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As the tech world moves increasingly toward an AI-generated virtual universe — the so-called “metaverse” — new paradigms define the impacts of this technology on its human users. AI and VR, like the Internet before them, offer both remarkable opportunities and pitfalls. Virtual Reality constitutes a new kind of human environment, and experi- encing it relies upon human neurological mechanisms evolved to negotiate — and survive in — our ancestral physi- cal environments. Despite the unrestricted freedom of designing the virtual universe, interacting with it is affected strongly by the body’s built-in physiological and psychological constraints. The eventual success of the metaverse will be determined by how successfully its designers manage to accommodate unconscious mechanisms of emo- tional attachment and wellbeing. Some fundamental misunderstandings coming from antiquated design models have influenced virtual environmental structures. It is likely that those design decisions may be handicapping the metaverse’s ultimate appeal and utility. Keywords AI, Architecture, Artificial intelligence, Beauty, Christopher Alexander, Design, Digital aesthetics, Emotional attachment, Engagement, Healing environments, Metaverse, Objective beauty, Text-to-image system, Virtual Reality One definition of the metaverse is that it is a “massively 1 Introduction scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered Digital aesthetics are rapidly assuming a central role in 3D virtual worlds and environments which can be expe- both the commercial sector and cutting-edge technol- rienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively ogy. Virtual environments are defining new concepts unlimited number of users with an individual sense of and opportunities in the art world (Mazzone & Elgam- presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, mal, 2019; Audry & Ippolito, 2019; Revell, 2022; Zylinska, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and pay- 2020) and in architecture (Eloy et al., 2021). This essay ments.” (Ball, 2021) The metaverse is often confused with will argue, however, that most of what has been devel- VR, but VR is but one component of the metaverse. If oped up to now has been extremely limited in the key the metaverse is ever going to take off on a large scale, respect of objective beauty. it will be as an immersive sensory environment whose visual attraction far surpasses that of most physical set- tings. Curiosity may trigger a first visit, but it is sensual *Correspondence: feedback that will draw users back. Both real and virtual Nikos A. Salingaros worlds are subject to the same design principles because firstname.lastname@example.org 1 human beings experience the environment unconsciously Eurac Research, Institute for Biomedicine, Affiliated Institute of the University of Lübeck, Via Galvani 31, 39100 Bolzano, Italy in order to use it. So the question is really about beauty. The Human Architecture & Planning Institute, Inc, 43 Bradford St, Is it possible to create a virtual world that is more emo- Concord, MA 01742, USA 3 tionally enticing than the real one of a user’s desk and the Sustasis Foundation, P.O. Box 2579, White Salmon, WA 98672, USA Departments of Mathematics and Architecture, The University of Texas, immediately perceivable surroundings? San Antonio, TX 78249, USA © The Author(s) 2023. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/. Lavdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 2 of 18 Technologists and investors are understandably excited engagement as possible. Otherwise, it feels too “alien”, too about the potential capacities of a digital universe. As detached. with any technological advance — particularly those The outline of this paper is as follows. The associa - involving the prodigious capacities of AI — there are sig- tion of beauty with special configurations of ordered nificant uncertainties ahead (Rosenberg, 2021; Anderson complexity has been developed by scientists, including & Rainie, 2022; Gorichanaz, 2022a). Many saw similarly the present authors. The concept of “objective beauty” optimistic, even utopian possibilities in the first genera - remains problematic and questionable to many readers, tion of the Internet, only to later experience an age of yet it is established by a considerable body of research clickbait, fake news, and deeply negative impacts on the and follows from derivations of its mathematical and wellbeing of human users, notably including children neurological characteristics. (Mehaffy, 2020a). It is too early to predict what conse- Two additional, distinct sources give evidence that vis- quences might arise as this interconnected set of virtual- ual information from more complex, traditional enviro- reality projects moves forward. nents is preferred unconsciously over what architectural Architect Michael Benedikt outlined some specula- culture offers today. First, a clear predisposition comes tive ideas about Cyberspace early on following, unsur- from AI image generators, which combine preferences of prisingly, an architectural approach (Benedikt, 1992). billions of ordinary people; and second, from films and However, the key design and grounding tools for cre- video games. AI text-to-image programs help to con- ating a viscerally-attractive Virtual Reality setting for firm survey popularity through films and videogames navigation are not generally known to mainstream by establishing the distinct characteristics of objective architects. Having focused upon other, formal concerns beauty: we are not claiming that those programs alone for decades, architectural culture is not the best source are sufficient. to provide an emotionally-engaging environment People might think that different-looking architecture where it is most needed. And developers of virtual is good or not for misguided reasons, which we explain worlds have prioritized dominant architectural styles as the phenomenon of “geometrical fundamentalism”. over the totally distinct look of the gaming world. This Despite established historical and political arguments point is critical. for the stark plainness of geometrical fundamentalism, it This paper offers a conjectural explanation of why the in fact contradicts human psychophysiology. Data from virtual world known as the metaverse has so far strug- Medicine and Neuroscience reveal that good design gled to realize its potential appeal among users (Manjoo, based on objective beauty — that is, from evolved bio- 2022; Du, 2022). For example, according to Samantha logically-grounded responses — helps to boost human Frew: “Compared to the impressive CGI (computer-gen- health. Dominant architecture tends to have the opposite erated imagery) we are accustomed to in gaming and cin- informational effect, and evidence suggests that this con - ema ... [the metaverse] appears as a basic world designed trast could be detrimental. by tech moguls who are excited by minimalism. People Therefore, it is not such a good idea for the metaverse with little to no imagination regarding the design of phys- to be drawing its cues from mainstream architectural ical spaces.” (Frew, 2022). This criticism is harsh indeed. culture. The metaverse should instead rely upon beauti - But how could a multi-billion dollar project, with access ful architecture (as defined by precise biological codes to the latest scientific advances, start off on the wrong underlying objective beauty) and thus promote not only track? (Thompson, 2022) pleasure and engagement, but also human health. We The metaverse’s lack of appeal may be due, in part, to propose the need for a “pattern language of metaverse a lack of biologically-based beauty in its intrinsic struc- design” that documents discovered and tested design ele- ture (Lavdas & Salingaros, 2022). If this is a contributing ments and best practices, following the example of pat- factor, then by responding to the innate need for “objec- tern languages in other fields. This approach towards tive beauty” (a term to be explained later), the metaverse creating a better virtual reality experience would begin could greatly increase its user allure. Moreover, there with objective beauty. is tantalizing evidence that the metaverse could even The rest of this paper outlines our understanding of become a new healing environment. Technical limita- beauty and how to implement it. Biologically-based tions in a virtual world cut down most of the neurologi- beauty is objective. The evidence for this comes from cal channels of the unconscious engagement possible in AI beauty ratings, experiments in neuroaesthetics, the a comparable real physical setting. An experience that mathematics of organic form, etc. We also give