There are moments in the life of an architect where they question the authenticity of what they have learned in architecture school and during professional practice. A lot of research and cognitive processes go into every creation of an architect. Yet architecture is often labelled as art or simply brushed aside as something that’s not a necessity. While it is easy to comprehend why, in some cases, people get impressed by the very basics; what astonishes professionals the most is the large number of cases where critically acclaimed buildings are hated by the public or their users. The fact remains that users are long-term recipients of the positive and negative effects of what a building/space has to offer, which makes it important for Architects to try and understand the missing pieces that can help them bridge the gap.

Subjective approach of users

In order to understand how users perceive a space, designers must try and identify the factors that influence their thought processes. This becomes a critical area of study because the users, in most cases, are not trained professionals or closely associated with the field of Architecture. Hence, they tend to judge spaces subjectively. Users subconsciously evaluate a space, having been influenced by several cultural, social, or environmental factors, to list out a few. Diving deeper into the subject, studies have helped shine light on the influence of our ancestors on the way our subconscious mind thinks. Users tend to be attracted to elements or patterns that induce a sense of stability, security, and safety, much like our ancestors, who looked for suitable spaces to protect themselves from the dangers of the wild (Images 1 and 2).

Architects and Users: the On and Off Relationship - Sheet1
©www.crystalinks.comearlyshelters.htm l
Architects and Users: the On and Off Relationship - Sheet2
©www.crystalinks.comearlyshelters.htm l

Influence of architecture

Certain stimulants affect the way one perceives a space. To take the example of public space – original architecture, variety in types of buildings, colours, clarity in direction, alignment, etc., lead to happiness, excitement, and a sense of calmness. The opposite scenario could also be detrimental. A poorly designed neighbourhood is often home to crimes, causes a lack of motivation to succeed, induces fear, stress, etc. Any space that does not give the users a sense of excitement or happiness is often where they want to get out of the fastest. Architecture is proven to have a very strong impact on a person’s mental and physical health, which is a strong case in point for why construction and designing spaces should be handled by trained professionals who can contribute to the well-being of its users and progress the society.

Architects and Users: the On and Off Relationship - Sheet3
Monotonous, poorly designed space perceived as unpleasant_©www.nationalcollaborative.org
An example of what is arguably a very pleasant space_©www.borghesegardens.comhow-to-choose-a-good-neighbourhood-to-live

Architectural community

Architects are experts in designing spaces. They take an objective approach to the process of designing and try to arrive at the optimal solution for any given space in any given context. Like in any other field, the Architectural subculture influences the way an Architect thinks and works. This is one of the major visible differences between how an Architect and a Layman judge the quality of a building. The factors influencing decision-making for both these groups differ, and so does their understanding of what the building is trying to communicate. Architecture is constantly trying to update itself, and there is a strong desire within the community to be edgy whilst compromising on patterns that laymen are familiar and comfortable with. This has not been taken well by the public in a few cases.

What is a successful design?

There is no magic formula or prototype design that can work in every scenario. This does not mean that Architectural design is about blindly following the voices in your head. Successful Architecture gives equal weight to science and statistics as it does to aesthetics and uniqueness. There is an immense amount of studies and observations that have gone behind some of the most popular and successful practices in Architecture. Rather than blindly following these practices to being a part of the Architectural subculture, it is important to understand why they came into existence and how it impacts the users.

As mentioned earlier, laymen tend to inadvertently be influenced by their ancestors while forming an opinion about their surroundings. A sense of safety or the lack of it could influence the perception of most people. These senses are conveyed through visible characteristics that form patterns. Popular patterns such as progression, rhythm, transition, repetition, and so on, which can be seen in iconic Architectural works, are based on this theory. The nine-square is an interesting example of patterns that are observed in many popular works of Architecture. It is believed to be very similar to the structure of a human face and develops a sense of familiarity in the mind of a user. Another interesting observation based on the above theory is the fondness that users have for patterns, shapes, colours, materials, etc., that are inspired/derived from the natural environment. Having a deeper understanding of the behaviour of users can therefore help a designer play with their design choices in order to influence the desired functionality of the space.

In conclusion, Architects need to be playful and bold in their design whilst being responsible for their design choices. These choices need to have good reasoning concerning how they impact the people using them. While the world is slowly but surely realizing the value of Architecture and its impact on people, the Architectural community needs to be prepared to take up the responsibility of changing lives.

References:

  1. Ricci, N. (n.d.). Scholarship @ Claremont The Psychological Impact of Architectural Design.    [online] . Available at: https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2850&context=cmc_theses.
  2. 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.
  3. Llinares, C., Montañana, A. and Navarro, E. (2011). Differences in Architects and Nonarchitects’ Perception of Urban Design: An Application of Kansei Engineering Techniques. [online] Urban Studies Research. Available at: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/usr/2011/736307/ [Accessed 20 Jun. 2021].
  4. Anđelković, M. (n.d.). Architects vs. Laypersons: Different Perspectives on a Community Development. [online] . Available at: https://repository.acmt.hr/islandora/object/acmt%3A11/datastream/PDF/view [Accessed 20 Jun. 2021].
  5. Gifford, R., Hine, D.W., Muller-Clemm, W. and Shaw, K.T. (2002). WHY ARCHITECTS AND LAYPERSONS JUDGE BUILDINGS DIFFERENTLY: COGNITIVE PROPERTIES AND PHYSICAL BASES. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, [online] 19(2), pp.131–148. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43030605 [Accessed 20 Jun. 2021].
  6. Yazdanfar, S.A., Heidari, A.A. and Aghajari, N. (2015). Comparison of Architects’ and Non-Architects’ Perception of Place. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 170, pp.690–699.
Author

Avneeth Premarajan is a practicing Architect and an ardent “student” of Architecture. He is intrigued by concepts, ideas, philosophy, evolution and geography of design. He is more than willing to give up a few hours of day-dreaming to write about his thoughts.

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