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[Empathy]

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Institutions such as Stanford’s d.school teach the value of designing for real human need [#1] and of solving problems in the world today, particularly those with clear human impact. In the words of NY Times writer Nicole Perlroth, “at the heart of the school’s courses is developing what David Kelley, one of the school’s founders, calls an empathy muscle. Inside the school’s cavernous space — which seems like a nod to the Silicon Valley garages of lore — the students are taught to forgo computer screens and spreadsheets and focus on people.” What lessons might other architecture schools learn from this uniquely human-centered approach? Learn more in the NY Times piece “Solving Problems for Real World, Using Design.”

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The author Roman Krznaric believes deeply that it’s time to shift from introspection to outrospection [#2], as he describes in his book “Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution.” Architect and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Sim Van der Ryn couldn’t agree more. In his new book, “Design for an Empathic World: Reconnecting People, Nature, and Self,” Van der Ryn discusses how “greening” our buildings is only one part of the larger process of reconnecting with nature and each other. Hear more about the latter in this KQED podcast.

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Can we learn to empathize by playing video games? [#3] Lately, video game creators are starting to think so, particularly as they expand into markets focused on education and social development. For example, Nick Suttner – an account manager at Sony who frequently meets with independent game designers pitching their ideas – has recently noted “a really interesting shift away from mechanics to storytelling,” where games are increasingly “about an experience the developer had … or about this moment of beauty or sympathy.” Could this kind of gaming also expand into the design world, becoming part of the architectural process of imagining a building’s social narratives? Read more in the NPR piece “In Gaming, A Shift From Enemies To Emotions.”

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We have an expansive capacity for empathy [#4], and can even empathize with past individuals or with the imagined people of fine art. As renowned neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel writes, “as we look at a portrait, our brain calls on several interacting systems to analyze contours, form a representation of the face and of the body, analyze the body’s motion, experience emotion, and perhaps, empathy. Along with these instantaneous responses, we form a theory of the subject’s state of mind.” Since architecture can be framed as art, do these brain processes also apply to our perception of beautiful buildings? Can the visual experience of architecture trigger empathic thinking? Read more in Kandel’s NY Times piece, “What the Brain Can Tell Us About Art.”

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photos by Jason Henry, Random House, Flickr user Axel Pfaender, and Flickr user Dietmar Temps