Architecture is a subject that can be seen through many different perceptions. Some people like to think about it in a rational way, as a practical technique. Others prefer to see it as a form of art. Architectural design classes tend to focus on how to combine these two approaches, but there is also another very interesting perspective: architecture and urbanism as the scenery of real life. Sceneries in movies and plays set the tone for each plot. Likewise, built architecture and urban design are the environments where real stories from real people happen every day.

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Music Video Shoot_©Gordon Cowie

When we are watching a movie, it is often easy to notice that scenery does have an important weight on the story, the characters, the mood, and the dynamics. Architecture also has a great impact on our lives. It affects how we move, feel, behave, and how to connect with other people. Have you ever wondered how different the plot of your life would be if its events occurred in another house, another building, another city, or another country? It would probably be at least slightly different.

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People crossing street in Vienna_©Jacek Dylag

The Impact of Architecture

One of the main ways in which real-life sceneries affect us is through emotions. The design has to consider the fact that its users have feelings and emotional perceptions. Random patterns, for example, tend to make us feel confused and intrigued, while orthogonality and symmetry often provide a sense of order, although the extreme repetition of identical elements could also make a place seem boring. Colours frequently influence mood as well. Red can capture attention, whereas blue can make you feel calm. These are just some of the several examples that could be mentioned.

The built environment also affects the sense of identity and collectivity. Throughout history, architecture and urbanism were more than just buildings and city blocks; they represented the values, the culture, and the identity of a community. Take the iconic Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It was built as a symbol of victory, a monument to the glory of France and Napoléon. Local building traditions are also a great example. The techniques taught through generations, and their aesthetics, bring up a place where people identify themselves as part.

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Arc de Triomphe_©

Furthermore, our sceneries have an impact on how we spend time, as they shape how we move from one point to another. The architecture of shopping malls typically has specific manipulative intentions. The flow is projected to make users pass through as many stores as possible, especially as they walk out the door to exit the building. Often, some will end up entering one of them, even though that was not their intention in the first place. Essentially, that is one of the many ways architecture can change our time storage, but it gets even clearer in urban planning since city plans determine distances and transportation modals to go from one place to another.

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Shopping Mall_©Hua Thun Ho

The Conscious Character

If life was a movie and cities were the scenery, people would be the characters. In movies, characters do not usually have critical thinking about the backdrop in which the plot is happening. Real-life can be different, though. The Truman Show is a movie that gives an interesting perspective about it. It is about a man whose life is a TV show, and the city where he lives is a fake set, filmed 24 hours a day. Initially, he does not know that he is living a manipulated life, but at some point, he starts to get intrigued and see the place with a curious and investigative approach.

Curiosity can make people experience cities and buildings differently. Architecture school often provokes such effects on its freshman students. As we learn the history and the science of buildings and how to design them, it becomes almost impossible not to notice them. We start to look at the scenery of our lives with critical thinking. Although it may be easier for designers and architects, the ability to observe architecture and urbanism from different perspectives is not a privilege of this group. That is due to the fact that the development of this perception has more to do with curiosity than it has with knowledge itself.

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The Truman Show_©Paramount Pictures

Not Every Place is an Award-Winning Scenery

There are, of course, some cities and buildings that would definitely not be great sceneries for the plot of our lives. Even though designers often try to promote a good, comfortable environment where people feel safe and happy, it does not always happen. Unfortunately, good intentions do not make good places, only adequate, careful planning does. Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, is a planned modernist city built in 1960. It is certainly a beautiful backdrop to live in, with stunning architecture and a lot of green spaces. But considering that cities are more than just backdrops, this one has some problems that make it a not-so-good scenery to live the story of your life. The main issue is that urban density is very low, which makes it hard to navigate, as places are so far from each other. In the end, it is a beautiful, wooded city in which people spend enormous amounts of time and money to move.

Brasilia_©Daniel Costa

We must know that the sceneries of real life are not just meant to be beautiful because the built environment affects people in many ways. A good design must be aware of the influence it has on people’s behaviour, emotions, identity, and time storage. We should not underestimate the power architecture and urbanism have on society. If real places are the sceneries of real-life plots, then the duty of architects and urbanists is to promote an adequate environment for people to live their own stories to the fullest.

References List

HMC Architects. (2019). How Does Architecture Impact Society? A High-Level Look | Thought Leadership. HMC Architects. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 June 2021].

Bond, M., (2017). The hidden ways that architecture affects how you feel. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 June 2021]. (2019). Color Psychology: How Color Meanings Affect You & Your Brand. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 June 2021].

TEDxTalks. (2012). Architecture is a Language: Daniel Libeskind at TEDxDUBLIN. [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed 17 June 2021].

The Truman Show. (1998). [Film]. Directed by Peter Weir. United States: Paramount Pictures.


Roberta Inglês is an architecture and urbanism student at University of Brasilia, Brazil. She is passionate about urban planning and architectural history, and loves to observe how buildings and cities can influence human behavior. She believes writing is a very effective way to develop critical thinking.