'50s Researchers Saw Architects as Key to Understanding Creativity

What would Richard Neutra do with a third arm? UC Berkeley researchers once asked him that and more, for science.

1 minute read

July 20, 2016, 11:00 AM PDT

By Elana Eden


A recent episode of design podcast 99% Invisible unearthed the records of a 1950s study that aimed to discover the roots of creativity.

The Institute of Personality and Research brought together 40 of the period's most prestigious architects, who, over several weekend retreats in Berkeley, were observed taking tests, performing tasks, and answering all manner of questions (what would be the best place for a third arm? How can architects balance creative vision with clients’ demands?).

Though many types of creative professionals were surveyed, architects were seen as uniquely situated to answer the question of what makes people creative:

Researchers saw architects as people working at a crossroads of creative disciplines, a combination of analytic and artistic creativity. As professionals, architects had to be savvy as engineers and businessmen; as aesthetes, they also acted as designers and artists.

The episode features snippets of conversations among some of the top architects of the period. Plus, the podcast notes, "what IPAR learned helped transform the way people think about creativity today."

Head to 99% Invisible for pictures and artifacts, like the center's original invitation list, signed guestbook, and mosaics by participants (including Richard Neutra) juxtaposed with images of their famous buildings.

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