Architectural affordances: linking action, perception, and cognition (2022)

Djebbara, Z. and Gramann, K. (2022) ‘Architectural affordances: linking action, perception, and cognition’, in Brain, Beauty, and Art: Essays Bringing Neuroaesthetics into Focus. Oxford University Press.

Request the full paper here, and remember to buy the treat of a book Brain, Beauty, and Art: Essays bringing neuroaesthetics into focus.

Imagine not being in space – impossible! The environment is experienced effortlessly, simply through our being in a place. It requires no more than simple perceptions to assemble a stable world. Yet, architecture – the art of designing the built environment – can tell awe-inspiring stories beyond describing stable buildings. It shapes and molds the spaces, which in turn function as the fundamental settings on which the stories and events of our lives unfold. Architects quite literally shape our world. In doing so, they change the appearance of the future world and reinvent our relationship to the surrounding space. This appreciation calls for a renewed understanding of how architects affect the human being. Paraphrasing the poet Rumi, it would be clever to change the world but wise to change ourselves. Emphasizing the human as the center of architectural design requires a change of attitude. The effort to reinvent and renew architecture must be informed by our attitude towards the built environment.

The body as the link between mind and space: A philosophical and neuroscientific discourse to understand the role of architecture in cognitive and emotional processing (2021)

Vecchiato, G., Robinson, S., Djebbara, Z., Papale, P. & Presti, P. (2021) ‘8th International Conference on Spatial Cognition: Cognition and Action in a Plurality of Spaces’. Rome/Virtual Conference.

Full proceedings can also be found here.

Outline. Architecture influences actions and emotions being the main stage of our everyday social interactions. This symposium will guide the auditory through selected neuroscientific knowledge and philosophy scholars to explain how architectural features impact on low and high level brain mechanisms, ultimately shaping human cognition. Recent research on how we experience architecture has highlighted that built spaces affect us much deeper at bodily and mental level thus shaping our actions and emotions (Mallgrave 2015). These talks will lead to the understanding that architectural experience goes beyond the mere visual processing and that sensorimotor mechanisms are fundamental to shape perception of space thus defining the whole social environment around us. The discourse will start from the perspective of the visual neuroscience showing how figure-ground perception (Papale et al. 2018), shape coding (Papale et al. 2020) and architectural expertise (Olivito et al. in preparation) are all features which could potentially inform architects to move from a ‘‘focused’’ design approach, i.e. considering architecture at the center of the visual scene, to a more ‘‘defocused’’ way of thinking about their projects, i.e. taking into account how we perceive at the periphery of the visual scene (Wallis et al. 2019). However, since architecture is a multisensorial subject, the mere visual processing does not explain the whole spatial perception which is completed through body representations. The phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Merleau-Ponty and the pragmatism of John Dewey show that embodied experience is a communal nexus of meaningful situations, expressive gestures and practical actions. From this point of view, architectural space is formed by human situations long before it is structured geometrically (Vesely 2004). The space beyond our skin becomes the field of possibility—tempered and conditioned by the possibilities it afford for action (Bo¨hme 2017). In configuring the concrete situations of daily life, architecture serves as the corporeal and topological ground of human becoming (Robinson 2021; Robinson and Pallasmaa 2015). Therefore, today it is urgent to integrate all the acquired knowledge to provide a neurophysiological and computational model of architectural affordances reflecting human experience (Djebbara et al. 2019). From this perspective, active inference and enactivism can be exploited because they centralize action-perception as a unifiedprocess reflected in sensorimotor dynamics for the inference of the world (Friston 2010; Jelic´ et al. 2016; O’Regan and Noe¨ 2001). Essentially, the dynamics are transition-patterns that accentuate the action in the genesis of perceptual experience, revealing that architecture enters the loop of cognition by designing actions. To date, the outcome is an attempt to go beyond traditional architectural methods and to synthesize phenomenological arguments with prominent neuroscientific theories. Among such theories, embodied cognition sets the motor system as the core hub processing spatial features, personal and other’s actions and emotions (Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia 2016). Recent findings already showed evidence of embodied mechanisms in architectural perception (Vecchiato et al. 2015). Recognizing also that observers are more accurate in recognizing body expressions when these are emotionally congruent with the emotional valence of the environment (Kret and de Gelder 2010), it becomes relevant to understand the role that sensorimotor processes play in cognitive adaptation mechanisms generated by architecture. We will show that such adaptation deeply impacts in social interactions shaping our daily behavior and mental states (Presti et al. 2020). This symposium fosters the design of environments towards the creation of proper atmosphere in specific places, and it is addressed to scientists, scholars, as well as private and public administration to highlight the impact that living environments have on society.


