We are inhabitants of our surroundings, and it is no secret that where we live affects how we live. Come to think about it, not only are we the inhabitants, but also the creators. We give life to our designs so that people can lead their desired lives in them. Therefore, being an architect isn’t only a mere choice but a consequential responsibility, a lifetime commitment. And the consequence of this choice is the impact it has on its users. The same way medicine is a science that is accountable for healing the body and the mind, and music is an art that is accountable for pleasing the ear and easing the heart, architecture is a science and an art that is somehow charged with both, if not more.
So, what does being human mean if not having a certain level of sensibility to who surrounds us and what surrounds us? Would it be crazy if I told you that the room you wake up in every day, the four walls of your office, or the colours, the shapes, and the patterns around you dictate your psychological state?
Keep reading to find out more about the different ways a space affects human psychology!
Patterns are often the projection of standardized wholes, a certain symmetry. Their usage in the world of design and architecture induces balance and equilibrium. Our perception of patterns is thoroughly linked to something we call “Gestalt Principles” that rely on various aspects such as proximity and continuation. Despite not being consciously aware of it, our brains depict patterns and assemble them, resulting in a physiological reaction very similar to one our ancestors used to experience while analyzing patterns for survival means.
Therefore, when designers use patterns on wallpapers of waiting rooms, for example, these do not only enhance the feelings of mastery and control, making the waiting individual feel less stressed and calmer but also make his brain work on a subconscious level, resulting in good health. However, as we know, too much of everything results in countereffects, and overusing patterns in a certain combination can end up giving the users headaches and a feeling of discomfort.
Colours are a language of their own. Wordless and soundless, it’s all about perception and feelings. Colours are therefore not only described as vibrant, pastel, light, or dark, but also as exciting, soothing, calming, or unpleasant. The visual message radiating from colours translates unconsciously into feelings of their own, making objects, brands, and even buildings acquire a deeper meaning. This concept, called the psychology of colours, has been relied on in the various fields of marketing and business, psychology, design, and many more to be able to control the customers and the audience in strategic, efficient, and discrete ways.
In architecture, colours have the power to trick into feeling a space is wider or tighter through the use of a light palette of colours or a darker one. Colours also have the capacity to reach deeper into our psyche and play with our moods and feelings: in waiting areas and hospitals, green is relied on to soothe the users and make them feel calmer and less stressed.
Similarly, food chains and restaurants use vibrant colours such as red to capture attention and promote their image. White representing cleanliness and purity is clearly the right choice for doctors’ clinics, and blue and cold tones in spaces are good allies for encouraging social connection. Notice how Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, Skype, and LinkedIn use that specific colour too!
It is no secret that natural light plays a crucial role in affecting the way humans behave and feel. More than 80% of our time is spent indoors, and therefore incorporating natural light in our designs and spaces is a factor to be not only taken into consideration but prioritized. On the physical side of things, various research and studies have shown that natural light plays an important role in balancing and regulating blood flow and circulation. Moreover, it enhances the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for controlling digestion and sleep.
On the emotional side, natural light releases the serotonin hormone that helps fight depression and promote feelings of well-being and happiness. Bright light, preferably natural, is much needed to stimulate the brain and keep the users focused in workspaces such as schools, universities, and offices. Natural light is also proven to increase productivity and speed of work as well.
Controversially, a less-lit space with warm-toned lights brings on relaxation and is mostly used in bedrooms or libraries, and finally, dark, poorly lit spaces give an unsettling feeling of claustrophobia.
4. Ceiling Height
Ceiling height appears to have a certain effect on how people feel and behave. To prove the following theory, an experiment has been performed on a hundred students from Rice University who have been guided into a room with an adjustable ceiling. The experiment consisted of presenting the students with two tasks of different types: tasks that related to confinement and tasks that related to freedom.
Consequently, the ceiling height was adjusted progressively. The results came out showing that in high-ceiling rooms, the individuals experienced more freedom and less confinement. On the other hand, being in a room with a relatively low ceiling made the individuals feel more confined and limited, thus inducing feelings of restrictedness.
5. Incorporating Nature
After the industrial revolution, new materials were created and new techniques of construction were developed, enabling us to build in a more efficient and faster way. However, this led to a certain lack of creativity and sensibility, resulting in a series of monotonous buildings that looked the same. Living in spaces such as these may in fact feel quite unwelcoming and give out a certain feeling of negativity, thus affecting the human psyche indirectly and inevitably. The question that came to mind was: How to restore the life and aura of dull spaces such as these?
