Our surroundings define how and what we think. We always look around us for inspiration. Everything, from the larger roads and plazas to the window in an apartment overlooking the street below, all affect us in one way or the other. A space that you feel comfortable in would define your way of work and your mood. Our surroundings facilitate our thoughts. A pleasing view is sure to lift your spirits while a well-planned building maximizes productivity. Despite these seeming trivial at first, how we perceive architecture impacts our lives.

How We Perceive Architecture - Sheet1
Skyscrapers contrasting with small buildings_©Moris Moreno

A building has to attune to the user’s requirements as every person is different. That would mean that the same building will impact different people in different ways. To understand how architecture impacts users, architects need to see the building from the users’ point of view. An architect’s job is to help the user identify their comfort zone and the impact of architectural design on them.

When people come upon an unknown road, they are more attentive to their surroundings to ensure security and comfort. A dimly lit roadway is going to evoke the feeling of anxiety and discomfort. But a well-lit road makes people feel welcome and may even make them take a longer route just for the view. This design principle is used while designing public spaces such as shopping centres or parks. The well-lit pathways in a park are designed such that they invite you in and you spend more time at the place. Our perception of architecture determines this.

In subtle ways, architecture affects our mood too. That is one of the reasons when people take a walk through their favourite street or a long drive through the city when they feel down, it cheers them up a bit. Architectural design affects our cognitive faculties in many ways proven by various studies. Some of the main points that people unconsciously look for in a design are – proportion, lighting, connectivity and colours and materials.

Proportion

Proportion impacts people’s perception of a space. Tall buildings placed adjacent to narrow streets or roads come off as imposing structures. But when viewed while travelling on wider roads, they appear to be in proportion. High-rise buildings having a foreground can be appreciated for this reason. The same can be seen while viewing the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The skyscraper has a decent amount of foreground so that its entire height can be viewed.

Shorter buildings (up to two stories) bring about a sense of openness while taller ones make people think as if they are in an enclosed space. This difference can be observed when travelling through the part of the city where tall office buildings are in abundance and then the part where residential buildings such as villas are in abundance. 

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Architectural illumination_©Cameron Casey

Lighting

Architectural lighting impacts people’s perception of the design. However beautiful the design may be, it will go unnoticed until a space has good lighting. During the day, sunbathed buildings create stunning views bringing warmth to the scene. But the entire streetscape changes when viewed at night. Architectural illumination in itself is a field of study. Warm lights create a sense of comfort and tranquillity. That is why most buildings today go for warm lights in their elevation design and also for interiors.

Architects also have created various ways to play with natural light such that it intrigues users encouraging them to engage with the space. We see how light filters through cuts in walls and through the leaves of trees. In some way, this brings us closer to nature and makes us feel comfortable. The introduction of natural light instantly allows users to feel connected to the space.

Connectivity

Connectivity or circulation impacts the usability of the space. A space must be easily accessible to most potential users. This includes how the place connects to the adjoining road to the entrance point of the building, connection to parking spaces, to the nearest entry point of the site and connectivity to other structures (if there are multiple on one site) determine the connectivity of the space. Also, consider ease of movement in the planning stage of the building. Architectural design impacts the circulation of the people in this way.

A shopping centre often has escalators that go up on one end and the ones that go down on the other to make people move along the length of the building which encourages them to shop. On the other hand, a hospital is designed to get patients from one point to the other in the fastest possible way. The use of a space determines connectivity while architecture guides people to move in the intended direction. Had this not been the case, the result would have been chaotic. 

Use of colour in buildings_©William Rawn Associates

Colours and Materials

The colours and materials of the façade impact the user just as much. There is a reason bare concrete structures sometimes look cold and brutalist that people don’t appear to like. However, when they are suitably treated and matched with complementing landscaping or contrasting materials, they can be made aesthetically pleasing too. Contrasting materials and textures create interest intriguing the viewer.

Depending on the usage of the building, the colours of the façade are decided. Informal spaces go for colourful facades while formal spaces such as offices would go for plain facades. Box Park, Dubai is one such example of how a façade helps people in identifying the function of the building. The façade of the building is dynamic and is brightly lit with different colours at night. In the same way, glass buildings are generally for formal offices and use a maximum of two colours in the façade.

From our perception of the built environment to the invoking of feelings, architecture consciously and subconsciously affects our way of life. Architecture is everything that we see around us.

Author

Sanika Palnitkar is an architect who loves to read. She finds science fiction fascinating and one of the reasons for joining architecture. Other than that, she prefers reading or watching thrillers, mysteries, adventures or fantasies (nerd stuff). Learning new software is another one of her hobbies.

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