Neurophenomenology for Architecture: an embodied and enactive inference approach (2021)

Djebbara, Z. A Neurophenomenology for Architecture: an embodied and enactive inference approach. in 8th International Conference on Spatial Cognition: Cognition and Action in a Plurality of Spaces (2021).

The dynamic coupling within the brain, body, and environment has recently gained traction, making neuroscience attractive to architects. The aim was to draw parallels between the nature of human experienceand computational neuroscience to guide future studies. As our perception is enacted by the sensory and motor system, each action changes the perceived environment in line with our expectations. Our expectations are bound by our afforded actions, shaped by architectural affordances. Since affordances depend on the fit between the body and capacities for movement, our understanding of architecture relies on sensorimotor processes. Computational neuroscience proposes an auspicious Bayesian framework of cognition that provides a meaningful explanation of neuronal activity by way of ‘active inference’. Both active inference and enactivism centralize actionperception as a unified process reflected in sensorimotor dynamics for accessing the world. This demonstrates how the environment emerges in the dynamics as a loop rather than as an end-product. Essentially, the dynamics are transition patterns that accentuate the action in the genesis of experience, revealing that architecture enters the loop of cognition by designing actions. Integrating sensorimotor activity with active inference yields a computational model of architectural affordances that in turn reflects human experience. The outcome is an attempt to go beyond traditional architectural methods by synthesizing phenomenological arguments with a prominent theory of brain activity. To this end, a neurophenomenological account of the emergence of architectural experience is developed through an enactive inference, which in turn suggests how architecture impacts experience.

Scene and Place Preferences: Insights from Psychology and Neuroscience (2021)

Vartanian, O., Walther, D. B., Djebbara, Z., & Gosling, S. (2021) ‘Scene and Place Preferences: Insights from Psychology and Neuroscience’, in XXVI Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics 2021. London/Virtual Conference.

Full proceedings also found here.

Outline. Our aesthetic responses to objects extend to natural scenes and indoor places. Interestingly, people exhibit greater variability in their aesthetic responses to human artifacts such as interior architecture than they do to natural phenomena such as landscapes. This suggests that the behavioral relevance of natural scenes triggers fairly consistent information processing across individuals, whereas architectural interiors reflect aesthetic sensibilities that reflect varying experiences. However, to date, we know little about specific factors that drive our preferences for scenes or places. This symposium’s aim is to present cutting-edge research in the domains of psychology, neuroscience and computational modelling on the psychological and neurological underpinnings of scene and place preferences. Focusing on scenes, Walther et al. used computational methods to derive an objective measure of complexity, and used fMRI to show that it was associated with activation in early visual areas, whereas subjective complexity ratings were associated with activation in high-level visual areas. Djebbara et al. used a Mobile Brain/Body Imaging approach that integrated Virtual Reality with mobile EEG to demonstrate that early perceptual processes vary as a function of affordances upon scene perception, suggesting that action and perception are inherently related. Gosling et al. examined which ambiances people desire as a function of occupational settings, perspectives, and individual spaces, aiming to create a taxonomy of ambiances to inform theory and practice in environmental psychology. Finally,
Vartanian et al. present psychological and neurological data to show that people’s preferences for interior architecture are influenced by bidirectional bottom-up and top-down processes.


