Everything around people influences them. People around a person influence him/her. A person’s behaviour is always impacted by where he goes, where he stays, what he sees etc. The impact of the environment, built and unbuilt, on human behaviour is massive. Architecture plays a key role in shaping this environment. Safe to say then that architecture has a huge impact on a person’s behaviour. Form, function, and design, when brought together under the umbrella of architecture, cultivate a specific type of environment. This evokes a different atmosphere in each environment consciously designed. A theatre is designed very differently than a petrol station, each inculcating a different social expectation and largely different behaviour. Very rarely do people realise the difference in their mannerisms in these two spaces, but it is credited to the architect. Understanding how a built environment can influence a person’s behaviour and modify one’s perception and mood is architectural psychology. While the term architecture psychology may sound contemporary or may be coined recently, it is a fairly practiced idea. For eons, master architects have been using design to guide/nurture feelings in the user. The Falling Water by Sir Frank LLoyd Wright is a fantastic example to study architecture psychology.
Every choice made through a design is reflected in the perception and eventual behaviour in the space. Choice of material, structures, interior layouts, roofs, and façade all have a key role in invoking emotion and building an atmosphere. Macro signifiers like cultural symbols and colours, style of architecture, period of building, and architect himself are also important devices in crafting an atmosphere. These devices highlight the emotional qualities of a design. Designs where users and their behaviours are kept in mind, use these devices critically. Visibly, more often than not, it results in good design.
Numerous tools have been built to better understand, quantify and analyse a built space’s performance in line with its users’ behaviour. These tools also look at the human cognition process to give better outputs for the space designs. It has also promoted the use of Artificial Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) techniques in architectural design. While AR & VR technologies primarily focus on visual input-based feedback. Other senses are also important when guiding one’s behaviour through architecture. The audio quality of a space can potentially modify one’s mood from calm to angry or vice versa. Similarly, olfactory, touch, and oral olfactory responses within a space – can make or break a design. Design of ducts. Services, especially in programs like kitchens, hotels, and retail outlets are very important in architecture.
A well-studied design can influence the good hormones in one’s brain, however, the opposite is a not-so-pretty scenario. Bad cases of urban planning or architectural design can lead to long-term mental diseases like schizophrenia, claustrophobia, depression, and chronic anxiety. Intelligently designed buildings, keeping the user in mind, hence are extremely crucial. This type of architecture can be very helpful for the design of future cities and buildings. It allows for better social relationships, which seem to be increasingly dying out. It also improves the quality of life, health, and well-being of residents, which again are on a decline due to environmental concerns.
Within the framework of psychological architecture, it is also necessary to understand that not all brains, contexts, and environments are the same. To start with, not everyone perceives or will perceive a space the same. In its very nature, architecture is subjective. Similarly, the design of a space and its larger vision should be hugely dependent on the nature, context, and culture in which it will sit. This practice allows for more mutual and shared perceptions. Since cultures bring people together, people within the same culture will likely perceive space similarly, if not entirely the same. Many design studios have started to take this approach in their upcoming and ongoing projects. Piedmont Wellness Centre, designed by Perkins and Will, is a great post-pandemic hospital example. Prevention-based ideology guides the Piedmont Wellness Centre, complete with nutrition-based kitchens and meditation-led teaching areas. It is designed to be a holistic place for both physical and mental growth, utilising nature as means of healing. An integrated approach to health systems and practices centred around mental well-being through space planning and management.
There are multiple examples, like the Piedmont Wellness Centre, catering to other functions and programs, which architects should study and learn from. Introducing such practices in their studios will encourage a holistic approach to design. GeorgiaTech University Architecture Department also offers a course structure on Architecture, Culture & Behaviour, to their undergraduate students. There are plenty of eLearning platforms, too, that offer similar certifications to students, practitioners, and thinkers alike.
These courses largely try to make one point – a design that allows its users to feel in control and take ownership of is a success. It is in the hidden ways that architecture makes you feel is when you realise a successful design lies. Sir Winston Churchill rightly said, “We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.”