Sıla Eğridere: Pioneering a new era of emotionally intelligent cities


Sıla Eğridere, who holds a master’s degree from the HFT Stuttgart International Master Smart City Solutions and has a background in architecture, focuses on improving urban spaces through urban emotions, neuroarchitecture, and placemaking.

Urban emotions refer to the complex feelings elicited by urban environments, impacting everything from stress levels to overall happiness. The concept, which Zeisel (2006) notes as vital for understanding the human-city interaction, has guided my approach to evaluating how urban designs influence inhabitants’ quality of life.

Furthermore, the integration of neuroarchitecture, a field that merges insights from neuroscience with architectural design to promote mental and emotional well-being, has significantly influenced my work. According to Higuera Trujillo et al. (2021), neuroarchitecture offers a novel perspective by leveraging our growing understanding of the human brain to create spaces that foster positive mental states.

In parallel, placemaking emerges as a pivotal strategy for reimagining public spaces to be the heart of every community, as emphasized by Project for Public Spaces. This method not only aims to revitalize public areas but also to forge stronger bonds between people and the spaces they share, promoting a sense of community and shared ownership.

Eğridere aims to contribute to smart, sustainable urban development by integrating knowledge of how urban environments affect emotions and well-being with architectural design. Their thesis delves into the relationship between urban emotions—how cities make people feel—and neuroarchitecture’s role in creating mentally and emotionally healthy spaces within smart cities. Eğridere emphasizes inclusive design and community engagement, aiming to make cities more livable for everyone. Their work offers valuable insights for enhancing urban environments through a blend of emotional well-being and architectural functionality.

Ms. Eğridere, given your recent Master’s in Smart City Solutions and a foundation in architecture, alongside the emerging fields of urban emotions and neuroarchitecture, could you elaborate on how these disciplines have equipped you to enhance urban spaces with smart city solutions?

My Master’s degree in Smart City Solutions, in tandem with my architectural background, has laid a comprehensive groundwork for tackling urban challenges through innovative smart city concepts. This interdisciplinary education provided me with insights into critical areas such as smart living, mobility, economic development, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, governance, and community engagement then my interest in human-centered design also introduced me to the pioneering fields of urban emotions and neuroarchitecture.

This knowledge has been instrumental in my endeavor to incorporate such principles as Key Performance Indicators in urban planning, aiming to create environments that meet physical requirements and enhance psychological well-being.

My experiences in different European cities showed me the significant role neighborhood design plays in shaping urban emotions and neuroarchitecture. I observed how thoughtful architecture and urban planning positively impact everyday behavior and emotional health, reinforcing my belief in the importance of designing smart cities that extend beyond the technological framework. By emphasizing the emotional and neurological well-being of residents and utilizing digital technology to improve living conditions, —as Caragliu, Del Bo, and Nijkamp (2011) advocate— I aim to contribute to the creation of efficient, sustainable, and emotionally responsive urban spaces. This balanced approach integrates design, technology, and an understanding of human emotions and brain functions, essential for advancing urban planning and developing truly smart cities.

Today, Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications have the potential to enable the assessment of the impacts of design and construction on emotional and neurological well-being through specific performance indicators before embarking on urban regeneration projects. It can also contribute to the well-being of residents by bringing a more inclusive approach to architectural decision-making, particularly with regard to aesthetics and the way spaces are used.

How have your experiences in Germany influenced your approach to smart city research, especially in addressing the social challenges urban areas face? Could you also explain how the integration of neuroarchitecture, and the understanding of urban emotions enhances urban development strategies?

My experiences in Germany were transformative, providing me with invaluable insights into the array of social challenges urban dwellers encounter. This exposure was a critical turning point, guiding the direction of my research to focus intensely on these issues. In my thesis, I delved into the urban redevelopment efforts of Frankfurt Gallus and Freiburg Rieselfeld, chosen for their distinct approaches to urban renewal and development. My analysis of these case studies unveiled the varied impacts these initiatives had on their respective communities, reflecting the diverse goals and visions that motivated each project. These insights emphasized the importance of aligning urban development goals with the specific needs and aspirations of community members.

Incorporating the principles of neuroarchitecture and acknowledging the concept of urban emotions into smart city planning emerged as a pivotal aspect of my research. This innovative approach underscores the potential for urban spaces to go beyond mere functionality, aiming to enhance social connections, improve living standards, and support the psychological well-being of citizens. Through the application of key performance indicators (KPIs) based on extensive surveys, my research explored critical dimensions of urban living, such as environmental and landscape aesthetics, local amenities, safety, noise and air pollution, transportation, and overall resident satisfaction. These indicators provided a framework for evaluating how urban design elements, from green spaces to transportation systems, influence the well-being of city inhabitants, drawing upon the work of noted researchers like Kellert et al., Putnam, Jacobs, and Florida et al.