Dirk B. Walther, Elizabeth Yue Zhou, Claudia Damiano, John Wilder: Relating Brain Activity to Subjective and Pixel-based Complexity Measures

Visual complexity is an important mediator for visual aesthetics, yet there is a lack of consensus over the best way to objectively measure it. Here we propose two computational methods for measuring perceived complexity. The first is Multiscale Entropy (MSE), which measures information content of an image at multiple spatial scales. Secondly, since the compression algorithm in the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format implements Huffman coding, we use PNG file size as an information-theoretically optimal measure of non-lossy compressibility of the image information. We collected subjective complexity, symmetry and aesthetics pleasure ratings from Amazon Mechanical Turk for 6929 images from the BOLD5000 and SUN image datasets. Both the MSE and the PNG method are positively correlated with human complexity ratings, explaining about 10% (BOLD5000) and 20% (SUN) of the variance. We also found positive correlations of complexity ratings with those of pleasure (r=0.43) and symmetry (r=0.28). Does this mean that those simple, pixel-based algorithms are a good approximation for the subjective experience of complexity? To answer this question we compared the fMRI activity of participants viewing the images with pixel-based complexity measures and complexity ratings. We find that pixel-based complexity measures are associated with activation in visual areas V1 to V4, whereas subjective complexity ratings are associated with activation in high-level visual areas PPA, RSC and LO. This finding supports the view that our algorithms only capture low-level features in images, and illustrates that higher-level information should be included in models to better match the subjective experience of complexity.


Zak Djebbara, Lars Brorson Fich, Klaus Gramann: How Are Architectural Features Reflected in the Brain?

On an enactive account, perception and action are inherently related so that scene perception can be characterized by the capacities for movement. For the majority, everyday scene perception is likely to be of architectural features that afford certain actions relying on sensorimotor processes associated with exploring the surroundings. We sought to understand how architectural affordances are reflected in the brain upon perceiving an environment and during the interaction. To answer this question, we used a Mobile Brain/Body Imaging approach that integrates Virtual Reality with mobile EEG. Our participants (n = 19) were exposed to architectural transitions with varying affordances they had to interact with. We analyzed the time and frequency domains upon perceiving the scene and while approaching the door, respectively. Our results demonstrate that early perceptual processes vary as a function of affordances upon perceiving the scene providing evidence that action is inherently related to perception. While approaching the transition, the source-level time-frequency analysis revealed a strong alpha desynchronization originating from the posterior cingulate complex, the parahippocampal regions, as well as the occipital cortex, fluctuating as a function of the affordances. We conclude that sensorimotor brain dynamics reflect behavior-relevant features and that to perceive a scene is to continuously construct a prediction of the scene dependent on our action potential. These results indicate that anticipation in time is as important as the object in space during scene perception.


Samuel D. Gosling, Stacy Speck, Joel Anderson: The Structure and Distribution of Desired Ambiances Within Residential and Work Settings

What characteristics do people desire in the various spaces within their homes and workplaces? Most fundamentally, the spaces must meet basic physical needs, such as regulating temperature, light, and humidity. They must also afford security and support the successful completion of a range of personal, professional, and social activities (e.g., cooking, working, bathing, sleeping). Most home and workspaces meet such goals. But people typically want to do more than meet their basic physical needs and undertake their daily activities; they also want to regulate their cognitive and affective states. Occupants of a home may seek spaces that afford companionship, rejuvenation, relaxation, romance, fun, and a sense of coziness, family, and welcomeness. Office occupants may seek spaces that promote creativity, productivity, organization, and foster a sense of respect, safety, and community. Little is known about these less concrete, psychological features, or “ambiances” that people may want in their home and work spaces. Here we seek to map the basic terrain of desired ambiances. Using data gathered from adults working across a range of occupational settings, we ask which ambiances do people desire in their workspaces and how do the desired ambiances vary across occupational settings (e.g., commercial, health-care, education), across perspectives (e.g., nurse vs. patient; teacher vs.
student), and individual spaces (e.g., entrance, office, meeting room, circulation space). Ultimately, we hope to create a taxonomy of ambiances that will inform theory on environmental preferences and will provide a practical framework for practitioners in architecture and design.