details drastically reduces the biological sensory experience of of beauty as a prescription of how to create it. Objective the real world nevertheless needs to maintain as much beauty is grounded in geometric structure that combines La vdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 3 of 18 fractals with informational complexity and multiple example, by travel companies as “the most beautiful nested symmetries. This part of our discussion is neces - places in the world” — to ones that many might consider sary to debunk the mistaken notion that it is somehow ugly. Those places share the common geometrical char - not possible to create visceral beauty today. acteristics responsible for objective beauty, which we describe later in this paper, and those are easily imple- 2 How unattractive design might impact mented in the metaverse. The truly revolutionary next the metaverse step will occur when users begin to demand that physi- The metaverse is becoming a big player in generating new cal places embody the same quality of elevated objective virtual worlds (Dwivedi et al., 2022; Bibri & Allam, 2022). beauty they have already experienced in a virtual world. Yet major developers seem to have miscalculated in mov- Virtual environments wishing to have some semblance ing over to virtual universes being created for online of reality that attracts regular participants must draw on socializing and participatory gaming. An infatuation with positive-valence emotions. Absurdly, in today’s world of contemporary minimalist architecture reflects the same almost unlimited technical possibilities, architecture — subjective aesthetic in a virtual world into which billions both material and virtual — tends to be limited by design of dollars have been invested; but the public is reacting elements that diminish its degree of objective beauty. An unenthusiastically or even negatively to the perceived ingrained professional and social inertia inhibits build- aesthetics of the result (Pahwa, 2022). This problem ing new physical structures today with a high degree of will remain unresolved as long as metaverse designers objective beauty, thus limiting emotional engagement. continue to rely uncritically upon favored architectural To realize its full creative potential, metaverse designers images. need to embrace a biology-based understanding of archi- Major companies of several countries in the Asia- tectural elements that give rise to healing environments. Pacific region are investing massively on competitive Alexandrian design patterns (discussed later in this individual metaverse platforms (Sun & Zhang, 2022; paper) and traditional architecture already spell out ANI, 2022; Goschenko, 2022). It is no coincidence that what makes an attractive space, so there is no excuse not those governments have, for decades, replaced human- to apply this knowledge, or in trying to figure out what scale traditional urban fabric with clusters of skyscrap- we already know. Yet today’s metaverse settings tend to ers and unattractive urban spaces that, because of their look like high-tech industrial districts. This is under - form and size, appear “alien” and oppressive to common standable, as clients and patrons, from governments to people. The metaverse offers a welcome escape from private companies, pay design firms to be cutting-edge this perceived physical dystopia. Yet the “look-and-feel” and innovative but do not insist on testing adaptation of previewed metaverse scenes seems informationally before and after implementation. We now have evidence deficient, handicapped by inadequately-engaging design that new high-tech industrial districts such as Shanghai’s styles. Lingang industrial district and Boston’s Seaport technol- Metaverse designers do not realize that dated futuris- ogy hub fail as attractive environments (Zhu & Lu, 2022; tic architecture might be precisely the sort of inhuman Sussman, 2019) What about the open-ended nature of experience users are trying to sneak away from. One the metaverse? Whereas metaverse users freely alter virtual universe looks like it’s made out of giant LEGO human features and form in search of “digital beauty”, blocks, with intentionally crude modular geometries. they regard the virtual environment itself as untouchable Other metaverse developers brought in fashionable (Wharry, 2022). In practice, users are able to choose to international architects as consultants, who then offered alter their own avatar, but leave the background environ- their signature curved, industrial, metallic, shiny, and ment and spaces alone. We are not even sure whether sleek spaces lacking human qualities. This “look” may any such mechanism exists for users to shape spaces and be fashionable in cutting-edge architecture, but does it visual surroundings; hence we assume not. At present, really generate a viscerally-attractive virtual environ- therefore, user-generated creative content will not solve ment? We claim not, based on medical and neurological the potential visual problems with the metaverse setting. data. Alarmingly, educational institutions are promot- ing this vision as a metaverse paradigm before testing its 3 Aor ff dance, healing environments, kinesthesia, commercial success. This is a big gamble. objective beauty, and proprioception The metaverse provides a unique opportunity for re- This paper attempts to tackle what for some is the “ele - establishing architectural beauty by selecting architec- phant in the room” of architectural design, i.e. beauty; tural styles based entirely on visual emotional appeal to define what it is, how is it understood, and how it (Gorichanaz, 2022b). Millions of online users prefer might influence virtual worlds. Others do not see an objectively beautiful environments — documented, for “elephant in the room” since they regard beauty as a Lavdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 4 of 18 subject that is objectively non-measurable. The argu - with an unprejudiced sense of objective beauty can cre- ments presented here are pushing the debate forward ate the successful metaverse. Individuals such as game at a time when beauty is being measured, crudely and designers have no problem applying new and tradi- ignorantly, by AI. Yet, amazingly, those results corrob- tional design tools in designing beautiful environments orate other measures of objective beauty based upon that dominant architectural culture dismisses because mathematics and neuroscience. of style. Special attention should be paid to the subtle but This opens up a promising new application: the extremely powerful emotional/neurological forces that metaverse as a therapeutic (visually salutogenic) envi- define the spatial experience in dance and sport. The ronment (Petrigna & Musumeci, 2022). Wearable sen- same experiences are obviously felt by metaverse users sors that recognize emotions detect the user’s state moving their body while wearing a headset. Insuffi - of wellbeing. The healing response from feedback is cient attention has been paid to the body-space inter- supposed to regulate participants’ emotions towards action due to kinesthesia/proprioception, and, while it a positive mood (Fernández-Caballero et al., 2016; is difficult to envisage a real solution for this gap, we Marín-Morales et al., 2018). Until now, changing the can at least point it out. Related mechanisms involve “smart” health environment was limited to adjusting affordances, whereby the human neural system per - piped music and color illumination. It is hardly feasi- ceives unconsciously the bodily “fit” of geometrical ble to change the physical architecture in real time, and components in the immediate environment for human this is where a virtual environment opens up enormous actions, including actual or potential handles available opportunities. A better understanding of those mecha- for “grasping” (Salingaros, 2017). nisms will help to make salutogenic virtual environ- We call for research that generalizes the perception of ments feasible. beauty so as to include other factors such as fundamen- The technological basis for this development is already tal influences of cultural conditioning, environmental in place, since the new generation of metaverse headsets literacy, regional and peer iconography, age, etc. There includes built-in eye-tracking and facial expression sen- are really two distinct topics that the metaverse experi- sors. It should be straightforward to use this feedback to ence intertwines: (i) objective beauty of the surround- change the appearance of the virtual environment in real ings; and (ii) the emotional feedback from the geometry time. The second half of this paper offers a new “form of the virtual spatial experience. Elsewhere, we talk at language” for achieving