Fresh perspectives

New voices of the built environment

The business
of brains.

Now it’s personal.

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POSSIBILITIES

There’s a brilliant quote from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio: “we are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.”

This idea starts to feel very relevant when we consider the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the coming decades. All the signs point to the fact that we’ll likely see the more mundane and automated tasks managed on our behalf – with technology learning, anticipating, and responding to our wants and needs without us lifting a finger…

I believe that, in response, we’ll experience a massive elevation in the importance of our emotional intelligence, creativity, and mindset. The complexity of the human brain will be even more valuable – and, as we know, where value appears, markets follow.

It’s exciting to imagine how we’ll design our environments to respond to this – whether that’s our homes, hotels, hospitals or schools.

It’ll no doubt be the workplace sector that leads the way. Imagine the real-estate value of a working space that allows us to boost our brain power, focus our thinking, and stay creative! It’s not too wild to think of these future environments as ‘brain gyms’, where you even have an on-site expert who monitors your personal health. Will we start to treat our brains like an elite sportsperson treats their body? Will it allow us to work fewer hours and improve our work/life balance for the better?

This isn’t just a pipe dream – the signs that point towards it are popping up in all areas of life. For decades, Silicon Valley and Wall Street companies have employed in-house psychologists dedicated to keeping employees mentally strong and happy. Then there’s the rise of apps and wearable technology that allows people to record their moods in real time and even feature training ‘modules’ with titles like ‘increase my productivity’.

“We’re living in a society that has taken a dramatic shift towards the personal, thanks to technology transforming just about every aspect of our lives.”

Stimulating space

There’s a reason why we bring health and wellbeing together under one umbrella: it’s because we now understand that physical health and mental health can go hand in hand. A study by a Florida State University researcher showed clearly that both a lack of stimulation in the workplace and an unhealthy working environment had a similar long-term cognitive effect on employees.

An interesting research paper launched this year at the British Council for Offices conference in Copenhagen spoke about “the space you need for the time you need it”. It was in reference to the rise of the ‘space-time office’, which – if it takes off – should mean higher returns and opportunities for workplaces to offer real social benefit. I can certainly see this service-led model opening up further investment into environments specifically catered to our individual mindset needs; in fact, if you refocus the emphasis of that mantra to: “the space you need for the time you need it”, it opens up a discussion about personalisation.

A wicked title

We’re living in a society that has taken a dramatic shift towards the personal thanks to digital technology transforming just about every aspect of our lives. Today, the ‘boom of bespoke’ is everywhere – from playlists to presents. It’s set to become second nature, with the pharmaceutical and food industries touted as the next playground of personalisation. We’ll soon have treatments tailored to our own individual patient needs, and nutrition plans based on our genes, hormones and psychological tendencies.

Customisation puts control (or certainly the all-important feeling of control) back in our hands – is this the next step for workplaces? Spaces we can tailor to our own productivity preferences for temperature, lighting, or sound… When you design for the masses, you can only offer options, but when you hand over the controls to individuals, you put the power in their hands… You’re the Sherpa helping them climb the mountain: vital to success.