Oshin Vartanian, Letizia Palumbo, Anjan Chatterjee: Exploring Preference for Architectural Interiors: Top-down and Bottom-up Approaches

Our research into the psychological and neurological underpinnings of preference for architectural interiors has involved two approaches. On the one hand, we have examined the impact of various physical features of architectural design (e.g., contour) on preference. This research has shown that the impact of design features on choice is moderated by both context and individual differences. For example, architects and designers exhibit greater sensitivity than laypeople to contour in the context of aesthetic judgments, whereas laypeople exhibit greater sensitivity to contour than architects and designers in the context of approach-avoidance decisions. In addition, compared to neurotypical controls, persons with autism spectrum disorder are more likely to exhibit preference for architectural interiors with angular design in the context of aesthetic judgments but not approachavoidance decisions—an effect driven by their atypical emotional and perceptual processing, or familiarity. A second line of research has involved exploring the impact of higher-order psychological dimensions on preference for architectural interiors. Specifically, we have shown that preference for architectural interiors can be explained using Coherence (ease for organizing and comprehending a scene), Fascination (a scene’s informational richness and generated interest), and Hominess (how much a space feels personal). In turn, these dimensions have dissociable neural correlates in the visual cortex. Our current work has shown that the influence of these dimensions is moderated by individual differences, involving comparisons among neurotypical controls, persons with autism spectrum disorder, and design students. We will demonstrate that preference for architectural interiors is strongly modulated by bottom-up and top-down processes.

Spar Nord Foundation’s Research Prize 2021

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been awarded Spar Nord Foundation’s Research Prize this year, 2021, for my PhD thesis. I need to thank a lot of people for their efforts and unwavering support.

My thesis, Expecting Space: an enactive and active inference approach to transitions, is a philosophical, psychological and cognitive neuroscientific approach to the experience and impact of architectural transitions. Central to the thesis is the ecological concept ‘affordance’, that I take as a relational measure between body, brain, and environment. The research results show that we are practically minded with the body in the center. By measuring brain activity as people perceive transitions, it turns out that the brain considers how I can move as part of what I can perceive. The results also pointed out that our expectations have a continuous impact on both the brain and the body. This means that we continuously expect how the rooms can be used. When we enter a space, our experience of space depends not only on our senses, but also how we can use the space. A surprising conclusion, especially from an architect’s point of view, is that our experience of the world is designed in time and expectation rather than just in space. Architecture is thus more than space alone. The thesis brings together science, humanism and biology , and thus take architectural research into a whole new field, where it is no longer space alone that plays a role, but both the human body and the brain are introduced.

Science Talks: Just how does space impact well-being and learning? (2021)

As the kind of living organisms we are, we are in many ways dependent on our ability to act in space to thrive and survive. Thus, our brain is constantly preoccupied with predicting our possibilities to act spatially and adjust both body and brain accordingly. As we mostly live in manmade environments, this ongoing adjustment means that certain aspects of the design of spaces might have a direct influence on the state of the body and the brain.

Zakaria Djebbara is an architect from Aalborg University who defended his Ph.D. in 2020 in the cross-section of architecture, neuroscience, and philosophy. He is currently a postdoc at Aalborg University and committed to understanding the relationship between brain activity and the experience of architecture by an experimental approach.

Lars Brorson Fich graduated from the Aarhus School of Architecture in 1984 and work as a practicing architect until he turned to research at Aalborg University in 2008. He defended his Ph.D. entitled “Towards a Neuroaffective Approach to Healing Architecture” in 2014 and is today an Associate Professor at the Department of Architecture, Design, and Media Technology.

Both Zakaria Djebbara and Lars Brorson Fich are members of the BBAR (Brain, Body, Architecture Research group) at Aalborg University.

A conversation – Corporeal Architecture (2021)

A conversation with Dr. Maria da Piedade Ferreira, founder of Corporeal Architecture and Lecturer at Hochschule für Technik Stuttgart – HFT and ACE – Center for Education of the Academy for Neuroscience for Architecture. This the second of a cycle, as joint initiative from the YouTube channel Corporeal Architecture.

