The beehive as a functional, identity-creating concept
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Neuroscience and architecture: the beehive as a functional, identity-creating concept

EY Headquarters


The beehive as a functional, identity-creating concept
Edited By Editorial Staff -

Experimentation, technology and dynamism are the hallmarks of Lombardini22’s design for the new headquarters of EY in Rome. The multinational consultancy firm has moved into the capital’s business district, in a space with 900 workstations on a floor area of 18,000 sq. m consisting of nine floors above ground plus three basement levels. Design and construction of the new offices is the work of DEGW, a brand dedicated to workspace design that belongs to leading Italian architecture and engineering group Lombardini22. The project featured input from FUD, a division that deals with branding and communication, and Tuned, a venture led by architect Davide Ruzzon that applies neuroscience to architecture.

DEGW represented the project concept through thedual-level metaphor of a beehive, recalling the idea of an industrious workplace and referencing the EY identity and its use of the colors yellow and black. The new headquarters adopts a rectangular floor plan with a square courtyard in the center and two symmetrical vertical circulation cores. The ground floor reception area features a custom-made wooden counter flanked by a large wall-mounted video screen. A large cafeteria is accessible from the central patio, echoing some of its natural elements in the wood effect ceramic floor, in contrast to exposed-installation ceilings. The courtyard, which is the design’s compositional center of gravity, is configured as a stepped amphitheater.

On floors one to six, work areas feature a number of fixed positions to foster distributive clarity on each level; two shades of carpeting, dark and light gray, distinguish meeting rooms from open space. A similar differentiation is echoed in the false ceilings, respectively made of perforated plasterboard sheeting and slats. Every floor hosts a meeting point opposite the elevator landing; filing cabinets cluster close to the central patio. Meeting rooms are located along the ends of the building and the patio. The sequence of open-plan workstations on the long sides of the building is broken up by more informal gathering places.

The building’s top two floors benefit from special features: level seven, which has a dedicated entrance, is split between a customer area and “wavespace”, an innovation center divided up into an evocative seven-room experiential sequence offering seven different activities. On an experimental basis, the design method adopted for this area evolved out of neuroscience research, applied here to configure the architectural design. On the seventh floor, the beehive metaphor is expressed through a hexagonal mediation space whose expanded metal walls wrap around the staircase and elevator core, housing services and distributing flows to the various functional areas. Adopting a zigzagging circulation approach, areas are identified on the floor through a soft, offset design that sets them apart from the closed-in volumes of the meeting rooms, breaking up the sequence and creating relaxation areas that look out over Villa Borghese.

The eighth and top floor crowns the building with a fully-glazed volume that houses a meeting room connected to a lounge area and a large bar/refreshment area. This entire space is surrounded by a panoramic terrace that runs along the perimeter of the building.


Neuroscience applied to design

Davide Ruzzon, Tuned Director

When did the idea of applying neuroscience to architecture emerge, and how did you develop an interest in the subject?
About ten years ago, I began wondering whether there might be some way to overcome an approach to architecture that, with few exceptions, seemed to have become wholly cerebral, in a way I was finding hard to put up with. It seemed to me that thinking about the place where we spend 90% of our lives in terms of signs or artistic messages was completely bonkers. Art is not lived the way we live architectural space, and that is hardly a minor detail.
I have long been intrigued by Louis Kahn, by his switched-on approach to understanding human experience through phenomenology. Toward the end of his life, when he began interpreting human experiences - learning, caring, dwelling, etc. - as the “institutions of man”, he became very interested in whether they should be of a form that allows them to be conformed to their use. Not to their function, understood as a mechanical response to needs, but to their use, understood as the experience that links human motivations with spatial organization. What role, then, could this form play with respect to motivations, expectations, and desires?
At that point, the idea came to me that these mental constructs were not actually concepts, prisoners of the conscious part of our being, that they could not be described through the cerebral ramblings to which architects have so often accustomed us. Emotions are, in actual fact, pre-reflective, held in the body long before they reach the mind. Psychology and neuroscience teach us that desire does not belong to us: it is we who belong to emotions. At that point, understanding the link between the affective dimension of phenomenological experience and how the body-brain complex functions, how it is enacted in space, became an indispensable need for me. My meeting with Juhani Pallasmaa and Alberto Pérez-Gómez, through my friend Renato Bocchi, took care of the rest. Their research and work opened up the highway of neuroscience to me.

