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Ann Sussman, RA, is passionate about understanding the human experience of the built environment. Her book, Cognitive Architecture, Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment (Routledge, 2015) co-authored with Justin B. Hollander, won the Place Research Award from the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) in 2016. Her new book, Urban Experience & Design: Contemporary Perspectives on Improving the Public Realm, (Routledge 2020) also co-edited with Hollander, is due out in October. It explores the role PTSD — specifically veterans’ brain trauma post-WWI — had in creating Modern Architecture. Ann believes new understandings from neuroscience on how the brain works and what humans need to see to be at their best, will transform architecture, including the narrative of how Modern Architecture came to be. Ann recently co-founded the non-profit The Human Architecture + Planning Institute, Inc (theHapi.org) to help people better understand how humans experience buildings. She currently teaches a new course on perception called Architecture & Cognition, at the Boston Architectural College (BAC). She blogs on the biology behind design that delights at GeneticsofDesign.com.

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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

10 Responses to “KunstlerCast 331 — Chatting with Architect and Neuroscientist Ann Sussman about Buildings, Streets, and Cities”

  1. bymitch July 11, 2020 at 1:28 am #

    Enjoyed the yak today, great follow-on from the Nir Buyras interview a few pods back.
    Explains the fear I experience in some areas of the popular, and probably the most safest, cities down here in Australasia.
    I contrast this with getting lost in not so popular areas of Bangkok, where small lots and narrow streets create total building chaos, and yet, I feel very safe, in that environment.
    As an architect I can read modern, and get inspiration from the challenge.
    I guess everything in moderation.

  2. Thomas July 11, 2020 at 9:52 am #

    Thanks for the interview

    Why no discussion of aesthetics? Is it because English is impoverished when it comes to its discussion? As Gertude Jekyll wrote this might be the reason why so much of the English language takes its aesthetic vocabulary from another nation France.

    Why layer so much complexity onto such simple ideas that have existed forever. One can talk about the face and how our brain is attracted to to it, but what is the ordering principal behind it? Symmetry. Which is another way of saying making things intelligible by relating them to a controlling center. Symmetry creates a immediate sense of security and repose because it anchors different parts on a controlling fulcrum.

    What is the simple idea behind a narrative but prioritizing and directing one to what is most important in the whole, it is an emphasis or ordering, it is an anchor a datum upon which the parts balance.

    Explaining what we need visually via science is not quite the same as understanding or expressing how nature organizes itself. Better to spend your time with geometry and less time measuring. One only has to look at the at simple piece moulding to gain insight into the ordering principals of Western thought.

  3. EnterpriseSpaceship July 11, 2020 at 6:15 pm #

    The meticulous destruction of Mosul in Iraq, Aleppo, Reqa and other cities in Syria in the last few years, and the urban unrest and monument-removal in the US recently makes thinkers obliged to answer – why our Western Civilisation promotes self-destruction the more it feels stressed and PTSDed?

    This sick behavior has never been observed in earlier civilisations.

    It might be our Western Civilisation is electing crossing its Alice in the Wonderland system to the next civilisation by forcing humans to play the Energy Musical Chairs Game.

    JHK needs to ask his future guests not only how we’ve built our urban architectures under the fossil fuels age, but also how they’ll be destroyed.

  4. Chris at Fernglade Farm July 15, 2020 at 7:27 am #

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to interview Ann Sussman on this most important topic. I enjoy all of your podcasts, but this one I enjoyed particularly. Modernist Architecture is something that I have not really ever understood as it confronts my senses in unpleasant ways, and so the explanations as to a persons innate reactions when so confronted was quite enlightening.

    The horizontal window explanation was particularly fascinating and you can see it clearly when looking at photos of that particular building. Wow. Who’d have thought it?



  5. BackRowHeckler July 18, 2020 at 8:59 am #

    Wow. Jim what you and your guest seem to be getting at here (a sense of place, narrative and history in architecture, designed environments built for human beings) is very similar to what Henry Adams was saying in his book ‘Mt Saint Michel and Chartres’ a century ago.

    I find it ironic that progressive cities in the US you’d think would be most open to New Urbanism ideas — Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Francisco — are the cities where public art is being destroyed and walkable downtown business districts are being wrecked in spates of vandalism and political violence.

    That was an interesting discussion.

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  6. SvrzoH July 22, 2020 at 9:17 pm #

    Interesting theory, but does not explain the love for the style by the architects and admirers during the most prosperous time of 50’s and on.
    Even the thoughtful and educated person in the US can not help but sound as giggly high school cheerleader. Unique US trait learned from selling the girls scout cookies and carried on through life.

  7. thirdcoastlegend August 14, 2020 at 1:40 pm #

    Personally, I rather enjoyed Ms. Sussman’s earnest, vivacious manner.

    It was a refreshing contrast to the tsunami of doom-tinged anger we’ve been subjected to for the past five months.

  8. SvrzoH August 26, 2020 at 8:52 pm #

    Lady just declared founders of a enduring architectural movement as some kind of lunatics and enters the stage with uncontrollable giggle, aka “my research is so easy anybody can do it”.
    But as I’ve said you guys love it because she’s “full of life” declaring it.
    Bet that when car dealer calls you his best friend you also trust him, since he’s such a friendly guy, “full of life”.

  9. barney18 September 19, 2020 at 5:56 am #

    Cognitive Architecture is a great book that will challenge the way to look at the built environment. A must-read for every architect and designer.


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    […] during a global crisis. Find episodes at Apple Podcasts and other outlets.  KunstlerCast 331 — Chatting with Architect and Neuroscientist Ann Sussman about Buildings, Streets, and Cities It explores the role PTSD — specifically veterans’ brain trauma post-WWI — had in […]

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