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This section includes working papers by members of the Sustasis Collaborative, as well as links to our selected papers published elsewhere. This section will be updated periodically, with newer papers added at the top. Click on the image of each paper to open. 



Quillien - Poundbury A Different Set of Questions.jpg


Jenny Quillien

What follows is a confession and an informal chronicling of some clumsy sleuthing on my part as I tried to come to grips with the making of livable cities. A heuristic insight was eventually obtained.

Michael W. Mehaffy

The explosive growth of AI offers a teachable moment about the broader existential threats from all our technologies – and the ways we must respond.

Ward Cunningham and Michael Mehaffy

We describe the origin of wiki technology, which has become widely influential, and its relationship to the development of pattern languages in software. We show how the relationship is deeper than previously understood. The deep shared logic points to unrealized potential, with expanded capability for wikis – including a new generation of “federated” wiki. We draw conclusions about the use of this and related technology to “curate” (collectively gather and refine) knowledge systems.







Papers by ourselves and/or colleagues and collaborators, with citation information, a short description, and a hyperlink for each. Listed by most recent date first.

2024 — Tobias M. Ramm, Mathias Werwie, Tim Otto, Peter A. Gloor, Nikos Salingaros. Artificial Intelligence Evaluates How Humans Connect to the Built Environment: A Pilot Study of Two Experiments in Biophilia, Sustainability 16(2), Article 868, 2024. doi: 10.3390/su16020868. 

The built environment subconsciously influences human physiology during every second of life, which has a cumulative long-term effect. This paper measures the impact of biophilic design on positive emotions and productivity in two separate but conceptually related pilot studies that apply novel approaches: (a) facial emotion recognition (FER) with residual masking networks and (b) sentiment detection using Large Language Models. We find significant evidence that architecture implementing biophilic design evokes more positive emotions. 


2023 — Alexandros Lavdas, Michael Mehaffy, Nikos Salingaros. The “modern” campus: case study in (un)sustainable urbanism, Sustainability 15(23), 2023, Article 16427. doi: 10.3390/su152316427. 

This paper considers the “modern” campus design typology (including business campuses, commercial districts, hospitals, and schools) as a design paradigm for pedestrian public space, with implications for human flourishing and well-being. A new “techno-modernist” aesthetic offers visually exciting new “neoplastic” forms but is built on discredited concepts of urban space. A more directly human-oriented design methodology improves outcomes for creative development, education, and health. This analysis resurrects tested traditional design tools and validates them through scientific findings from mathematics and neuroscience. 



2023 — Tim Gorichanaz, Alexandros A. Lavdas, Michael W. Mehaffy, Nikos Salingaros. The Impacts of Online Experience on Health and Well-Being: The Overlooked Aesthetic Dimension, Virtual Worlds 2(3), 2023, 243-266. doi: 10.3390/virtualworlds2030015

It is well-recognized that online experience can carry profound impacts on health and well-being. Less attention has been given to the health impacts of aesthetic experiences of online users, particularly gamers and other users of immersive virtual reality (VR) technologies. A significant body of research has begun to document the surprisingly strong yet previously unrecognized impacts of aesthetic experiences on health and well-being in other arenas of life. Online sensorial experience is no less important than in the physical world, with the capacity for both harmful effects and salutogenic benefits.


2023 — Alexandros Lavdas, Michael Mehaffy, Nikos Salingaros. AI, the Beauty of Places, and the Metaverse: Beyond Geometrical Fundamentalism, Architectural Intelligence 2, Article 8 (2023). doi: 10.1007/s44223-023-00026-z

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. Experiencing VR relies upon human neurological mechanisms evolved to negotiate — and survive in — our ancestral physical 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 emotional attachment and wellbeing. 



2023 — Michael Mehaffy, Nikos Salingaros. The surprisingly important role of symmetry in healthy places, IMCL – International Making Cities Livable (2023), 22 April. Republication of article originally published in Planetizen, 8 March 2021.

Exciting new developments in mathematics, environmental psychology, neuroscience, and other fields are transforming the scientific understanding of the essential role of symmetry in human experience. Research suggests there might be a “symmetry deficit disorder” in today’s built environments, with significant impacts on health, well-being, and even sustainability. These findings seem all the more important for those who are already more vulnerable, including children, the elderly, and the poor. 



2023 — Michael Mehaffy, Nikos Salingaros. Who’s Afraid of the 15-Minute City?, New English Review, 1 March 2023.

The concept of the “15-minute city” proposes including all the necessary amenities, such as education, employment, healthcare, housing, and recreation, within a fifteen-minute walk or bike ride of any given point within a city. The idea has gained traction among policymakers and urbanists alike because of the benefits it offers in improving the residents’ quality of life, enhancing social cohesion, and reducing carbon emissions. The dynamic network city, balancing choice with coherent “rules of the game”, is a liberating model, not an oppressive one.