emotionally-nourishing virtual th length about the inadequacy of 20 Century physical (as well as real) places. urban spaces to accommodate people’s movements and to elicit positive emotional responses (Salingaros, 2005; Salingaros & Pagliardini, 2016; Franco et al., 2019; 4 The computable and geometrical basis Salingaros, 2021). of objective beauty To truly enhance our understanding of beauty, one 4.1 Definition and independent verification of objective needs to investigate topics that are usually consid- beauty ered less architectural, even though they underpin the Objective beauty combines fractals with nested symme- immediate physical (or virtual) experience. We need to tries, together with other sources of biologically-mean- open the conversation to investigating notions of com- ingful visual information (Lavdas & Salingaros, 2022). fort, contradiction between human biology and learned Unconscious viewer engagement is clearly not based on preferences, cultural baggage, environmental triggers intellectualizing subjective criteria. The more intense of spontaneity, and other related topics. It is essential to yet mathematically ordered the stimulus, the higher the delve deeper into the infinite diversity of human cultures degree of objective beauty. This definition is complexity- and psychologies that propel us to make beautiful things, based: it outlines a beauty scale in which low values cor- whether they be cities, buildings, tools, or artifacts. respond either to less visual information or disordered Designing affordance (i.e. physiological and psycho - information; while high values correspond to coherent, logical “fit” to the physical environment) creates viscer - high-content, organized information (Salingaros, 2014a; ally engaging materiality (Mystakidis, 2022; Shin, 2022). Salingaros, 2018). Affordance — neglected in favor of abstract visual for - Experimental results and industry initiatives support malism ever since the 1920s — significantly enhances methods for evaluating objective beauty using AI. On the user’s embedded experience. (But minimalist design the one hand, experimental neuroaesthetics is fast estab- identifies both physical and visual “handles” as “clutter” lishing the physiological basis of how the body reacts to and eliminates them.) As an architectural license is not environmental information. On the other, computational required to practice in the metaverse, non-architects neuroaesthetics is making possible new insights through La vdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 5 of 18 machine learning. Their overlap has already created can overwhelm their own body’s signals. The psycho - breakthroughs in aesthetic commercial applications. The logical “familiarity principle” or “mere-exposure effect” following list contains a synopsis of basic points, whose (Zajonc, 1968; Montoya et al., 2017; Nickerson, 2022) detailed explanation follows in the main text. shapes the discipline because consumer culture is tied to images of modernity. The media are engaged in market - 1. Neuroscience supports the existence of objective ing architecture through images that draw attention to correlates of the experience of beauty, and helps to design qualities not indicative of engagement. For dec- distinguish between what we can call objective and ades, the most prestigious architecture prizes have been subjective beauty. awarded for buildings ranking low in objective beauty, 2. Computational methods of assessing objective archi- thus validating this stylistic standard through authority. tectural beauty correlate well with intuitive methods. Much of the business of architecture occurs strictly in a 3. The personal beauty industry now employs revolu - world of images with little or no further analysis. Images tionary software tools to carry out diagnostics and become buildings, fueling a self-reinforcing loop that evaluations. transforms architecture into image. 4. AI-based graphics/painting programs confirm the high and low evaluations on the beauty scale, hence 4.2 Artificial intelligence and neuroscience support its directionality (which is very important). biologically‑based architectural beauty 5. The digital art world is beginning to use such meth - The neurological approach resurrects historical archi - ods of evaluation to rate fine artworks for the global tecture’s instinctive basis that was replaced by abstract, market. th formal ideals at the beginning of the 20 Century. These 6. “Ugliness” in the built environment induces facial two foundational bases — AI and neuroscience — are distortions, perceived as ugly, and physiological sen- mutually supportive. Recent software can not only help sors combined with AI-based software detect this to evaluate visual beauty, but moreover, is now trained to effect. generate it. This is important because it fixes the direc - 7. Biomedical research to date rates the design styles tionality of the beauty axis, thus validating the biolog- promoted by architectural culture very poorly as ically-based beauty scale. AI diagnoses design rather healing environments, because of the ugliness-stress than implementing an already-decided formal design connection. vocabulary (which is what dominant architectural culture chooses to focus on). Individuals certainly differ in their beauty judgments AI is rapidly evolving, with revolutionary develop- (Vessel et al., 2018; Vessel et al., 2019; Corradi et al., ments motivated, in part, by the realism of the video 2020). Researchers find agreement among subjects game industry. The AI text-to-image generators Craiyon responding to life and natural scenes such as images of and DALL·E 2 are each capable of generating photoreal- faces and landscapes. This result is consistent with the istic original images in response to a verbal description. underlying commonality of the unconscious response, These programs were trained on online images and their 8 9 which links to emotional and physical wellbeing. We captions (more than 10 for Craiyon and 10 for DALL·E would argue that this response comes into play not only 2). The prompt “beautiful building” produces traditional- when people are confronted with natural scenes, but looking buildings high in objective beauty, whereas ask- also when confronted with artwork and architecture that ing for “ugly building” produces industrial-modernist shares certain geometrical organizational features of nat- high-rise buildings low in objective beauty (OpenAI, ural scenes. Also, divergent education, media influence, 2022; Dayma, 2022). peer pressure, and social conformity shape people’s tastes The same results arise when using the photorealistic on consumer and cultural objects (Asch, 1951; Berns AI text-to-image generators DreamStudio (DreamStu- et al., 2005; Salingaros, 2014b; Hesslinger et al., 2017). dio, 2022) and Stable Diffusion (Stable Diffusion, n.d.), Artifacts of human culture exist in a feedback loop that two direct competitors of DALL·E 2. Asking for “beau- enforces — and generates — culturally-specific acquired tiful building” produces neo-classical traditional build- tastes (Paßmann & Schubert, 2020). This effect is prob - ings high in objective beauty, whereas asking for an “ugly ably responsible for the observed low agreement among building” generates industrial-modernist high-rises low participants when responding to artworks and to interior in objective beauty. and exterior architecture, where a shared aesthetic taste Using Midjourney, yet another AI-based image-gen- is not observed. erating program that creates artistic paintings rather People’s understanding of architectural beauty is influ - than photorealistic images, the same two prompts as enced by what they see promoted around them, which above generate colorful and curved buildings closer to Lavdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 6 of 18 Art-Nouveau (high objective beauty), versus drab and objective beauty in photos. Current programs develop structurally top-heavy brutalist ones (low objective Google’s initial NIMA (Neural Image Assessment) by beauty) (Holz, 2022). The results are unequivocal: Art training it on sets of images (Talebi & Milanfar, 2018). Nouveau and traditional buildings satisfy the require- The ones relevant to the present study use prize-win - ments for biologically-based beauty, whereas industrial- ning photographs to train the software: design minimal- modernist/brutalist buildings violate them. Verbal cues ism scores very low. Assessments so far tend to cluster signifying positive-valence emotional engagement thus around a mean value, hence they do not represent the generate a spectrum of traditional architectures. wide range of results that are intuitively obvious from rat- These software packages correlate with general opinion ing