The conversation focused on the role of affordances in the built environment. Starting from sensory capacities to experience, it is discussed how discovered architectural affordances might shape our expectations and thus experience.

The brain dynamics of architectural affordances during transition (2021)

Djebbara, Z., Fich, L. B. and Gramann, K. (2021) ‘The brain dynamics of architectural affordances during transition’, Scientific Reports, 11(1), p. 2796. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-82504-w.

Read the full paper here.

Action is a medium of collecting sensory information about the environment, which in turn is shaped by architectural affordances. Affordances characterize the fit between the physical structure of the body and capacities for movement and interaction with the environment, thus relying on sensorimotor processes associated with exploring the surroundings. Central to sensorimotor brain dynamics, the attentional mechanisms directing the gating function of sensory signals share neuronal resources with motor-related processes necessary to inferring the external causes of sensory signals. Such a predictive coding approach suggests that sensorimotor dynamics are sensitive to architectural affordances that support or suppress specific kinds of actions for an individual. However, how architectural affordances relate to the attentional mechanisms underlying the gating function for sensory signals remains unknown. Here we demonstrate that event-related desynchronization of alpha-band oscillations in parieto-occipital and medio-temporal regions covary with the architectural affordances. Source-level time–frequency analysis of data recorded in a motor-priming Mobile Brain/ Body Imaging experiment revealed strong event-related desynchronization of the alpha band to originate from the posterior cingulate complex, the parahippocampal region as well as the occipital cortex. Our results firstly contribute to the understanding of how the brain resolves architectural
affordances relevant to behaviour. Second, our results indicate that the alpha-band originating from the occipital cortex and parahippocampal region covaries with the architectural affordances before participants interact with the environment, whereas during the interaction, the posterior cingulate cortex and motor areas dynamically reflect the affordable behaviour. We conclude that the sensorimotor dynamics reflect behaviour-relevant features in the designed environment.

The Architecture of the Virtual: An Encounter between Cognitive Neurosciences and Architecture (2020)

August, K., Djebbara, Z., Kousoulas, S., & Radman, A. (2020) ‘The Architecture of the Virtual: An Encounter between Cognitive Neurosciences and Architecture’, in 4th Ambiances Congress 2020, Ambiances, Alloaesthesia: Senses, Inventions, Worlds. Santa Barbara: Ambiances.

Full text also found here.

Outline. The philosophies of substance presuppose a subject which then encounters a datum. This subject then reacts to the datum. The process ontology presupposes a datum (firstness) which is met with feelings (secondness), and progressively attains the unity of a subject (thirdness). It is in this sense that our bodily experience is primarily an experience of the dependence of the actual presentational immediacy upon the virtual causal efficacy, and not the other way round. To put it bluntly, the world does not emerge from the subject, but processes of subjectification emerge from the interactions between the body and world. The chapter is meant to provide the basis for the panel that will stage an encounter between cognitive neurosciences and architecture.

Introduction: Between Senses, Inventions and Worlds

Deleuze famously considered Phenomenology to be within the ancient tradition which placed light on the side of spirit and made consciousness a beam of light drawing things out of their native darkness, as it were (‘all consciousness is consciousness of something’). By contrast, he follows Bergson for whom things are luminous by themselves without anything illuminating them: “all consciousness is something, it is indistinguishable from the thing, that is from the image of light” (Deleuze, 1986: 60–61).

The philosophies of substance presuppose a subject which then encounters a datum, as Whitehead explains in his Process and Reality (Whitehead, 1978: 234). This subject then reacts to the datum. The process ontology presupposes a datum – firstness – which is met with feelings – secondness – and progressively attains the unity of a subject – thirdness (Peirce, 1905). It is in this sense that our bodily experience is primarily an experience of the dependence of presentational immediacy upon causal efficacy, and not the other way round (Whitehead, 1978: 267). To put it bluntly, the world does not emerge from the subject (as in Kant) but processes of subjectification emerge from the interactions between the body and world. This is what makes subjectification an ethico-aesthetic condition that is always temporal, intensive and individuating.

