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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Mind-built Architecture

Mind-built Architecture

“Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?” Clark and Chalmers put forward the question in their article “The Extended Mind” by 1998. Other than the previous answer “skin and skull”, Clark and Chalmers believe human mind is a synthetical system, in which its external environment also plays a vital role. According to their theory, cognition is not only limited in brain but also extend out into the environment. In other words, our minds instead of our hands made the real world.

It is quite interesting that our books, our machines, even our buildings are parts of the extension of our minds. Especially to architects, most of whom embrace buildings should be designed by brains but must be built by hands (built by traditional machines are also included in this way), this process could not be done only by minds. Similarly, it is not difficult to imagine how architecture can be soft in physic ways. For example, soft materials such as textile can constitute soft facade and soft elements like light can form soft space. However, how architecture can be soft in mental side seems still unclear unless it can be presented.


Hopefully, new technology has turned “the extended mind” into reality in special ways. For example, the University of Minnesota successfully embedded human mind into flying robot control system by 2013. Students learned how to steer a flying robot with their thoughts through transforming the electric currents produced by neutrons in the motor cortex  into control signal (Discover, 2013).

Source: Discover, 2013, Retrieved from

In addition, an architect named Ammar Mirjan, explored a way to use flying robots “drones” to quickly weave lightweight structures by attaching cable dispensers onto them (Dezeen, 2015). In this way, “drones” can weave big tensile structures in a few minutes.These two cases both work on flying robots. One for controlling robots by mind, the other for building soft structures by robots. What if put these functions together? We may obtain a mind-controlled weaving robot. In somehow, it means building can be built by our minds.

Source: Dezeen, 2015, Retrieved from

Human mind is floating, like Heraclitus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice”, which means what we think in our mind would not be exactly the same at different situations. The interesting point is if we have a machine can be used to build houses by mind, what it going to construct might be changeable and unpredictable. Compared with traditional architecture which is fixed (usually constructed according to blueprint), mind-built architecture would be more flexible and adaptive, in other words, it is mentally “soft”.  As human brain is known as the source of creativity, mind-built architecture would have limitless possibilities.

17 years ago, Clark and Chalmers mentioned in their book “the Internet is likely to fail on multiple counts, unless I am unusually computer-reliant, facile with the technology…”. It is hard to say whether they predicted the life today. However, with the development of technology, more and more people become computer-reliant nowadays. Our necessities like the Internet and smart phones narrowed the gap between brain and its context. People become more acceptive than ever before. Turning to other fields like philosophy will give us a new insight into architecture.



Clark, A. and Chalmers, D.J, 1998. The Extended Mind. The Philosopher’s Annual, vol XXI, Analysis 58:10-23

Dezeen, 2015,[online] Available at: <>  [Accessed 04 March 2015].

Discover, 2013,[online] Available at: <>  [Accessed 04 June 2013].

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