with the public. Would it be possible to perform a neurological study of a design collaborative project by Studio Gang, in action. How would this data teach us about our own design processes?


Imagination is the core of the design process and the architectural mind; it is an undeniable neurological activity. The process of becoming an architect or designer is a state of mind as well as a system of external checks and balances. When is it that we have the knowledge and experience to provide the solutions to be implemented?  How is it that we imagine the solutions to our spatial and programmatic needs while balancing the several limiting circumstances of the program?


Imagine that every single tool you have is an extension of your body translating the ideas that you have to others via the conduit of images and text. These images and text consequently plant a seed idea in the minds of others, which then grows with a slightly different genetic variation than your own idea. The principles of Organic Architecture included the concept of the “seed” idea and its potential to germinate into the mediator of our perceptions, architecture and design solutions. Studio Gang does this by establishing a “DNA” of decisions. It is by sharing these ideas that we embody the knowledge, places, and people we visit, while the information constantly echoes through our tools and bodies as pulsations of light sprout new concepts in our imagination.  Organic Architecture is just as much a process as it is a result. Frank Lloyd Wright emphasized this term in reference to his work and his writings begin to define his process it in part. In the future neuroscience research of contemporary design processes might give us valuable insight into how best to apply our minds, tools, and skills to the work at hand.


This is the first of two blogs on architecture and neuroscience. For further in-depth information regarding the neuroscience and architecture visit:

Simon De Aguero has a Master of Architecture degree from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and Bachelors In Fine Arts from the University of Colorado. He has broad range of skills that inlcude education, set design, and architectural design. He travels frequently, and has been published nationally and internationally. Simón De Agüero’s elegant fabric constructs appear as tent-like canopies or translucent vertical and horizontal intersections lightly tethered to the landscape like atmospheric currents. His work redefines space in subtle ways that combine elements of both architecture and sculpture. He approaches fabric as a delicate building material, shaping spatial relationships that beautifully integrate his interests in architecture, sculpture, and design. His fabric structures, often made in combination with adobe or other organic materials, suggest a nomadic, tenuous relationship with the environment, like clouds passing overhead. All Taliesin West photos by Simon De Aguero.

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