Perception is thus clearly an act of subtraction (sieve) and not of enrichment (Read and Jones, 1982: 297). It entails a selection of a flow of immediate experience out of the potential ground that is pure experience. Interestingly, this is also the current view in cognitive neurosciences: perception is the informational act of delimiting potentials (Friston, 2010 Cf. Gallagher, 2017). This means that there is less in perception than in matter. In the words of François Zourabichvili: “Mind is the membrane of the external world, rather than an autonomous gaze directed towards it” (Zourabichvili, 1996: 195). Quentin Meillassoux explains the underlying principles of such a subtractive theory of perception:

“[I]f, to pass from matter to perception, we must add something, this adjunction would be properly unthinkable, and the mystery of representation would remain entirely intact. But this is not at all the case if we pass from the first to the second term by way of a diminution, and if the representation of an image were held to be less than its simple presence. Now, if living beings constitute ‘centres of indetermination’ in the universe, then their simple presence must be understood to presuppose the suppression of all the parts of the object that are without interest for their functions […] Perception does not, as in Kant, submit sensible matter to a subjective form, because the link, the connection, the form, belongs wholly to matter. Perception does not connect, it disconnects. It does not inform a content but incises an order. It does not enrich matter, but on the contrary impoverishes it.” (Meillassoux, 2007: 72–73)

The poet William Blake wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” According to the neuroscientist Walter Freeman such cleansing would not be desirable at all. Without the protection of the doors of perception we would be overwhelmed by eternity (Freeman, 1991). Besides, it is never necessary to distinguish all the features of an object and it would in fact be impossible to do so (Augé, 2002: 14). According to the founder of the Ecological School of Perception James Jerome Gibson, perception is economical: “Those features of a thing are noticed which distinguish it from other things that it is not – but not all the features that distinguish it from everything that it is not” (Gibson, 1966: 286).

To address this, one needs to return to the (architectural) event itself. In the traditional view, the event is decomposed into a succession of moments, each described by its own stimulus. For the event to be perceived the succession of stimuli needs somehow to be strung back together. A deus ex machina is drafted for the mysterious task of reconstituting the dynamic. By contrast, in the ecological approach the perceiver’s task is merely to detect the event as specified by information or signs. The ‘information’ here is meant in Batesonian terms, not as a code, but as a difference that makes a difference, and it is for this reason that Gibson finds ‘tuning in’ a more appropriate metaphor than ‘computing’. Our bodily units must incorporate within themselves aspects of the world beyond themselves (umwelt).

There is an intimate connection between Senses, Inventions and Worlds. In contrast to phenomenology where the problem of construction of signs becomes a problem of ‘bestowal of meaning (Sinn)’, in Deleuze’s account it is sense that is productive of signs and their meanings (Deleuze 2007, Deleuze and Guattari, 2004: 124). This distinction between sense and meaning is not purely academic nit-picking, as Colebrook cautions: “Sense is that orientation or potential that allows for the genesis of bodies but that always, if extended, would destroy the bordered organism” (Colebrook, 2010: 37). The life form itself becomes an image among other images. This special image – a Bergsonian ‘center of indetermination’ – acts as a filter creatively selecting images from the universal flux.

Our ability to distinguish the essential from the inessential is at the basis of this zeroing in. According to Antonio Damasio, the ‘sterile’ combinations do not even present themselves (Damasio, 1994: 180). However, on no account does this mean that we look on and grasp a specific aspect of the world or environment as detached and fully formed beings: “[A] being is what it is because it is already an expression of every aspect of the whole. […] Organisms are possible because they concretely embody potentialities – the power to eat, to see, to move, to think – that could have been actualized differently, and that can even be counter-actualized” (Colebrook, 2010: 84, 110). According to Colebrook, a (fully) bounded organism is but an organicist fantasy. So is bounded architecture, and that is why it would make more sense to treat it as a (semi-permeable) membrane(s) (Teyssot, 2008: 166; Clark, 2017). In other words, architecture is cognition. The question then becomes how one knows what to subtract. Is it a matter of measurement (of the extensive) or an issue of intuiting (the intensive)? More so, what is the role of architecture in perceptual subtraction and what is the role of subtraction in the production of architecture?

