“Buildings are deeply emotive structures which form our psyche. People think they’re just things they manoeuvre through, but the makeup of a person is influenced by the nature of spaces.”David Adjaye

Architecture has been an influencing factor for the human species since the day man started building shelters with twigs and fallen leaves. It goes beyond just providing us with the basic human need for shelter, it changes the lives of those living in them. The design and layout of spaces we live in and navigate through impact our behaviour in these spaces – consciously or unconsciously.

There has been an extensive study on how the design of spaces affect and change the behaviour of the inhabitants and users of that space by organisations like World Health Design and HERD (Health Environments Research and Design Journal). The major focus of these studies has been the designs of healthcare facilities and medical centres, but, other buildings and public places’ design has also been proven to impact human behaviour.

Social Design” is the design of relationships. In the context of healthcare, social design is the relationship between the spatial qualities of the healthcare centre and the patients residing in that centre. Centres with ample circulation space for walking, natural ventilation and lighting, free plans instead of congestion of rooms, hospital beds and medical equipment have recorded faster and better recovery periods than the dull, traditional hospital designs. Various studies on such centres have successfully recorded the physiological impact of the built environment.

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Mount Sinai Surgical Facility: Focus on natural lighting and ventilation, and connection to the surrounding environment_©Will Boase

The architecture captures the very essence of a society – It tells us a great deal about the people who inhabited the spaces in question. For example, the remains of the Indus Valley Civilisation reveal remarkable organisation and city planning. Large granaries, citadels and the Great Bathhouse indicate infrastructure facilities and the quality of social areas. The advanced level of city planning, excellent hygienic drainage systems and protective walls hints at a highly efficient governing body. The architecture of this civilisation has stood through time as the very representation of its society.

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The Great Bath at Mohenjo Daro: A public bath house and place of social gathering_©Saqib Qayyum

In the larger contexts of city-scale, street edges and building frontages start playing an important role in determining how the users negotiate through the built environment. An active street with shops and restaurants on the sides of the road is preferred over a long, dull road flanked by compound walls on both sides. People would be seen pausing more often on a road of the first kind, whereas they would hurry through a road of the second kind. The nature of the built environment, building facades and frontages, all impact movement through a public space. Visually appealing and interactive facades have a positive impact while dull and monotonous facades have a negative impact on people navigating through the street.

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An active street_©Sheldon Anderson
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An Inactive Street_©www.change.org

Various studies on the quality of living in metropolitan cities have revealed that a person living in a city is more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Some of these issues result from the lack of social interaction and bonding in huge cities. Public spaces are now being designed to encourage interaction between residents of a city. 

“Living among millions of strangers is a very unnatural state of affairs for a human being. One of the jobs of a city is to accommodate that problem. How do you build a society where people treat each other kindly in that kind of setting? That is more likely to happen when people feel good. If you feel positive you’re more likely to speak to a stranger.” – Colin Ellard

Good public spaces that encourage interaction, promote pausing between a busy day and taking a breath to recentre and refocus oneself have a positive impact on the social well-being of the user.

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Superblock, Barcelona ©Del Rio Bani

There isn’t any absolute as to how architecture influences our lives, but it is safe to say that if designed the right way, architecture has the power to do so. A room, a building and a city has cognitive effects on its inhabitants. Good design is invisible, it facilitates a very natural ease of use. Public Spaces and buildings, when designed not just to fit the intended function, but also to enhance the experience of performing that function leave an everlasting impact on the user. These spaces become the benchmark against which other spaces designed for similar functions are measured. 

Architecture goes beyond designing spaces, it becomes more about designing experiences.

References:

Bond, M., 2017. The hidden ways that architecture affects how you feel. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170605-the-psychology-behind-your-citys-design> 

Breeders, B., n.d. The Role of Architecture in Shaping Communities. [online] Architecturecompetitions.com. Available at: <https://architecturecompetitions.com/the-role-of-architecture-in-shaping-communities> 

Elshaikh, E., n.d. Indus River Valley civilizations (article) | Khan Academy. [online] Khan Academy. Available at: <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/world-history-beginnings/ancient-india/a/the-indus-river-valley-civilizations>

Heller, C., 2018. How the Architecture of Hospitals Affects Health Outcomes. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/2018/10/how-the-architecture-of-hospitals-affects-health-outcomes>

Vangelatos, G., 2019. How Does Architecture Impact Society? A High-Level Look | Thought Leadership | HMC Architects. [online] HMC Architects. Available at: <https://hmcarchitects.com/news/how-does-architecture-impact-society-a-high-level-look-2019-10-18/>

Author

Anandita is an Urban Design student at CEPT University. An amateur with a mobile-camera and a notes app, she loves exploring whatever city she gets to visit. Her keen interest in architecture, the built environment and a love for all things words has led her to delve into architectural journalism.

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