Architectural Empathy: Why Our Brains Experience Places Like People 

This is the second excerpt from Robert Lamb Hart’s new book, A New Look at Humanism – in Architecture, Landscapes, and Urban Design, which aims to apply the insights emerging from the maturing sciences of human life – evolution, ecology, and the neurosciences – to day-to-day practice in design offices. Within a section called “The mind that encounters architecture,” he explores how the human mind accelerates learning by searching for comparisons: ‘how can I understand this place, all this new complexity, in terms of what I already know?’ Then it links our new perceptions into patterns of earlier learning.

In The Architecture of Happiness, philosopher Alain de Botton tells a persuasive story about how we tend to perceive buildings and people in similar terms – and are led by the same in-born empathy into parallel concepts using the same vocabulary.


He explores how we tend to experience – his word is transubstantiate – architecture in terms of ourselves; in his words, we call things “happy” that make us happy. In addition to architecture, the idea applies equally to landscapes and cityscapes and to everyday objects that we give personalized names – like houses or boats.


 Robery Lamb Hart