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This Is Your Brain on Architecture

In her new book, Sarah Williams Goldhagen presents scientific evidence for why some buildings delight us and others—too many of them—disappoint.
The Salk Institute near San Diego is considered one of Louis Kahn's masterpieces.
The Salk Institute near San Diego is considered one of Louis Kahn's masterpieces. Lenny Ignelzi/AP

Sarah Williams Goldhagen was the architecture critic for The New Republic for many years, a role she combined with teaching at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and elsewhere. She is an expert on the work of Louis Kahn, one of the 20th century’s greatest architects, known for the weighty, mystical Modernism of buildings like the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and the Bangladeshi parliament in Dhaka.

Several years ago, Goldhagen became interested in new research on how our brains register the environments around us. Dipping into writing from several fields—psychology, anthropology, linguistics, and neuroscience—she learned that a new paradigm for how we live and think in the world was starting to emerge, called “embodied cognition.”