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Cognitive and behavioral science research is revealing more and more about how people are physically, emotionally, and neurologically impacted by cities. However, knowledge alone is not enough to produce better, healthier cities. Just as new technologies and scientific approaches have provided fresh insight into how cities impact the mind and body, it will take new thinking among city-makers to capitalize on that information, and re-imagine the role that design can play in promoting mental health and well-being.

In this issue we hear differing views from scientists on how brain health should be defined, observed and measured. We share projects and proposals from around the world that use smart design to stimulate our senses, influence our cognitions, and improve our quality of life. Prominent academics and practitioners reflect on how deeper collaboration between the sciences and design fields can be fostered, drawing on lessons from past and present. And together all the perspectives drive home the critical point that improving urban design requires citymakers to adopt a broader, more nuanced appreciation of public health.

We can and should aspire to achieve more with the design choices and investments our cities deliver today and in the future. To that end, we hope this issue can serve as a “lens” which brings the often hidden connection between the mind and urban environments into sharper focus, and makes leaders, designers, and the public more aware of the many different ways our cities impact our brains, our health, and our lives.

This autumn, and in the new year, we invite designers, practitioners, and city makers to join us for interdisciplinary discussion and workshops in conjunction with VAR 20. Interested participants should reach out to


Sandra Chapman, Founder + Chief Director, Center for Brain Health at UT-Dallas

Fred Marks, President-Elect, Academy of Neuroscience For Architecture (ANFA)

Susan Magsamen, Executive Director, International Arts and Mind Lab at the Brain Science Institute, Johns Hopkins University

Sarah Williams Goldhagen, Architecture Critic, Author of Welcome to Your World

Hanna Kassem, Principal, KPF

In this upcoming issue, we are thrilled to present perspectives and case studies from the following contributors:


Dr. Michael Arbib, Professor of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Neuroscience and Psychology at USC

Dr. David Cantor, Director, Centre for Investigative Psychology at the University of Liverpool

Dr. Richard Davidson, Founder and Director, Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Alexi Marmot, Director, Bartlett Global Centre for Learning Environments, UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment

Dr. John Medina, Founding Director, Talaris Research Institute

Dr. David Stea, Associate Professor of Psychology and Geography at Clark University

Richard Wener, Director, Sustainable Urban Environments, Department of Technology, Culture & Society, Tandon School of Engineering of New York University


Hansel Bauman, Gallaudet University
Dattner Architects
Tye Farrow, Farrow Partners
HLM Arkitektur
Itai Palti, Hume
Dak Kopec, University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Architecture
Man Made Music
MikYoung Kim Design
Perkins+Will Human Experience Lab
Skidmore, Ownings & Merril (SOM)



David van der Leer, Executive Director
Andrew Brown, Editor, Associate Director of Research
Amelia Taylor-Hochberg, Guest Editor
Andy Sherman, Researcher
Jessica Wachtler, Intern


Jared Della Valle, Chairman; Jessica Healy, Vice Chair; Raymond Quinn, Treasurer; Hunter Tura, Secretary; Byron Bell (Emeritus); Robert Bernstein; Kai-Uwe Bergmann; Stephen Cassell; Mark Gardner; Jenn Gustetic*; Kim Herforth Nielsen; Hana Kassem; Andre Kikoski; Jing Liu; Jonathan Marvel; Elaine Molinar; Sarah Whiting; V.Mitch McEwen

*VANguard Board Member


Van Alen Institute is a nonprofit organization that has been using design to tackle complex social, ecological, and cultural challenges for over 120 years. Building on this more than a century of experience, Van Alen develops cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions. Van Alen is devoted to creating new spaces for civic dialogue and developing innovative, implementable solutions to society’s many challenges, which include the effects of climate change, the consequences of gentrification and vacancy, and the impact of our nation’s infrastructure. For more information, please visit


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