It may come as no surprise to some that the feel-good chemical – dopamine – is release in the brain when anticipating a reward or achievement and not when the goal is actually achieved. In other words, it is the journey that is important, not the goal.

Recent studies of the brain are revealing some very interesting facts about how the health of the brain correlates directly to the health of humans and how the built environment can affect brain health in very significant ways. For example, stress is a major cause of poor brain health and functioning, and increases in stress levels result directly in decreases in the immune system, cognitive ability and well being.

The application of neuroscience to architecture remains in its infancy. No one has yet laid out all of the features necessary to design a building with direct roots in brain science, although architects certainly plan buildings with features meant to promote well-being.

Richard Louv is a journalist, co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization helping build the international movement to connect people and communities to the natural world. Louv’s view is that the advent of new technologies has made it possible to map the psychological effects of architectural and urban design in unprecedented detail. His findings suggest that physical variables in our surroundings, including facade design, the presence of urban greenscape, and street geometry, produce predictable effects on our minds, brains, and bodies. Louv suggests that the consideration of psychological sustainability in urban design is practical, achievable, and an essential ingredient of public health.

An aging global population makes this research increasingly urgent. For instance, one in four people will have cognitive impairment by 2050,  Research by the architect and cognitive scientist, Laura Malinin and her colleagues at Colorado State University, has shown an “enriched environment” with “novelty, challenge, and engagement,” helps improve cognitive health. Their research suggests that older people benefit from walkable communities rather than the auto-dependent locations where much senior housing has been built; and, contrary to the institutional quality of some of these facilities, seniors require stimulating environments.

It has been proven that vertical gardens and greenery in urban settings reduce human stress and so it is no surprise that vertical gardens are on the rise. Reconnecting with nature is beneficial not only to the ageing population but is particularly beneficial to young people.

Lets help our future generations and provide stimulating, walkable, community environments, where the journey as well as the destination, fosters wellbeing for all humanity.

Leigh Nicholson