architecture on an objective beauty scale. worldwide about what is beautiful. Consistency between It is also possible to measure “ugliness” indirectly intuitive beauty rankings and AI-based imaging/painting through physiological sensors. AI-based programs couple programs is remarkable, because that software was not with input from portable body sensors to detect people’s originally conceived for this purpose. Each of the above unconscious reactions to objective beauty. This informa - AI programs represents a “black box” that is trained from tion is unconscious, hence unbiased when compared to actual user responses to images, and has learned what surveys based on self-reporting (Moore et al., 2011; Men- most people consider beautiful and ugly, so it can gen- zel et al., 2020). Any signal that alters facial features so erate images corresponding to these reactions. While, in that those are perceived as being “uglier” than normal (a principle, the programs tell us something that we could relative, not absolute measure) indicates induced stress find from a survey, the scale of their data base makes this on the entire body. In this manner, visual ugliness — as application exceed all normal expectations. Duplication information that triggers alarm in the neural system — is not possible in any survey that we can do, or that has induces stress, a reaction that permits “ugliness” to be been done before. detected through its negative effect on wellbeing. As if anticipating our proposals, the new generation of 4.3 Human ph ysiology implies a directionality metaverse headsets are equipped with eye-tracking and of enhancing objective beauty facial expression sensors. This capability makes possible AI applied to image-processing establishes a direction the instant evaluation of virtual environments on the for increasing objective architectural beauty. Going “up” basis of how emotionally-comfortable they are to experi- correlates with increasing informational richness organ- ence, versus any stress they impose. We expect a wealth ized by multiple nested symmetries that guarantee per- of research to be done in classifying the visual “look” of ceptual processing fluency. This result brings to light a places according to a spectrum of differing degrees of basic incompatibility between architectural culture and engagement. the personal beauty industry. Although personal beauty standards vary widely in his- 4.4 Objective beauty in the world of fine art tory, a specific direction of enhancing natural beauty in In a separate application, Naiada software by Kellify com- the millennial quest to improve one’s appearance would pany classifies fine artworks according to their AI-per - seem to be fixed (Grammer et al., 2003; Little et al., 2011). ceived beauty or ugliness (Naiada, 2022; Malfanti, 2022). People are driven by an innate need to display biological By simulating human cognitive processes, the program attractiveness that signals health, and not its opposite. combines a tiny minority opinion, which in the past vali- The huge cosmetics and facial beauty industry is capital - dated art exclusively, with majority popular preferences. izing on AI-based beauty measures (Spapé et al., 2021; Published details are sketchy; however, regardless of Beauty.AI 2.0, 2022). Applications in that field are grow - whether the results agree or not with objective beauty, all ing exponentially, despite cautionary warnings of possi- of this new research shares a common analytical ground ble bias and stereotyping. It’s only a matter of time before combining AI with measured neurological responses. the same type of software is trained to evaluate objective Going beyond neural networks, software is trained to architectural beauty directly. recognize objective beauty from features in an image AI tools are already available for assessing image aes- directly. thetics through convolutional neural networks (CNN) Many design professionals hold a strong opinion of (Li & Zhang, 2020; Liu et al., 2020; Takimoto et al., 2021; what constitutes a beautiful or ugly building. Architects Goree, 2021; Valenzise et al., 2022; Chambe et al., 2022). evaluate architectural beauty by how far a design con- Originally developed for selecting technically-superior forms to “approved” versus “unacceptable” design styles, images from a set of photos, this method has evolved to in an absolute, all-or-none appraisal. Standard evalua- measure aesthetic appeal. General agreement on like- tions go in an opposite direction to the biology-based ability or intuitive pleasure response is used to evaluate beauty scale, however; what architects now consider La vdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 7 of 18 desirable (substituting for “beautiful”) actually points (often new) traditional place. Or the character who is in towards lower values of objective beauty (Gifford et al., a sleek modern place is revealed to be a villain later (e.g. 2002; Greenfield, 2018; Tylecote, 2018; Mehaffy, 2020b; a wealthy corporate figure). This is not entirely universal, Safarova et al., 2019; Cunningham, 2019; Mack, 2019; e.g. “Tony Stark” AKA “Iron Man” lives in modernist sur- The School of Life collective, 2021; Douglas-Home, 2021; roundings. But it is surely a very high percentage in one Holmquist, 2021; Lind, 2022). The cumulative result direction, revealing something unconscious about audi- is that with very few exceptions, structures built every- ence preferences and perceptions. (And “Tony Stark” has where following World War II fall significantly below a a slightly ironic and comical attitude towards all his sur- median objective beauty value. The generic International roundings and technologies — as if to say they are some- Style is made possible by excessive simplification. This is what silly toys for silly boys ...). the reason why the modern world clashes dramatically The Japanese Studio Ghibli has produced popular ani - with previous millennia of human building activity. mated feature films that portray a colorful, detailed, The overt antagonism between architectural culture human-scaled world. The depicted urban spaces mix and common preferences is therefore also about the with nature and are viscerally attractive, emphasizing fundamental directionality of the beauty axis. Society the engagement of the characters to the place occur- has accepted an ideological predilection for low-ranking ring through biologically-based beauty. Paralleling Dis- buildings, and puts its faith in the postulate that “better” ney, which capitalized on its animated features to create means lower on the beauty scale. These results are likely hugely successful theme parks, Studio Ghibli is opening to generate a controversy, since they favor more tradi- its own theme park in Nagoya (JRailPass, 2022). tional environments over buildings embodying indus- trial modernism. A biology-based model of architectural 4.6 What the profession is doing about this beauty does not favor certain design styles, even though All of this discussion comes from outside mainstream those may be popular in global construction today and be design. Contemporary architectural discourse skirts praised by the architectural media. Yet arguments rely- around “beauty” and “ugliness” while turning a blind eye ing upon scientific analysis are not style-based, and have to debates occurring outside its restricted sphere of influ - nothing to do with promoting traditional design for rea- ence. The profession’s strategy of uncritically trusting a sons of historicism. rigid and subjective design canon evades the core ques- tion of emotional wellbeing by emphasizing other, unre- 4.5 L essons on biologically‑based beauty from the film lated topics. th industry Styles of the 20 Century and the first two decades st While dominant architectural culture has doggedly pur- of the 21 predominate in commercial-industrial and sued its own aesthetic standards for decades, the film and state-sponsored construction today. Abstract minimal- videogame industries have catered to the public’s sen- ism has had a long and successful run — about one cen- sory cravings and basic intuitions in architecture. It is no tury — and has consequently become established in a accident that architectural settings associated with mor- collectively-shared social identity. Nevertheless, it does ally “good” elements look overwhelmingly friendly-tradi- not correspond to the objective-based aesthetics of most tional (high in objective beauty), whereas their opposites people outside the profession; these common aesthetic are likely to be techno-modernist (very low in objective attitudes are explained by neuroscience, whereas the sub- beauty) (Viladas, 1987; Critton, 2013; Oppenheim & Gol- jective aesthetics established in the 1920s are explained lin, 2019; Colette, 2022; Boys-Smith, 2022; Moffat, 2022; mostly in socio-political terms. Elvenar, 2022). The much-vaunted recent applications of AI to design The brilliant actor and film director Jacques Tati cre - within the profession are limited so far to taking care of ated two comedies, Mon Oncle (1958) (https:// www. technical problems, machine fabrication, and generat- archd aily. com/ 259325/ films- archi tectu re- my- uncle) and ing innovative (usually strange-looking) shapes. Major Playtime (1967) (https:// www. archd aily. com/ 395674/ architecture firms doing this work are apparently not at films- and- archi tectu re- play- time), that are scathing con- all curious about using AI to learn how those structures demnations of industrial-modernist architecture (Moon, will be experienced by the users after they are in place. 