This multidisciplinary approach reveals a significant oversight in traditional urban planning: the impact of the built environment on the mental and physical health of people. By prioritizing the needs and well-being of urban residents, my work advocates for a shift towards designing spaces that nurture the human spirit, facilitate community interaction, and promote health and safety. Emphasizing the crucial role of environmental quality, security, and social cohesion, my research aims to contribute to the development of urban spaces that are also deeply attuned to the emotional and psychological needs of their communities.

What motivated your selection of Gallus and Rieselfeld as the case studies for your research and considering your detailed findings on urban emotions and neuroarchitecture, how do these insights influence your vision for the future of urban design and development?

Choosing Gallus and Rieselfeld for my case studies stemmed from a blend of personal experiences and scholarly interest. My residency in the Gallus district of Frankfurt offered a firsthand look at the impact of urban living conditions on mental well-being, highlighting issues like inadequate green spaces, safety concerns, and the prevalence of noise pollution. This lived experience provided a unique lens through which to view the challenges and opportunities of urban regeneration. On the academic front, my exploration of Rieselfeld in Freiburg during my master’s research introduced me to a district at the forefront of sustainable and community-focused urban expansion, presenting a stark contrast to Gallus.

This dual perspective enriched my understanding of urban development, enabling me to compare the neuro-architectural aspects and emotional responses elicited by two distinct urban planning approaches. My research revealed significant disparities in resident satisfaction and perceptions in these areas, as evidenced by survey responses concerning local amenities, safety, and the aesthetic quality of living environments. As a brief example, in Gallus, the demand for improved facade designs and accessibility to hobbies and green spaces was evident, with an overall satisfaction rating of 3.11/5. In contrast, Rieselfeld’s façade designs and accessibility to hobbies and green spaces were more positively received, garnering a satisfaction rating of 3.89/5.

The use of social media as a survey tool on my architecture page sila.arch further broadened the scope of my research, engaging a global audience and highlighting universal desires for proximity to social/recreational spaces, architecture, community, safety and access to services. This method allowed me to have a control group both for the accuracy of the survey and to compare the data collected in the case studies. It demonstrated the potential of platforms such as Instagram as community-building and feedback-gathering tools and also demonstrated the broad applicability of my findings beyond the specific contexts of Gallus and Rieselfeld.

These experiences and insights underscore the vital role of community involvement in the urban development process, affirming the importance of designing spaces that cater to both the functional and emotional needs of residents. By integrating elements that promote safety, well-being, and aesthetic appeal, my vision for future urban design is one of more empathetic, inclusive, and human-centered spaces. The findings of my research advocate for a holistic approach to urban planning, where the principles of neuroarchitecture and the cultivation of positive urban emotions are pivotal in creating environments that enhance the quality of life for all inhabitants.

Considering your extensive research and practical insights into urban development, how critical do you find collaborative leadership in driving smart city solutions forward? Moreover, how feasible is the integration of academia, the private sector, and policymakers in this endeavor?

Collaborative leadership is crucial for smart city development, serving as a bridge between innovative ideas and their practical application. My research highlights the complex nature of urban challenges, which include infrastructure, transportation, green spaces, design, security, and lighting. These challenges require the collective effort of a diverse set of stakeholders, including architects, urban planners, engineers, scientists, and technology experts. My education in the Smart City Solutions program allowed me to collaborate with international experts from various disciplines, notably on the “Der Neue Stöckach” urban transformation project in Stuttgart. This experience showed that interdisciplinary collaboration not only enriches the project with new perspectives but also fosters mutual learning among experts.

Developing smart cities involves a comprehensive approach that combines the specific skills, resources, and authority of each involved sector. Yet, effective collaboration is often hindered by poor communication and compartmentalized operations, which can limit innovation and slow down project advancement. I suggest that municipalities take the lead in forming dedicated departments for smart city initiatives to promote better coordination and goal alignment across different sectors.

Maximizing the benefits of collaborative leadership in smart city development requires creating opportunities for dialogue and partnership beyond usual limits. Establishing forums and platforms for engagement between the academic community, private sector, and policymakers can greatly improve cooperation across disciplines. These collaborative spaces are essential for sharing insights, identifying best practices, and jointly developing solutions that are not only viable but also embody a shared vision for the future of urban living.