Human beings have an innate need to belong somewhere, a place to call one’s own. Often a person’s residence transcends barriers of physicality to become strong characters in his emotional life. More often than not, we are in a relationship with our homes. 

Architects often face the challenging task of steering these relationships from becoming raging disasters, and that requires a knowledge of how the human mind works and its expectations. Understanding the intricacies of the end-user is crucial to any design process. While architecture has always been a visual tool, a medium to express and impress, the 21st century demands it to become an emotional support as well.

With a looming mental health crisis owing to work changing culture, information explosion, and globalization, people have lost their sense of belonging. Architects need to design spaces that make the increasing tribe of digital nomads feel at home. This upcoming field lies at the intersection of architecture and environmental psychology.

Through this article, let’s briefly understand the psychological factors that should be considered to make a house into a home.

1. Self-Expression

When designing a residence, there is no one glove fits all approach. The world is full of a myriad variety of characters (extroverts, introverts, couch lovers, plant lovers, Marie Kondo lovers). A residence should respond to these quirks of its owner. Some like romantic, picturesque cottage homes, others might dream of neoclassical mansions, and some might even have a hidden desire to be a cowboy in a ranch. 

Thus it is critical to understand the personality and motivation of the user before one gets cracking on the design. For most, home acts as a safe space to be themselves. Choosing appropriate architectural and furnishing styles play a paramount role in ensuring this. After all, one can’t picture a grandma in a minimalist modern home or a biker with art nouveau furniture.

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Choosing the correct style according to the client from the huge variety ©

Stereotypical example aside, a home should also be flexible enough to respond to additions and evolution of personalities. This flexibility in spatial layouts becomes critical in housing or group homes.

2. Strong Boundaries

The primary purpose of a shelter has always been security against the onslaught of unpredictable and foreign elements. Almost all the advancement in architecture has occurred to cater this prime concern. Home is synonymous with safety and stability. A lot of people place sturdiness and a sound structure system as a determining factor in home selection.  

Apart from that, while openness in homes is appreciated, people often express a need for separation between nature and interior spaces through curtain walls or transition corridors. Most people prefer a visual connection to the outdoors to the physical one. Not only the natural elements, people like to differentiate their homes from their neighbors by fencing and colors to display territoriality, which is a primal feature of higher animals.

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3. Pleasure

While human beings have a highly developed forebrain, our emotional brains are similar to that of lower mammals, thus the definition of basic pleasures is similar too. Human beings originated in the Savannahs, with vast skies, blue water, and lush trees, and our brains still crave for the same environment. Large openings with greenery outside often result in happy residents. Despite the need for physical boundaries, people still want to be in the grasslands right from the comfort of their couch. (That must be the ultimate dream of the early man!)

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Home sapiens are also highly empathetic and often function in groups. For all types of residence, this calls for a central gathering space for people to bond and interact. Traditionally, courtyards, kitchens, and living act as internal focal points of a house, and modern homes need to accommodate this requirement for healthy social units they are catering to.

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Heart of the residence ©

4. Privacy

Constantly interacting throughout the day, people require personal space to wind down and introspect away from the public gaze. A well-designed residence follows a spatial hierarchy to provide degrees of privacy. 

Privacy and belonging, in the sense of taking ownership of even a small space and molding it according to one’s own needs, goes a long way for one’s mental health. This induces a sense of control in the world that is often out of our control.

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Need for personalization and privacy in hostel setups ©

People put privacy high on their list of priorities in a residence design. Architects need to ensure all residents have their own corners with a certain control over the degree of openness required.

5. Comfort

Comfort, in the modern sense, definitely means amenities, facilities, and services, but architecturally it can be achieved by creating a balance. A residence design calls for a balance between light and shadow, simulation and relaxation, and greenery with controllable interaction. The spatial layout should not be disorienting, and there should be strict adherence to the human scale.

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A house should neither be underwhelming nor overwhelming ©

As human eyes are trained to recognize patterns, rhythm, and harmony go a long way in creating a reassuring, relaxing atmosphere. 

When such patterns are combined with natural textures like stone, woods, and earthy, neutral tones, a sense of ease is generated. It has also been observed people avoid sharp edges and harsh fluorescent lights in a residence.

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Frederick House: Use of rhythm, natural textures and soft lighting ©

6. Emotional Spectrum

A home should not only induce happiness but also allow for sadness. Normally, home is the place where one is free to experience the range of emotions, and this can be complemented by following the color theory.

Choosing the right color for the space makes a person comfortable and does not hinder their emotional experience. Very few people like their kitchens to be deep blue or their living rooms to be blazing reds. Architects should be able to assess the mood of the place and come up with the right colors and accent features to set the mood of the room.

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Pragya Shukla, a young architect, is currently practicing in city of Lucknow. Her interests include reading, hanging out with dogs and cruising the city for a good cup of tea. She aspires to write extensively on socio-cultural aspects of architecture and have a practice based on reasearch and social advocacy.