2022 — Shlomo Angel, Nikos Salingaros. Christopher Alexander’s Architectural Insights and Limitations, New Design Ideas, 6(3), 2022, 386-401. A Comment by Michael Mehaffy and Shlomo Angel, 402-412. Second Comment by Yodan Rofè, 413-416. 


The architect, theorist, and computer science pioneer Christopher Alexander has had an immense impact on design theory, more so in Computer Science than in Architecture. Following his death in March 2022, some of Alexander’s old collaborators exchanged reminiscences about working with him. This dialogue seeks answers to the question of why Alexander’s influence directly on design was not as extensive as it was in other, unrelated fields. Digging deep into the methodology of design patterns, and Alexander’s underlying investigative approach, reveals clues for revising world architecture towards a more humane adaptation. 



2022 — Alexandros Lavdas, Nikos Salingaros. Architectural Beauty: Developing a Measurable and Objective Scale, Challenges, 13(2), 56, 2022. doi: 10.3390/challe13020056. 

After decades of being ignored, the concept of beauty, as understood by the non-architect, has recently been making a comeback in architecture, not so much in the practice itself, as in appeals for design solutions that are more human-centered and not dictated by abstract principles. Architectural beauty needs to be evaluated from its effects on human health. This study discusses two diagnostic tools for measuring the degree of architectural “beauty”. The goal is to use diagnostic imaging, artificial intelligence, medicine, neuroscience, visual attention, and image-processing software for evaluations. 


2022 — Rita Berto, Giuseppe Barbiero, Nikos Salingaros. Biophilic design of building façades from an Evolutionary Psychology framework: Visual Attention Software compared to Perceived Restorativeness, Visions for Sustainability, 18 (2022), 1-34. doi: 10.13135/2384-8677/7054

Built environments that integrate representations of the natural world into façades and interiors benefit occupant psycho-physiological well-being and behavior. However, the biophilic quality of buildings does not depend exclusively on “green”, but also upon “organized complexity” in their structure. In this exploratory study we compare quantitative (Visual Attention Software) and qualitative approaches (self-rating scales) in the perception of biophilic design of building façades. 



2022 — Aenne Brielmann, Nir Buras, Nikos Salingaros, Richard Taylor. What happens in your brain when you walk down the street? Implications of architectural proportions, biophilia, and fractal geometry for urban science, Urban Science, Volume 6, Issue 1, Article No. 3 (2022). doi: 10.3390/urbansci6010003.

This article reviews current research in visual urban perception. The temporal sequence of the first few milliseconds of visual stimulus processing sheds light on the historically ambiguous topic of aesthetic experience. Automatic fractal processing triggers initial attraction/avoidance evaluations of an environment’s salubriousness, and its potentially positive or negative impacts upon an individual. These perceptual mechanisms promote walkability and intuitive navigation, and so they support the urban and civic interactions for which we establish communities and cities in the first place.




2021 — Michael Mehaffy, Nikos Salingaros. Symmetry in architecture: Toward an overdue reassessment, Symmetry: Culture and Science, Vol. 32, No. 3 (2021), 311-343. doi: 10.26830/symmetry_2021_3_311. 

The mathematical concept of symmetry, in its fullest sense, figured large in architectural history up to the early twentieth century. However, for the better part of a century, architecture and related disciplines have marginalized the consideration of symmetry in favor of a “functionalist” conception of design. More recently, dramatic developments in mathematics, physics, biology, neuroscience, environmental psychology carry implications for architecture and other environmental design professions.



2021 — Nikos Salingaros. Why Christopher Alexander failed to humanize architecture, The Side View Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2021). 

Christopher Alexander introduced an astonishingly novel way of thinking about architecture. At the same time, his model validated millennia of traditional building activity, making it newly relevant for construction today. These common elements of configurations, paths, and spaces work well to provide an emotionally comfortable environment. But then, why do practitioners who try to implement Alexander’s toolkit find themselves marginalized in the architecture profession and shunned by academia?



2021 — Nikos Salingaros. Happiness and Biophilic Urban Geometry, Journal of Biourbanism, Vol. 9, No. 1&2 (2021), 23-28. 

Recent experiments indicate that most contemporary built environments are no longer conducive to the state of enjoyment of life — commonly called happiness — that is necessary for human health and well-being. A healing environment depends upon biophilia — the body’s positive response to biological forms, and to their mathematical representation. Eye-tracking, neuroscience, and visual attention software discredit building and urban typologies that provoke disturbing neural responses. A new design toolkit that focuses on happiness and well-being combines the visual mathematics of living structure with the patterns of Christopher Alexander.