2017). Audiences inside the cinemas laughed at these They assume that they already know this; or perhaps the satirical put-downs. Once outside, however, the people question never arises. Architectural culture holds onto its never took any corrective action to halt modernist archi- preferred images, and uses AI-based analytical software tecture replacing their traditional cities. only to implement them, not to challenge them. There are many films that portray the villain(s) in a In every historical case where a new tool has been sleek modernist redoubt, while the hero is in a beautiful developed, it can be used either to extend an existing Lavdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 8 of 18 paradigm, or to question the basis of the paradigm itself been taught to actively ignore engagement and what so as to open up new possibilities. In the case of design, the human perceptive system registers as violations of architects have embraced text-to-image programs to visual organization. We are dealing with two groups generate more of the same type of product as before. For having opposite preferences, and not comparing an edu- example, AI software is used to mimic the style of current cated versus an ignorant group. “star” architects, or the styles of an established minimal- The “novices”, along with all humans (and animals), ist design canon (Leach, 2022). We interpret this phe- start to process complex environmental information as nomenon as a limited application of technology. babies, and that interaction in turn contributes to the Remarkably, none of the technology discussed so far is shaping of the synaptic profile and, effectively, the wir - used by the mainstream design profession to evaluate the ing of their brains (Mehaffy & Salingaros, 2012; Lavdas health responses in users. An insistence on reusing a very & Salingaros, 2021; Aresta & Salingaros, 2021; Bourgeois limited set of design and tectonic typologies prevents the et al., 1994; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000; Sakai, 2020). It physiological and psychological evaluation of a building is therefore wrong to use this term, because it hints at before it is erected; as well as discouraging the same anal- someone who has come to a topic only now without any ysis in post-occupancy evaluations. previous background. That impression is deceiving, since from birth, people use their neurophysiology to engage 5 How the misuse of language prejudices with and negotiate the built environment, while they experimenters instinctively avoid immersing themselves in a setting that Readers who admire contemporary and minimalist evokes anxiety. architecture will probably react to the above prefer- ences, derived from film and AI-based programs, with a 6 Geometrical fundamentalism predictable objection: that those represent the popular 6.1 Biological complexity is the basis for life preferences of an ignorant public. But this then raises the A deep network structure is a key to living processes, question of whom the architecture of buildings and vir- including human intelligence, and by extension, human tual reality settings is actually for. And, while the debate environments. Much of what it means to be alive, and about the visual style of physical buildings can range much of what humans create, is based on organized com- without resolution, the metaverse is supposed to attract plexity, with its overlapping, pattern-like relationships. paying users, and not to make an ideological statement. It Life itself is an emergent property of highly complicated is, therefore, imperative to re-establish the aesthetic value and organized structure. Its main function is to construct of common shared experience. and maintain — and also reproduce — this remarkable There exists a split between ordinary people endowed “discovered” complexity. Death occurs when an organ- with common biological responses, and individuals who ism can no longer preserve its organized complexity. If it have been psychologically conditioned into a simulated is unable to pass on the encoded information on how to universe where neuro-responses are muted (Weinberger recreate itself, then the pattern is lost forever. et al., 2021; Weinberger et al., 2022). These two catego - Human creations can be interpreted as natural exten- ries of humans react very differently to buildings (both sions of the geometry of life, which is why traditional real and virtual). An unfortunate choice of language architecture, art, design, music, ornament, etc. depend perpetuates an old confusion. Instead of identifying the upon and embody organized complexity. Respecting conditioning process that causes clustering in judging this link amounts to a re-focusing of the design profes- beauty, some authors divide the world into “novices” and sions on the essential needs for humans, and the planet, “experts”. But these labels prejudice the situation because so that they can maintain a healthy life. There are specific they belittle people with evolved, unsullied neuro- geometrical and informational attributes required in the responses as being “novices”, while endowing an unde- environment, which reflect human evolution and sur - served authority on “experts” who diverge from the vival. They cannot be obscured or “undone”; and when intrinsic, shareable basis of beauty. societies try to do that, it leads to long-term problems. Categorizing the participants in any experimental sur- vey into “novices” and “experts” can be quite misleading. 6.2 Oversimplification removes essential life qualities In common language, “experts” are people who possess The architectural character of many recent VR designs technical knowledge and an understanding of the sub- seems to be no accident, but rather, a deliberate choice of ject matter as, for instance, when comparing musicians the designers. In part this is because they are influenced and non-musicians in experiments studying reactions by the current design fashions prevalent in the physical to tonal or harmonic violations. But regarding contem- world. In part, too, they are limited by the same oversim- porary architecture, that label refers to people who have plified mechanical forms that are rooted in a primitive La vdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 9 of 18 stage of industrial development — what we have previ- The neural sensing system tries to predict sensory ously described as “geometrical fundamentalism” (Salin- inputs from the environment in a way that optimizes garos & Mehaffy, 2014). Industrial design has moved informational meaning, thus assuring the organism’s sur- through several historic phases of increasing complexity, vival. Such a fit between the external environment and a but styles remain in a relatively crude phase — particu- small set of internal patterns cannot waste energy in pro- larly when compared to complex biological structures. cessing random or structurally-surprising forms. It is this The architect Christopher Alexander made a key con - “free-energy” minimization that favors the organization tribution to this growing understanding with his first of complexity (Friston, 2010; Parr & Friston, 2018), and book, Notes on the Synthesis of Form (Alexander,1964), which apparently gives rise to animal — and eventually, and a later successor, A Pattern Language: Towns, Build- human — intelligence (Kagan et al., 2022). ings, Construction (Alexander et al., 1977). His “patterns” were design elements that could be operated upon in 6.4 Architectural myopia context, while remaining “interrelated into an organic Today’s interconnected world working through infor- whole”. For Alexander, designers had over-emphasized mation and communications technologies is precisely the neat, top-down (tree-like) hierarchies of many men- what Alexander predicted, decades before the fact. tal constructs, erasing the critical web-like connections Nevertheless, we will argue that