Join us for our latest NewSchool Lecture Series featuring John Onians. To be held in the NewSchool of Architecture & Design Auditorium. Admission is free but space is limited so RSVP is required.
Abstract: Towards a Historical Neuroaesthetics of Architecture
Aesthetics has long concerned itself with universals and today the biological basis of universal preferences in architecture is becoming ever better understood. Their dependence on neural resources that are programmed by our species’ genes because selected for by evolution as adaptive is well recognised.
Now, though, we can adopt a more fine-grained approach to aesthetics. Neuroscience opens up the possibility of understanding preferences that are not universal, but which vary with time and place. A knowledge of the principles governing neural formation at the level of the individual brain enables us to reconstruct salient aspects of the neural resources of people living in any place, or at any time, provided we know enough about the material and social environment to which they were exposed. This lecture shows, by applying principles such as neural plasticity and neural mirroring, how the architectural forms of any community, whether huts in prehistory, masonry monuments in later cities, or contemporary structures of metal and concrete, have been profoundly influenced by unconscious preferences shaped by the experiences of their makers and users.
John Onians is Emeritus Professor in the Department of World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia. He has taught at the Architectural Association, London, and the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA. His PhD thesis, supervised by Ernst Gombrich, provided the basis for his book The Classical Orders in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Princeton 1988) which was awarded the Bannister Fletcher Prize as the best book on art history. He edited the first ever Atlas of World Art (Oxford University Press 2004), which has also appeared in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish editions. For the last twenty years he has been exploring ways in which the latest neuroscience can help in the solution of problems in the history of art and architecture, research which resulted in the publication of European Art. A Neuroarthistory (Yale 2016).