The Four Pitches for the (Virtual) Panel on the Virtual

Karan August: Atmospheres
The desire to frame what is with a human vantage often pulls thinking to prioritise the importance of analytical minds to an hedonistic extent, rending impossible the capacity to conceive systems of relating matter without a perceiver. Yet Atmosphere once grasped the virtual vitality of just that; not beyond the perceiver, but irrelevant to. The trick of good architecture is that an object can manifest relating parts within its systems; both those attending and those inherently able to join. Matter’s mission is not to be formed by biped, biocular, unidextrous creatures hoping to profit off cleaver jesters. However matter’s disadvantage resinates with those who’s capacity to influence their formation, be it physical, psychological, political, or prudential, is limited by context existed through networks of reinforced relations of power. That which warrants manifestation regardless of observation persist, while meaning placers peripheral glances fail to grasp the acts own meaninglessness, until that which manifest shows what can not be unseen, that which may be tangential though not incidental, affording atmosphere to shift.

Akin to a thought experiment gone awry, herd hysteria calls on seemingly familiar situations to warrant new norms. Prior signifiers in our shared surroundings and behaviours shake their projected historic meanings, while material relations remain. Is the parting of habitual patterns with newly forced rhythms what calls those to see an unfamiliar Atmosphere that has always been possible? Or are unstable material relations unbinding forced formation, affording fresh ranking of which possibilities most easily actualise? Our time is both of our making and that which we find ourselves within. If we may grant the insignificance of our role as makers of space, perhaps we may more freely engage the persistent capacity of what is to actualise. The vibrancy may overwhelm, but perhaps it will welcome more to join in the care of our collective atmospheres.

Zakaria Djebbara: A Virtual brain?
Not much different from Bergsonian process philosophy, which resonates through Whitehead’s and Deleuze’s philosophy, recent advances in cognitive neuroscience suggests that the experience of the world, including sensing ambiances, rests on the interaction between an intuitive and practical knowledge in the body and its environment. The integrative use of sensorimotor patterns in cognitive functions has recently provided a novel framework for cognition, breaking from the Cartesian non-physical interface conception of mind. The Bergsonian term ‘virtual’ refers to the qualitative multiplicity and continuity in the unfolding of time, which is strikingly similar to recent theories of cognition when applied to action. It reflects the creative process of enacted sensation, corresponding to a cascade of motor-related prediction errors in neuroscience. By casting action as motor-predictions, the negation, i.e. error detection, becomes the essential motivator for enacted sensation. Considering process philosophy, perception and action are inseparable as they converge in their functional unfolding in sensing. As the genesis of the virtual reside in negation and the sensed being entirely positive, the process of enacted perception flourish between object and subject. Once action is grasped in its complex context, it is clear that any action unfolds solely under the virtual, that is, a directed multiplicity. In turn, the virtual is never conceived without a complex range of affordances relative to the “type” of action and perception, e.g. how, by what means, and under what circumstances did she do it? Ambiances can thus be indirectly addressed by questioning these layers of action—however, the answers will only provide a peek into the complex trajectory ex post facto. Approaching sensibility via cognitive neuroscience and the virtual provides a view into the sensing of ambiances as reflected in the inhibitory cascade of motor-related prediction errors. The difficult question to this extent relates to the genesis of the directed multiplicity within the virtual during becoming.

