What can the form of cities tell us about the structure of the human brain? And what can the structure of the brain tell us about the form of the city? These are questions that I’d like to address in this talk. In summary, I believe we can learn a good deal about the interaction between the mind and the urban places in which the global majority of people now live. After all, the city is the largest intentional product of the human species. We’ve had them for millennia and, in them, we’ve manifested our societies, created our industries and developed our cultures. They are the product of our imaginations, the places where we take decisions – and they are the inspiration for new thought. The link, I want to suggest, is not just contextual though. It’s much deeper than that.
Now my role as an architect and urban planner is to design cities, not to probe and dissect brains in the manner of earlier speakers. But that’s not to say that I’m not professionally curious. Far from it because, when architects and urban planners think about the future – where to place new facilities like schools and hospitals, how to connect them with streets, parks and public spaces, and how to make any and all of this look beautiful – when we do any of this we are anticipating human behaviour: how people will flow, where they will want to stop, sit, read a book, interact with friends and colleagues. And in anticipating human behaviour we are attempting to simulate the thought processes, the decision sequences, the navigational pathways and, in general, the instincts of other human brains.