the dominant (and that formed overlapping, reinforcing relationships. These flawed) conceptual model of the living world goes back in turn formed clusters of “strong forces”, surrounded by much further, to a non-network hierarchy, and that connections he called “weak forces”. Clusters of relation- has never changed despite all the intervening technical ships, called “patterns”, could be managed more success- advances. fully within a language-like web of larger relationships Alexander observed that contemporary design was lag- — a “pattern language”. ging far behind in coming to terms with the insights of organized complexity. If the life sciences have made such brilliant progress, why do architects and city planners 6.3 The “deep net” structure of Alexander’s patterns, (among other designers) continue to lag behind? We have artificial intelligence, and organized complexity previously pointed to several interrelated causes, includ- Alexander pointed to an essential web-like structure ing the continued dominance of the outmoded pre-bio- within human environments, which was not captured logical models, the continuation of economic incentives in earlier scientific and technological models. A related that tend to reduce design to marketing and commodifi - recognition of network structures is occurring across cation (e.g. an image of the future as a marketable fantasy, the biological sciences. These insights have been con - not one grounded in human realities), and, most relevant firmed and greatly expanded in the intervening years, here, forms of cognitive bias that result from overspe- in fields like ecology, genetics, and even brain science. It cialized training and cognitive distance. We refer to this is now recognized that, just as the genome of DNA and phenomenon as “architectural myopia”: the inability to the “proteome” of proteins are not simple linear or sta- actually see what users experience, and thus the failure tistically average collections of elements, but have an to serve the users’ actual needs (Mehaffy & Salingaros, essential interrelated network structure, the so-called 2011). “connectome” of the brain has an essential deep network th More broadly, both contemporary and 20 century structure. architectural geometries are in fact very poorly adapted These “deep network” insights are finding particular to the complexity of human physiology and psychol- relevance in the field of artificial intelligence. There is ogy (Salingaros, 2014c; Lavdas & Schirpke, 2020; Lav- an intriguing coorollary with the structure of the most das et al., 2021; Salingaros & Sussman, 2020; Mehaffy & robust neural networks at the heart of many AI systems. Salingaros, 2019a; Mehaffy & Salingaros, 2019b; Mehaffy The process of machine learning mimics what happens & Salingaros, 2020; Brielmann et al., 2022; Mehaffy & in human brains to some degree, as the neural networks Salingaros, 2015; Mehaffy et al., 2020). As part of a grow - are allowed to evolve and “learn”, in order to more accu- ing movement, researchers use scientific analysis to rately manage the structure of their subject of interest. expose the limitations of the architectural tradition of For example, an elementary AI program “learns” to dis- the past hundred years, and propose a return to more tinguish a dog from a cat, not by absorbing principles or human-centered design techniques, both new and tradi- rules, but by generating and evolving neural networks in tional (Buras, 2020; Alexander, 1979; Ruggles, 2018; Suss- response to numerous examples, and “learning” through man & Hollander, 2021; Galle, 2020). feedback. The system develops its own overlapping A new adaptive design paradigm becomes apparent, pattern-like structure, and its own form of organized which is based on scientific experimental data (Zeki, complexity. Lavdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 10 of 18 2019; Chatterjee & Vartanian, 2014; Coburn et al., 2017; 3. Geometrical coherence defined by continuity and Armstrong & Detweiler-Bedell, 2008; Pelowski et al., multiple nested sub-symmetries (whereas an overall 2017; Gallese & Freedberg, 2007; Kirk et al., 2009; Kawa- bilateral symmetry is unimportant). bata & Zeki, 2004; Brielmann & Pelli, 2019). Evidence 4. Definition of the vertical axis through symmetries reveals a four-way relationship among: (1) the web-like that privilege the gravitational sense and also allude structure of organized complexity in buildings and cities; to bilateral face-like symmetries. (2) the design pattern structure employed by Alexander 5. Curvature, especially in the smaller scales (whereas and his associates, and later applied to design patterns in arbitrary, unbalanced curvature strictly on the largest software; (3) the pattern structure of wikis and Wikipe- scale can be disorienting). dia, and the logic behind Agile Methodology and other 6. The presence of rich colors intensified and made developments in software and project management; coherent through color contrast and color harmony. and (4) the structure of neural networks and machine 7. Organized complexity containing a large amount of learning. visual information that is made coherent — hence Our point is that the architecture of the virtual uni- easy to process — via multiple nested symmetries. verse does not have to abide by limitations — the dictates 8. Representations of living organisms, and the actual of fashion, the imperatives of a technocracy, and the eco- presence of plants, animals, and other people. nomic and institutional power structures — that control and influence physical architecture. A new world, and It is useful to itemize the elements found in Indus- one that can be controlled and shaped totally without trial-Modernist, Post-Modernist, and Deconstructiv- investing in building materials or engineering, can define ist buildings that this list excludes. Anxiety-inducing its own logic. So far, the digital universe has inherited architectural styles include standard design and tec- contradictions from the architecture of physical build- tonic characteristics such as: plate-glass curtain-walls; ings. Those stylistic priorities are unnecessary baggage. minimalist grey, metal, or white surfaces; brutalist raw concrete walls; exaggerated horizontal windows; mis- aligned or randomly-distributed windows on a façade; 7 Toward a “Form Language” of new geometries tilted columns, edges, pilasters, tectonic elements, and 7.1 R ediscovering the biological basis for design windows; a lack of frames and borders; elimination of Bonna Jones and Yen Wong already suggested that virtual organized detail; willful avoidance or distortion of any environments be made more viscerally attractive through symmetries in patterns, etc. Those design typologies human biology, designed by following Christopher Alex- are visually hostile because the neural system does not ander’s results (Jones & Wong, 2008). They wished to expect them (Silber, 2007; Millais, 2019; Curl, 2018; endow online virtual library spaces with the same beauty Curl & Calder, 2019; Salingaros, 2014d). and human feeling found in the most emotionally attrac- While the above list may appear to be deliberately tive of evolved traditional places. But more recently, the anti-modernist, including some arguments of other Lingang Digital Technology Library, claiming to be the schools of thought in favor of minimalism or modern- world’s first metaverse library, simply mimics the high- ism is problematic. We are unaware of scientifically- tech industrial architecture of Lingang Science and Tech- validated arguments (among a very large volume of nology City. This misses an opportunity. writings promoting the exceptionalism of a narrow Below is a summary of the qualities that human-adap- set of styles) that justify those dominant styles by the tive architecture requires to promote wellbeing through effect they have on the user, as opposed to advantages the physiological and psychological reactions of the for the construction industry. A genuinely salutogenic viewer. These qualities combine descriptions from theo - aspect of the modernist style was the development of retical constructs suggested by Christopher Alexander the glass curtain wall, which let in more light than the (the Fifteen Properties), Donald Ruggles, Ann Sussman, typical building at the time around World War I. The researchers on Biophilic Design, several generations of antiseptic and antibiotic properties of sunlight are ben- traditional practitioners, and a complexity model devel- eficial. Yet the widely accepted notion of smooth, shiny oped by one of the present co-authors (NAS). surfaces having antiseptic properties is not supported by the data (MPHonline, 2023; Miranda & Schaffner, 1. Fractal scaling, in which structure is present at 