Stavros Kousoulas: It Does not Fold Because You Say So
Inherited from Deleuze, the concept of the fold has a long history in architectural theories and practices. Unfortunately, this history does not approach the fold as a primarily architectural problem. The fold remains a purely philosophical concept that conventionally has had a merely metaphorical use in architecture. The value of the fold, of the membrane, when examined as a proper architectural problem and not merely as formalist gesture, is that it makes the architectural world, the architectural subject and all the binaries that they presuppose, collapse. In the membranic limit, the metastability of a folded architecture expresses the forces, the milieus and the territories that produce any architectural subject; in the thresholds of the fold, the vibratory affects of rhythms and their symphonic composition pulsate in order to produce surpluses of energy that can resolve the potentials of an architectural becoming. Space and time, what produces architecture and what is produced by it, no longer stand opposed but individuate along the architectural technicities that we need in order to individuate. As such, the membrane expresses the singularity of a given individual and its territory, as well as the universality of the forces that are in constant play on it. This duality, an impersonal personalisation and a singular universalization, as expressed in the membranic event, has two consequences. Firstly, one can examine an individual and its territory as a singular product — avoiding any form of essentialist, typological or hylomorphic thinking. Secondly, it can elevate the informational and affective agency of the event on a level that is independent of the singular assemblages that expressed it. In doing so, we can address affects and information as autonomous from their actualizations. In other words, we can approach the virtuality of the pre-individual refrain without the need of a method: we can intuit it.

Andrej Radman: Logic of Sense
The concept of the virtual opposes the logic of law with the logic of event: Nothing is; everything becomes. Sense is not given. It is the product of complex processes and it has to be conceived as sense-effect, or better as sense-event, that subsist as real yet incorporeal. In a nutshell, the material cause is tied to the (Stoic) incorporeal effect, which will in turn operate as a quasi-cause. The concept of quasi-cause (a.k.a. dark precursor) prevents regression into simple reductionism. It designates the pure agency of transcendental causality, the difference that relates heterogeneities. The Stoics show that things themselves are bearers of ideal events which do not exactly coincide with their properties. Any (actual) incarnation may in fact be seen as a (provisional) ‘solution’ to the problem posed by the virtual the same way that the eye is the solution to the problem of light. This is what makes the virtual not ideal but problematic. Guattari’s appropriation of Joyce’s term Chaosmosis is quite fitting for teleodynamic processes where everything seems to fold upon itself. However, this logic (if sense) must not be reduced to the Manichean opposition between the quantitative actual and qualitative virtual. The difference between the difference in degree and the difference in kind is not reducible to either. In the words of Deleuze from Difference and Repetition: “Between the two are all the degrees of difference – beneath the two lies the entire nature of difference in other words, the intensive.” And indeed, for Deleuze it is the intensive nature of difference – which binds the virtual and actual, the ideal and sensible – that supplies catalysis for individuation.

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(Preprint) Anticipation in architectural experience: a computational neurophenomenology for architecture? (2020)


Djebbara, Z.,
Parr, T. and Friston, K. (2020) ‘Anticipation in architectural experience: a computational neurophenomenology for architecture?’ Available at: http://arxiv.org/abs/2011.03852

The perceptual experience of architecture is enacted by the sensory and motor system. When we act, we change the perceived environment according to a set of expectations that depend on our body and the built environment. The continuous process of collecting sensory information is thus based on bodily affordances. Affordances characterize the fit between the physical structure of the body and capacities for movement in the built environment. Since little has been done regarding the role of architectural design in the emergence of perceptual experience on a neuronal level, this paper offers a first step towards the role of architectural design in perceptual experience. An approach to synthesize concepts from computational neuroscience with architectural phenomenology into a computational neurophenomenology is considered. The outcome is a framework under which studies of architecture and cognitive neuroscience can be cast. In this paper, it is first argued that the experience of space is an embodied process—realized through action-perception as directed by affordances. Second, we integrate a sensorimotor contingency theory with a predictive coding architecture of the brain that in turn links the perceptual experience of forms and action possibilities with neuronal processes. Here, we argue that the sum of action possibilities and the inferred precision thereof can reflect the understanding of the designed space, while at the same time underwrite the basis for the perceptual experience. To this end, affordances are inherently related to perceptual experience. Finally, by reviewing recent empirical evidence we propose a principle of anticipation in architectural experience.

State-space in three dimensions of action policies. For example, the three axes may indicate the first, second, and third action in a policy. Each policy is designated by a box where the size and color are relative to the expected free energy. A. A fictive example of high expected free energy among action policies without any apparent attractor. Such a state suggests a high degree of uncertainty about how to act. B. A fictive example of two attractors, i.e. competing action policies, in terms of their expected free energy. This could for instance be an ambiguous figure.

Full paper here.