BUENOS AIRES — Mariana Stange has lots of market experience, particular in the corporate sector. She's a realtor who specializes in helping firms move premises. For the best results, she uses scientific research, which may not be the standard practice, but it is very effective.

The intersection of architecture and psychology has created neuro-architecture. "It's the fruit of neuroscience and environmental psychology," says Stange. "It studies how the brain reacts to particular stimuli and the impact on humans of determined architectural environments and spaces, beyond issues of aesthetics and comfort."

There are spaces that generate wellbeing.

She says studies show that there are spaces that generate wellbeing and others that generate anxiety. This is of use to leaders and managers who not only want to boost work performance among their teams, but also retain talent by providing them with sustainable, agreeable and healthy environments.

"When we counsel firms in their search for spaces, we don't just find individual, community or cultural preferences," Stange explains. "A neighborhood, a building front or the color of the floor as you enter an office are some of the factors that awaken emotions in our clients. Some can be positive and others, negative."

People always seek to "remain stable," she adds. "We call this 'homeostasis,' which relates to the organism's ability to mobilize different systems to keep itself stable in the face of environmental or mental changes."

This means the individual will consider cognitive strategies to overcome the stimuli that generate negative emotions like stress, alertness or excitability. "People will try to be rational in a threatening environment, to convince themselves that everything is alright and there is no danger," the realtor explains. "But their emotions will react in the opposite way. Understanding and managing this allows us consultants (architects, designers and realtors) to provide a different service."


Example of an open layout office in the United States — Photo: Shridhar Gupta

Neuro-architecture addresses questions such as: Is privacy necessary in the workplace? How does it affect performance? Do ceiling heights influence creativity? Do different layouts contribute to team synergies or are they ineffective?

Stange says empirical studies show that pointed, angular designs generate stress, while high ceilings stimulate creativity. "Windows help rest the mind, which after short breaks returns to concentrate and create better work results," she adds.

Scientific observations have also shown how light helps patients recover in hospitals, boosts team output in work environments, and helps students learn in school settings. Light colors, furthermore, have a soothing effect while darks ones reduce communication between colleagues. Open layouts aid synergy and collaboration, encouraging visual and personal contacts. And personalized workspaces, Strange explains, create more creative and focused employees.

"Incorporating plants generates comfort and agreeable emotions," she adds.

Resting or activating other parts of our brain, like its motor or auditive functions, also help energize and improve work performance. That is why, says Stange, offices are including "napping nests" where staff can go rest. Another strategy is to go out and walk for 30 minutes, ideally in a green space, and without a cellphone.

Two of every eight hours in a working day are "lost" in distractions.

The ability to connect with the auditive cortex relaxes our prefrontal cortex, which we use to think, rationalize, plan and organize, Stange explains. "For this reason some firms are creating audio rooms where staff can choose a song they like and get carried away by its rhythm." The ability to choose your preferred song, she adds, "has the extra advantage of generating dopamine, a hormone that allows better focus and creates more interest in returning to work, while it also helps manage one's distractions better."

Various studies have shown that two of every eight hours in a working day are "lost" in distractions. The open office design has the advantage of aiding "synergies but is also a threat to concentration. So creating quiet and agreeable spaces will allow team work with an individual focus," says Stange.

Such concerns have led to the creation of WELL certification standards for office employees, and prompted businesses to toy with ideas like letting employees work from home or combining the home and workplace (Hoffice), which means working in the office as if you were at home. "In design we must add a new evolutionary level: the study of emotions and individual and group preferences, so we can create teams that will work with more energy and creativity," Stange says.

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