2016; Aviat et al., 2016). every magnification, possibly with scaling symmetry We mention the history of workspace environments, (where a magnified portion looks similar to the origi - settings that provide closely related precedents to work- nal). ing in the metaverse. A sequence of invented — but 2. Sufficient detail and coherent detailed structure to untested — design ideas have continuously re-shaped define the smaller scales sharply (through contrast). La vdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 11 of 18 office distribution and interiors ever since World War II 8 Approaching environmental aesthetics (Salingaros, 1995). Dominant architectural culture con- through biology siders that workers have to inhabit the latest “concept” 8.1 The incompleteness of “modern” aesthetics imposed top-down. Corporate and government clients What, then, are the missing aesthetic characteristics, and buy into this “innovative” thinking without insisting how can we re-integrate them into the structures of the on prior user evaluation. The result has been one sub- metaverse? Once again, the work of Christopher Alexan- optimal working environment transformed into yet der offers an instructive contribution. In his four-volume another. Style-based industrial-modernist images over- masterwork The Nature of Order: The Art of Building ride ideas of adaptation and beauty. and the Nature of the Universe, he identifies “Fifteen Properties” that are common to the geometries of living 7.2 A pa ttern language for designing the metaverse systems, including human creations and human envi- Surprisingly, metaverse designers have not yet utilized the ronments (Alexander, 2001; Alexander, 2002; Salingaros, time-tested technique of cataloging and developing useful 2015; Salingaros, 2013). design patterns, by now a standard method in computer Importantly, these properties arise spontaneously as a science. Drawing inspiration from the work of Christopher result of common symmetry-generating and self-organ- Alexander, developers document design patterns and prac- izing processes. One of the most familiar is the property tices that work, and also note those “anti-patterns” that may of fractal structure, or “levels of scale”. Other properties at first seem attractive, but which later turn out to mess can be considered as classes of symmetry, including tiling things up (Salingaros, 2000). Pattern catalogs for behav- symmetries (“alternating repetition”), coherence work- ior, organization, software, etc. have saved an enormous ing through radial symmetry (“strong centers”), and the amount of effort in the tech industry. Cataloguing anti-pat - nested “local symmetries”. terns helps other developers from falling into the same trap These properties are not extraneously applied to the and repeating mistakes that could easily be avoided. structures in question (as added aesthetics), but arise It would make sense to develop a patterns catalog for from the network interactions of their spatial elements. designing the metaverse, just as has been done for video The process of generating coherent structure has its games (Barney, 2018; Barney, 2021a; Barney, 2021b), and counterpart in the product of environmental form. Self- for user interfaces and web design applications (Vora, organization creates coherence. The Fifteen Properties 2009; Design Patterns, 2023; Juliver, 2022). Success- are identified in the deep network structure of living sys - ful, tested elements of metaverse design should be cata- tems — and indeed, one can see many of these properties logued into an open archive for use by other developers. arising from living processes, including embryogenesis By following the design pattern format, no design com- (Newman & Bhat, 2009) (Fig. 1). ponent or element is automatically assumed to function It is notable that contemporary design partly or wholly well before testing, especially as many of those are ported lacks these properties. In part, this omission can be from different fields/platforms. A useful pattern collec - explained by the influence of simplification through ele - tion will emerge, hopefully in open source, as more and mentary processes of industrial manufacturing, including more working design patterns are added to the list. Also, stamping, rolling, slicing, and the like. The limiting aes - the designers get a better idea of how to optimally com- thetic that resulted then gave rise to a kind of thematic bine those patterns to obtain a more coherent, functional branding of modernity, as characterized by precisely result. Such relationships are never obvious. the stark “look” of these limited geometries. This was Christopher Barney, author of Pattern Language for the regime of “geometrical fundamentalism” described Game Design, devotes a chapter of his book to Alex- earlier. ander’s “Fifteen Fundamental Properties” (which we Other contributing factors for this violation of the Fif- describe in the next section). There is an intimate con - teen Properties can be explained by the over-reliance nection between design patterns (Alexander’s earlier of economies of scale and standardization (stamping work) and the geometrical concepts presented in Alexan- identical parts, creating copies at large scales); and the der’s later work, The Nature of Order. The discussion and comparative minimization of economies of place and dif- recognition of the purposes and functional requirements ferentiation, as is seen more commonly in natural phe- or performance criteria, which surely impact morphol- nomena (e.g. local signaling, mutual adaptive evolution, ogy, lie in the domain of the proposed pattern language self-organization in place). Scale and standardization are for designing the metaverse. We make no attempt to not absent from biological processes (e.g. standard DNA derive any of that specific material in this paper, since it molecules, large-scale seeding, etc.) but they are strictly extends beyond matters of beauty. balanced with differentiation and local adaptation. Lavdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 12 of 18 Fig. 1 Alexander’s “Fifteen Fundamental Properties” that characterize organized complexity. Image by Michael Mehaffy Fig. 2 On the left, a symmetry-breaking event (Harold Edgerton’s famous photograph of a milk drop shattering against a sheet of milk) produces characteristic geometric properties, including levels of scale, alternating repetition, strong centers, local symmetries, etc. But the relatively crude “modern” industrial processes of manipulating fundamental geometric shapes (lines, planes, cubes, on the right) and then stamping, replicating, enlarging the scale, do not produce these characteristic properties. Image credits: Left, revision by Michael Mehaffy of image courtesy the Edgerton Digital Collection; right, drawing by Michael Mehaffy Human technologies have not yet adopted this crucial 8.2 What is beauty, anyway? countercheck. It seems essential for us to anchor “beauty” in a frame- With the advent of computer technologies, and par- work of shareable experiences instead of esoteric notions ticularly the pattern technology of Alexander, with of architectural aesthetics that may not be shared beyond its lineage of deep networks and organized complex- academia and a narrow section of the profession (Lavdas ity (wiki and Wikipedia, many AI systems, et al.), this & Salingaros, 2022). Encouragement comes from the new goal of fully using insights from how nature organizes discipline of neuroaesthetics, in which the perception of complexity is now within reach (Salingaros, 2014a; beauty can be correlated with the way that objects and Salingaros, 2018; Cunningham & Mehaffy, 2013). In physical settings trigger reactions in the human brain. order to proceed with confidence, we must clarify There is now abundant evidence against the proposi - one misconception about aesthetics and the nature of tion that beauty is entirely subjective and “socially con- beauty (Fig. 2). structed”. While it is true that some aspects of beauty are La vdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 13 of 18 socially defined and individually differentiated, the expe - 2018). The informational experience of the environment rience we call “beauty” is a universal human phenom- is dynamic and multimodal, whereas when we talk about enon rooted in our common shared biological structures the beauty of a building, we are mostly talking about vis- and evolutionary histories. We might refer to objective ual beauty anyway, unless we are inhabiting it. beauty as this basic shared experience, whereas the sub- Multiple nested symmetries organize visual complexity, jective component of beauty is shaped by other factors, displaying it in a more “fluent” manner. This constraint and is what we