The solution was a clear one: Incorporate nature into the design of these spaces. The connection that humans forged with nature ever since the beginning of times is known to be a rather rock-hard and undeniable one. Humans always found in nature their haven and refuge. Nowadays, architecture does not only consist of building a safe home of concrete, glass, and steel but of incorporating nature in every aspect of one’s daily routine.
Including a garden, whether small or big in one’s home or even planters when resources don’t allow, can enhance feelings of positivity and comfort and build in the users a sense of belonging and attachment to their home.
On a bigger scale, the way buildings are arranged and cities are organized can affect the way their inhabitants behave and feel. While some urban spaces stimulate people and make them feel positive and alive, others lead to an unfortunate flow of events and negative emotions. An experiment has been conducted on a group of subjects who have been led through different parts of a city.
Using monitoring bracelets and headsets that would help depict their pulse, heart rate, and brain activity, it was possible to highlight how public spaces affect the human psyche. Passing by stores with smoked glass fronts, the subjects quickened their pace, thus showcasing feelings of discomfort and anxiety. Spaces such as these, with a lack of light and security, can subsequently lead to an increase in crime rates.
However, passing by a chain of brightly lit restaurants and buildings, the individuals felt immediately more comfortable and enthusiastic. This proves how the design of public spaces and cities at large play an important role in human psychology and behaviour.
7. Social Environments VS Social Isolation
The creation of successful public places is quite a challenge for architects and designers. What defines a successful public place though? It is, without doubt, the capacity of that space to pull people closer together and invite them to socialize while being comfortable and at ease. Nowadays, incorporating elements in natural settings that help people acquire feelings of well-being is an efficient way to combat social isolation. For instance, making people feel good will make it easier for them to socialize and open up.
Introducing activities related to street art or music and making a place for benches and tables in wide public areas are ways to also achieve this goal. This proves how the way public spaces are designed can play a major role in affecting one’s mental state and comfort, thus affecting one’s capacity to open up and socialize less or more. That principle can be observed in Times Squares by Snohetta, where benches have been included within the urban landscape, making a living and social space for pedestrians to meet up and enjoy.
8. Health and the Living Space
In the same way, in which certain elements in a space can make people feel good, enhance their productivity and lift their moods, some spaces can have the exact controversial effect. When we talk about one’s living space, one’s home, it is necessary to make sure that this space works in favour of its inhabitants and is procuring them the comfort they need to lead a healthy physical and mental life.
Living in poorly conceived spaces that do not consider a pleasant indoor climate, a required amount of light and ventilation, and a smooth organization can lead the user to feel constantly stressed and irritated, leading to serious anxiety and fatigue, sometimes without really knowing the reason behind.
Today, it is mandatory for architects to think about the comfort of the inhabitants inside their homes and manage to accommodate all of their needs, especially children’s and the elderly’s, for these portions of age spend even more time indoors than others. On a bigger scale, improving people’s homes and living spaces would beneficiate their educational outcomes and achievements, reducing crimes and scandals and thus promoting a better future for everyone. As the saying goes: “It all starts at home.”
9. Spatiality and Behavior
Designing an interior space and furnishing it in a specific way dictates how the users will move and behave in that space. In other words, and contrary to the beliefs, we do not have full control over the spaces we live in; however, the spaces we live in have some degree of control over us. Spaces that are wider and more open, with flexible furniture, allow freedom of movement and thus have a positive and welcoming impact on the users.
On the contrary, clogged and tight spaces will immediately make the users feel limited and more restricted in their movements, thus influencing their thinking and moods negatively. This concept of designing interior spaces is therefore very important, especially in workspaces and offices, or even design studios, where flexibility is mandatory to allow the users to rearrange the settings according to their needs (a common set of offices can be rearranged into a meeting room for example through moveable partitions, the same way in design studios tables and chairs can be rearranged freely when students would want to exhibit their works to the jury).
10. Architectural Comfort Against Anxiety
A study conducted by Robson in 2008 has showcased how a space can work in favour of one’s mental health and help alleviate anxiety. Many elements can be included in especially public places, to make them feel like home and give them a rather chill and comfortable vibe. In her research, she has noticed how more anxious people would choose to sit in corners or next to walls, for a sense of stability and comfort. Moreover, many other elements such as natural colour palettes, natural light, and specific furniture with pillows and rugs were adequate and appreciated in public places such as restaurants, cafes, or libraries.
This theory has proven, in fact, how architecture, furniture, and the way a space is designed can reduce anxiety and therefore get to control one’s deepest feelings.
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