2021 — Nikos Salingaros. Rules for Urban Space: Design Patterns Create the Human Scale, Journal of Urban Research and Development, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2021), 4-16.

A new toolkit for adaptive design combines the design patterns of Christopher Alexander with recent results from perception science. Understanding the way people experience and interact with urban space selects from among a variety of design options. Standard industrial-modernist typologies turn out to degrade the urban experience and should henceforth be abandoned. By adopting a science-based approach, our society can shape the built environment intelligently from today on.


2021 — Alexandros Lavdas, Nikos Salingaros. Can suboptimal visual environments negatively affect children’s cognitive development?, Challenges, 12(2), Article 28 (2021). doi: 10.3390/challe12020028.

There are indications that children born during the period of COVID-19 lockdown have cognitive development issues, without having been affected by the virus. We discuss here the idea that environmental deprivation—and, especially, the lack of appropriate visual stimulation—might be one source of these defects. This thought is in line with previous findings in children brought up in orphanages with poor environmental stimulation, hypothesizing that the minimalist architectural style prevailing for the last several decades is among the potential contributing factors.



2021 — Marco Aresta, Nikos Salingaros. The importance of domestic space in the times of COVID-19, Challenges, 12(2), Article 27 (2021). doi: 10.3390/challe12020027. 

The negative emotional experience of families cooped up during the pandemic reveals the failure of the standard approach to designing spaces. An architecture that adapts to human biology and psychology starts with the relatively new understanding of people interacting unconsciously with their environment and broadens it. Specific design innovations to achieve this goal are replacing industrial-minimalism with biophilic and neuro-based design and using documented patterns that trigger feelings of happiness in users. 



2021 — Alexandros Lavdas, Nikos Salingaros, Ann Sussman. Visual Attention Software: a new tool for understanding the ‘subliminal’ experience of the built environment, Applied Sciences, 11(13), Article 6197 (2021). doi: 10.3390/app11136197

Eye-tracking technology is a biometric tool that has found many commercial and research applications. The software not only reveals non-obvious fixation points, but also overall relative design coherence, a key element of Christopher Alexander’s theory of geometrical order. Many buildings are ignored, showing unconnected points of splintered attention. Our findings are non-intuitive and surprising. 


2020 — Nikos Salingaros, Ann Sussman. Biometric pilot-studies reveal the arrangement and shape of windows on a traditional façade to be implicitly “engaging”, whereas contemporary façades are not, Urban Science, Volume 4, Issue 2, Article 26 (2020), 1-19. doi: 10.3390/urbansci4020026.

Biometric technologies, including eye tracking, reveal unconscious behaviors at work and allow us to predict the initial response of a design experience. A biometric tool, 3M-VAS (Visual Attention Software), can be effectively used in architecture. This tool aggregates 30 years of eye-tracking data, commonly applied in website and signage design. A pilot-study uses simplified drawings of building elevations to reveal implicit human responses of engagement and disengagement to buildings.


2020 — Nikos Salingaros. Planning, Complexity, and Welcoming Spaces — the Case of Campus Design, chapter 18 in Handbook on Planning and Complexity, edited by Gert de Roo, Claudia Yamu and Christian Zuidema, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishers (2020), 353-372. doi: 10.4337/9781786439185.00023. 

The design of a campus is used here as an example of how spatial design inspired by complexity science articulates humanity within the urban environment. A campus defines a predominantly pedestrian environment that works well when the distances among buildings permit students to walk to their next class in usually a 10-minute break, and co-workers to easily visit another building nearby. An urban geometry that feels welcoming and creates a stress-free atmosphere is more conducive—some would claim essential—to learning and social contacts.



2020 — Nikos Salingaros. Connecting to the World: Christopher Alexander’s Tool for Human-Centered Design, She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, Vol. 6, Issue 4 (2020), 455-481. doi: 10.1016/j.sheji.2020.08.005.

Beauty connects us viscerally to the material universe. Life forms evolved to experience biological connectedness as an absolute necessity for survival. Starting one century ago, however, dominant culture deliberately reversed the mechanism responsible for visceral connection. Christopher Alexander describes how to revive the visceral connecting process, creating conditions for human-centered design in our times. Implementing Alexander’s connecting method could revolutionize design, with the potential to produce a new, nourishing art and architecture.



2019 – Nikos Salingaros. The biophilic healing index predicts effects of the built environment on our wellbeing, JBU — Journal of Biourbanism, Volume 8, No. 1 (2019), pages 13-34.

By estimating certain features of the built environment, we can predict positive healing effects that spaces and structures may have on users. These can be estimated before something is built. Anticipating people’s eventual response to a new building or urban space is a radically new tool that links design to public health.



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