might experience separately from oth- adds to randomly-distributed forms that happen to be ers, or other groups that were not exposed to those same fractal (such as, for example, Jackson Pollock’s paintings). factors. Stochastic fractals (as opposed to exact fractals, which A brief definition of “objective beauty” relies upon are mathematical constructs) are an important part of what triggers any emotionally-nourishing unconscious the geometry of Nature, and thus part of what medi- response to visual (and other) stimuli. This approach pri - ates the positive effects of exposure to natural environ - oritizes the impact that “beauty” has on user experience ments. Evolutionary preference for specific natural forms and health, and it also pushes beauty as a measurable — offering meaningful information from particular geo - construct towards a layman’s experience of the environ- metrical characteristics and color qualities — appears to ment. Most importantly, the interactive process that pro- be built into the human body. The perception of fractal vides the experience of beauty is revealed to be just as forms utilizes different brain networks and appears to important as inherent characteristics of the object. require a more fluid, less intensive processing, as sug - Interestingly, the experience of beauty across differ - gested in functional brain imaging studies (Fischmeister ent modalities has been correlated with the strength et al., 2017; Martins et al., 2014). of activity in a specific brain region, the medial orbito- Among promising investigations into quantifying frontal cortex (mOFC) (Ishizu & Zeki, 2011). Increased beauty, another related approach measures the three fac- activation in the same area has also been correlated with tors: coherence, fascination, and hominess (Coburn et al., non-sensory experience of beauty, such as coming from 2020; Gregorians et al., 2022). Originally introduced in mathematics (Zeki et al., 2014), and the experience of a study of how architectural interiors affect neurological sorrow (Ishizu & Zeki, 2017). And, while individual brain responses, this idea is now being applied to evaluate exte- responses to certain stimuli can be considered as sub- riors, and, more importantly, to study the dynamic effects jective by definition, this new research reveals objective of moving through a scene. Data is gathered either with invariants. Such responses correlate with the experience portable sensors, or with virtual reality simulations using of beauty, while the correlation of this experience with videos. These studies are directly relevant to coherence certain structural features of the stimuli fits well with a explained by mathematical complexity. direct objective causal sequence between stimulus struc- Visual coherence is only roughly equivalent to beauty. ture, brain reaction, and subjective experience. In the real world, buildings that most people would call Extensive studies on evolutionary aesthetics identify ugly are quite often visually coherent through an overall the mechanism for the perception of beauty as confer- symmetry; but they lack fractality and multiple, nested ring an evolutionary advantage (Turner, 1996; Swami & sub-symmetries. At the other extreme, fractals — espe- Furnham, 2006; Prum, 2017; Seghers, 2015; Confer et al., cially exact fractals (Bies et al., 2016) — can be used 2010; Leder et al., 2016; Deutsch & Sainani, 2015). In to design ugly buildings whose awkward proportions order to profit from such a beneficial effect, one expects and asymmetrical geometries are viscerally unappeal- the mechanism of perception to have high visual fluency; ing (Langdon, 2015). There are many more factors that i.e. the specific visual information must be processed contribute to objective architectural beauty (Olszewska, very easily by the neural system. The basis for estimating 2020a; Olszewska, 2020b). architectural beauty as an objective value (that is to say, We can, at this point, answer a question raised by as a value relevant to all by nature) is to realize, following admirers of contemporary architecture in buildings: cumulating evidence, that the human body is an exqui- “Why is there no recognition of recent architecture with sitely-tuned instrument for perceiving specific geom - high levels of organized complexity, as high as those etries that are experienced as beauty. found in Nature, and arguably much higher than classi- All experience of beauty, regardless of the source, cal facades?” As developed in our other publications, and seems to have some specific converging neural correlates. supported by the research of other authors, the type of Informational input is to a large degree visual, and even complexity responsible for human engagement and well- more so in the case of architecture, which is why this and being is very special. It is not enough to design and build a related discussions necessarily focus on visual stimula- complex-looking façade. The difference between natural- tion even though all of our senses are at play (Hirst et al., looking buildings (engaging) versus merely complex (but Lavdas et al. Architectural Intelligence (2023) 2:8 Page 14 of 18 not engaging) is due to basic mathematical distinctions in data, these results correspond to the neurological their respective geometries. Non-engaging buildings fail mechanisms that guaranteed human survival during to satisfy several of the 8 qualities of human-adaptive evolution. Avoiding subjective aesthetic definitions architecture listed earlier, as well as necessary design pat- influenced by habit, ideology, or the media, new tech- terns. This mechanism has nothing to do with style, and nology resolves ages-old questions. By virtue of their is certainly not limited to classical façades. enormous data base, AI text-to-image generators rep- resent the vox populi missing for a century from archi- 9 Roku City gets it right tectural discourse. Scientific research has discovered A screen saver for a streaming television platform man- innate preferences for salutogenic (health-inducing) aged to overcome the design misfires of the metaverse, environments, which embody human informational and is now talked about as a huge VR success (Winkie & needs. At the same time, a critical break was revealed New York Times, 2022). Roku is a continuously scrolling with dominant architectural culture. painting of a street front consisting of traditional building Acknowledgments façades ranging in style from Art-Deco to Neoclassical. We thank Tim Gorichanaz for very helpful advice and discussions. An extensive natural park and open water separates the Authors’ contributions foreground buildings from a dense built-up city seen in Conceptualization, N.A.S.; methodology, N.A.S.; validation, A.A.L., M.W.M. the far distance. The user’s immediate experience is with and N.A.S.; formal analysis, A.A.L., M.W.M. and N.A.S.; investigation, A.A.L. and the façades, which are drawn in a way that embodies ele- N.A.S.; writing—original draft preparation, N.A.S.; writing—review and editing, M.W.M. and N.A.S. All authors have read and agreed to the published version ments of design coherence such as Alexander’s 15 prop- of the manuscript. erties (intuitively so, as graphic artists do not implement those by name). Funding None. The irony here is that Roku City contains some far from realistic characteristics; for example, it is bathed Availability of data and materials in a dim blue-purple light. Yet the façades’ coherent and Not applicable. detailed human-scale design attracts people to want to inhabit it, and this is a recurring comment from internet Declarations readers (Craighead, 2021). Another surprise is that the Competing interests over-dense modernist city in the background is actually None. unappealing, but it is situated at a far enough distance so that it doesn’t alarm a viewer concentrating on the fore- Received: 21 October 2022 Accepted: 14 March 2023 ground experience. Kyle Jones, the artist who created Roku City, placed alien invaders, an erupting volcano, giant robots, and other monsters among the skyscrapers in the background city, yet those seem more funny than References menacing. Alexander, C. (1964). Notes on the synthesis of form. Harvard University Press. Alexander, C. (1979). The timeless way of building. Oxford University Press. Alexander, C. (2001). The Nature of Order. 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Architectural Intelligence – Springer Journals
Published: Mar 28, 2023
Keywords: AI; Architecture; Artificial intelligence; Beauty; Christopher Alexander; Design; Digital aesthetics; Emotional attachment; Engagement; Healing environments; Metaverse; Objective beauty; Text-to-image system; Virtual Reality
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