Emotions, movement and architectural space. How do these elements interact with each other?<
How do you measure a space? In centimeters or in meters? No, you measure it in potential actions. Henri Poincaré, the founder of topology, sensed this more than a hundred years ago. The idea that a special link exists between space and bodily movement is ancient, but it has been growing in strength since the late 19th century. The space that surrounds us, man-made, designed space, first came into being some 12,000 years ago, building out man’s desires in stone as a way of sharing them, of performing rituals; architecture was born and evolved to preserve man’s desires and expectations, to give shape to man’s emotions. Our evolutionary drive, or rather our co-evolutionary, genetic and cultural drive, spawned all this to ensure a physiological-affective balance for our bodies, progressively leading to innovations that, in a calibrated way, would break the same given. Before beginning to create architecture - for example in Göbekli Tepe - at the start of the Neolithic Revolution 9,000 years before Christ, in nature mankind had been honing its relationship with movement, emotions and space in a special way for at least two million years, from Homo Erectus on down.
Fundamental body movements, such as jumping up into a tree, lying on the ground, proceeding up or down a slope, diving, hugging, floating, and others, were the primordial alphabet that transformed emotional sensations into mental images of our body. Through standing, the sentiment of feeling the reactions of others’ bodies in our own body via the performance of moving interaction in space was, more and more, strengthened and enlivened. Eyes and facial expressions gradually became more refined and expressive, as did bodily gestures, until the very internal feeling of the body became communicable. The feeling of lightness, relief, warmth, coolness, relaxation or activation, these socially shared objects are transferred onto the forms of space that generated them. The kinematics of bodies in action in their various configurations of jumping, diving, stretching or embracing, transfers different feelings to a variety of topological geometries. The man-made world was gradually built using this emotional architectural alphabet: quantity and technique went on to overwrite these codes, more and more often shorn of poetics.
Man’s desires are hidden under so many layers, often rendering their origin almost invisible. What we should be doing through design is trying to bring human experience together in a coherent way - going to school, for example, or being treated in hospital - with the original emotional sensations by absorbing motor kinematics in the form of space. Relaxation space has a perceptual dynamic that matches the movements of the body as it relaxes, in the same way that a body takes a leap, or has space for pausing and resting. Dive, jump, pause… Not surprisingly, they have all taken on metaphorical meanings in common language that are very similar in all cultures. Their kinematic-body origin is the explanation.

Tuned’s design process involves more than 20 different steps, from preliminary design to the construction site and start-up. What are the main steps?
There are two crucial aspects here. The first is to create attunement between users’ emotional expectations and the form that embraces that experience. The second consists of constructing a sense of belonging to place through linear integration of the three scales of spatial perception, strengthening the identity of the project, or by questioning that identity to create poetics-led operations via a non-linear integration of three  well-defined scales.
Every good design starts from the inside, where people live, not from the outside, not from the skin. In order to foster attunement between emotional expectations and the architectural configuration of the environments under design, involving the users themselves or a custom-made sample, we must identify the vast and complex scenario of expected emotions. The neuroscientific brief is defined by drawing on these subsequently-validated indications, defining the characteristics of architectural components with environments on a case-by-case basis. Interiors are designed to retroactively produce the emotions contained within the motor kinematics analyzed during the process, indicated by the sample as targets. This approach is one that we might term experimental architecture, in the sense that it outlines a systematic and verifiable process for evaluating compositional choices.
Regarding the three scales of the project, the one defined as peripersonal, i.e. inherent to the movement of limbs, the extra-personal one, normally referring to the size of interior rooms (small or medium) and lastly, the third scale of the extended dimension, the goal is to transfer a sense of belonging to users via the design. This is achieved when a guiding reference is identified, one that is capable of serving as the synthesis of the transformative event concerning all of the emotions at stake associated with the different experiences envisaged in the project. The geometry of this guiding sentiment will generate design choices that create continuity between the smaller human scale and the global view, inside and outside the building. Cognitive navigational processes are related to perceived emotions; they may be consolidated by them, particularly if the same affective characteristic recurs consistently across different scales. This does not, however, mean that on significant occasions, discontinuity is out of the question between these scales if one wishes poetically to delve into the essence of the design. This is, however, a complex operation, one that often fails to be fruitful if undertaken by people who lack awareness.

The Tuned Advisory Board embraces professionals from different fields, from science to psychology and architecture. How did you build this team of talents?
At Tuned, Vittorio Gallese, Cinzia di Dio, Colin Ellard, Eve Edelstein and Jagan Sha sit on the Advisory Board. Above and beyond friendship, we share a common passion for research and a belief in an ethical approach, one in which people’s welfare must be at the heart of design. Internationally prominent neuroscientists, psychologists and architects, the Board members all work at the master’s faculty I direct at the IUAV in Venice and POLIDesign, in Milan, on the subjects we cover. As well as the Board, we have also set up a design team that I lead with Enrico Arrighetti, the Executive Director of Tuned, staffed by young Italian and international architects and neuroscience researchers who, with one exception, all come from the master’s degree program I run in Venice.

Tuned has now completed ten or so projects of varying types. What are the special characteristics of the wavespace at the new EY headquarters in Rome?
For this project, I drew up a brief that Enrico Arrighetti coherently translated into architectural terms. The opportunity arose out of the idea of creating seven different areas, intended for seven different joint working and interaction experiences. Using the program’s objectives as a basis - the client had already condensed them into a very rich and well-articulated concept - I characterized the emotional dimensions that could be constituted as users’ latent desires during the various organizational, creative, and communicative activities. This step made it possible to choose the most appropriate kinematics for translation into architectural form, which, reconstructed into diagrams and matrices, was passed on to Enrico as guidelines. He then came up with the most coherent solutions at a design level. As soon as you enter, the first thing you see is a translation of relaxation, conveyed through the gesture of lying down. Immediately after that, on the left is a space designed around the theme of jumping and lightness; on the right, there is an area where the design was guided by the kinematics of the embrace. The pathway takes visitors through a system that translates into form the sensation of birth and, finally, the experience of a room that gives form and color to the physiological progression of dance.

Location: Roma, Italy
Client: EY
Completion: 2020
Gross Floor Area: 18,000 m2
wavespace Concept: Tuned in collaboration with EY
Architect and Interior Designer: DEGW

Photography by Cortili Photo, courtesy of Lombardini22

Portrait image (Davide Ruzzon) by © Chiara Rango, courtesy of Lombardini22

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