Like every artistic expression, creations that derive from human creativity have an important impact on the feelings and identity of the people that perceive them. Architecture is not an exception, spaces are born from concepts and architectural designs and directly linked to what the creator wishes to express with them, and the ones that experience these spaces can identify the emotions that the walls surround. The tendency of thinking about how to create architectural spaces that influence happiness is now, more than ever, growing. The architecture of happiness was discussed in the book of the philosopher Alain De Botton, focusing on how the quality of the environment influences the well-being of people. The preoccupation he portrays in these pages is that design used to be seen as something frivolous, disconnected from the people that would be habituating those spaces. From these thoughts, a new era emerges, in which the psychology of architecture looks for a way to change the way of thinking about spaces and focus on how designers want to make people in these environments feel, and what emotions they want to incite in one word: happy.
A New Philosophy
“Beauty is the promise of happiness”. This sentence, by Stendhal, comes from the movement that inspires a change in the design and perception of spaces. Many architects have adopted this way of thinking as an objective that leads the architectural spaces to an emotional level, not only a functional one.
This philosophy invites reflection, and to analyze and be aware of what emotions and sensations a certain space will provoke. It is a fact that regardless of the creator’s intentions, each place incites something in the behaviour and state of mind of people that live in it. Be it negative, like anxiety, anguish, or sadness, or positive, like happiness, energy, or a feeling of belonging. Following this, the first thing to do is find the emotional target for the place to be designed, and then add up all the different parts that affect this emotional state. Architecture, according to Botton, is a tool for wellbeing.
The ones that have embraced this movement, see the possibility of turning the spaces into something that brings pleasure to the ones that visit them. From a private house to a public place, like a museum, the space needs to be something more than an environment that contains objects, it needs to contain harmony
The human brain experiences architecture, it is where people that transit these places learn, communicate and work, that is why it is highly important to understand how the human brain works in terms of the perception of space.
Spaces and their distribution influence our mental health. That is why there is an increase in interest in how cities and private and public buildings are designed. Many architecture studios work side by side with sociologists and psychologists, to create welcoming spaces that respond to the necessities of the individual. More natural light, wider spaces and better interaction with natural landscapes are some of the points on the list of things to take into account when it comes to making a project that has a focus on providing mental peace or generating a feeling of wellbeing.
A perfect example of this can be seen in the most recent project by White Arkitekter, a Scandinavian studio. They have designed a psychiatric ward in Nuuk, Greenland. The design of the building interacts with the landscape and generates a topography of various terraces, platforms, ponds, and other interior natural spaces, all so that the mind can fly and the peace only nature can bring, does its wonders healing people.
A Step Further
The architectural concept is usually created from the conception of the design, function, technology, form, and materials, to reach order, simplicity, and balance. However, this architectural philosophy requires adding an extra step to this process: how to incorporate emotion and beauty to this. When redirecting the vision to the psychological consequences and the emotional impact, another level of interaction with the final user can be reached, influencing their wellbeing and happiness.
De Botton put into words the philosophical concept, but the ones that have made it a reality, have taken care of materializing it through a balance of the spaces that stimulate the happiness of the users. This way, even if designing for happiness requires a deeper study, there are seven-point that can sum it up: attention to detail, each space needs to have a reasoning behind it, being able to know the purpose of a place invites tranquility; encouraging personal relations, coexistence is one of the most important components of happiness; well-adjusted temperature, wellbeing is directly related to feeling comfortable and temperature is key for this; natural illumination, it reduces insomnia, stress, fatigue and lack of creativity; contact with nature, feeling integration with the natural environment provides a sense of tranquillity; simplicity, complex designs do not invite to being calm; and psychology of colour, every tone and combination has a different way of affecting behaviour, emotions and even health.
- From, L. and Lunden, S., 2009. Architecture as medicine – the importance of architecture for treatment outcomes in psychiatry. 1st ed. Gothenburg: Architecture Research Foundation.
- White Arkitekter. 2022. A new type of psychiatric clinic in Nuuk | White Arkitekter. [online] Available at: <https://whitearkitekter.com/project/nuuk-psychiatric-clinic/> [Accessed 16 March 2022].
- De Botton, A. and Vance, S., 2009. The architecture of happiness. [Ashland, OR]: Blackstone.
- Lopez, S., 2020. Masseria Moroseta by Andrew Trotter. [image] Available at: <https://thetreemag.com/en/andrew-trotter-an-architecture-created-with-simplicity-and-flair/> [Accessed 18 March 2022].
- Lexington, 2018. White Arkitekter psychiatric clinic in Greenland. [image] Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2018/07/15/white-arkitekter-psychiatric-clinic-nuuk-greenland/> [Accessed 18 March 2022].