Architects have claimed to make buildings that change lives for years to come, whether it’s Winston Churchill’s very famous “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us,” or Leon Battista Alberti claiming to change the world with classical forms. There is a level of ambiguity as to how true this is when it comes to such drastic changes. However, It is not denied that architecture, to some extent, does impact people, their lives, and behaviours.
There has been a constant effort from architects, researchers, psychologists, and academics in the same direction. However, there seems to be a gap between the learnings and the application of how one should address them. Similar to the typology of buildings, there are levels at which architecture impacts society.
On an individual level, how a person feels in a place largely affects their mental and physical health; it is statistically proven that people feel more calm and peaceful and, in turn, affect their decisions when they are exposed to greenery and nature, more than concrete buildings and monotonous buildings. Some of the findings of Colin Ellard, who researched the psychological impact of design, found how building facades that are complex as well as interesting have a more positive impact on people than simple and monotonous facades.
How one feels in a space is also something that should be largely accounted for in architecture. A window not only frames the view to the outside but also to the inside of a space, and the right ratio of this should be followed. One such example of this would be the Farnsworth house, despite being an architectural marvel and one that frames a perfect view of nature, It was a house for Edith Farnsworth, and it constantly made her feel like she was watched, which made her extremely cautious and anxious, and the house was also unbearably hot during summers. This is one example of how buildings could impact people in a negative manner.
Impact on community
Architecture and memory have always been closely related, whether it’s the person inhabiting it or the person walking past it, or one that has a balcony that views the building. It’s not too far-fetched to say that humans subconsciously create a habit of seeing something or using something regularly, that to accept change comes with a certain level of hesitation, especially if they are not the ones making the change. Whether it’s the change in the colour of the building you inhabited for twelve years or the small addition that you are forced to welcome. People dislike or like buildings based on this. However, a lot of architects have tried to create an impact by involving the community they are building for in the project.
The handmade school in Dinajpur, Bangladesh is one where the architects used local building materials of earth and bamboo, which already made the community feel like the building was their own. They also went on to construct it with the help of local labourers, by teaching them better ways to build with the material, not only for this building but to be able to use this knowledge for their benefit for their own homes in case of floods as well as repairing the school if required.
The Antilla in Mumbai, India, the private residence of a billionaire, is a 27 storey building for a family of four, built in a city like Mumbai where 42% of the population reside in slums; it seems to be an insensitive approach from the architect’s end, by not considering the larger problem this building could pose, inevitably widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
Impact on environment
The environment we live in impacts our mental health as well as physical health. The rising problem at hand is climate change. Architecture is about being in harmony with nature, and the least we can do is not ruin that relationship, which in turn will cause large-scale damage to us and the generations to come.
It is important to use building materials that are not only useful for the functions of the building but also contribute to the microclimate or, at the least, not worsen it. One such example is the usage of glass facades in skyscrapers; the Vdara hotel in las vegas’ facade acted like a large scale magnifying glass for the suns rays, which impacted the people with sunburns, and could melt plastic chairs; the same architect went on to build a similar building in London which deformed cars due to the same effect, journalists claimed that the intensity of heat reflected by the facade was enough to fry eggs.
Architect Julie Futcher along with town planner Gerard Mills commented that sustainability certificates are given out while only considering the building and not the microclimate of its surroundings and its contribution to the heat island effect in cities. This kind of issue may not directly affect us at the moment, but it is certainly contributing to a larger problem that will impact us eventually.
A rather philosophical take on this that Simon Unwin, in his book ‘Analysing architecture’ has elaborated on is the cave allegory by Plato. It’s a simple example, on one end, you have a group of people forced to look at the wall ahead of them onto which the people behind them are projecting what is being viewed, and by this, Plato is trying to say that this is how the unenlightened see the world, they do not question the nature of it but simply are witnessing and accepting whatever is presented by the influencers who could be politicians, influencers, or even philosophers, and the one that has left the cave to see what the world has to offer outside is enlightened; however, an important question to ponder open would be, who laid out the cave in the first place? Wouldn’t that be the architect? Architects have an impact on the lives of people in every little feature of the building, and it should always be to enhance the lifestyle of people.
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