Architecture has always had an impact on its users. It is also rightly stated by Colin Ellard, the chairman of Urban Realities Laboratory at the Canadian University of Waterloo, that, ‘architecture influences the emotional life of every person who comes into contact with it.’ There have been many experiments carried out to understand the direct relationship between the environment of space and the psychology of the user.

Recently, research was carried out at ETH Zurich on Anthropocentric Urban Sensing. The research looks into the details of how the urban environment influences the physiological arousal states of humans. Participants were asked to take a leisure walk in an urban environment and the physiological conditions of the participants were monitored using biofeedback devices. The result was concluded to be that the physiological responses of the participants were highly sensitive to the environmental conditions. Also, a research group led by Richard Mitchell of the University of Glasgow was successful in demonstrating that the increased mortality rate of people from low-income categories could be reduced by providing them more access to the green spaces in their living environment.

Furthermore, it has been proved that the design of the space can also help in the healing process for people suffering from mental as well as physical ailments. The amount of light entering a building and the placement of windows help in improving the mood and outlook of the patients. Also, it brings with itself the expectation of healing and gives way to the Placebo effect, that is, believing that something will heal us. It can account for almost 30% of the curative effect of medications.  

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©️Dibesh Man Malego

In addition, we all are aware of the five basic human senses, namely, sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. The environmental factors can have the biggest effect on our senses. Colour, light, forms, patterns, and textures can be visually perceived and can have a pronounced effect on the user. Odour as well is equally important while designing a building as it can help in making the space stress reliever but can account for negative psychological effects also. Moreover, it is said that humans spend almost 80%-90% of their time indoors and hence space, lighting, colours, acoustics, and aesthetics play an important role in the psychology of the user. 

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Also, the comfort and liking of the person for a particular space depends on how the individual perceives the space. Thus, even an enchanting building will not be appreciated if the user does not feel comfortable or could not use the space properly. For eg, an old age home will be a success not just because of the exterior facade but because of the soothing, calming, and comfortable space within. In this case, the architect should pay more attention to the soft colour scheme, patient-friendly features, a healing garden, and public as well as private areas as these external elements are going to have a psychological effect on the users and will help them feel at home.

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Architecture should be more than just a building as everything starting from the layout of the plan to material finishes will accord towards the health of the occupant, their mood, and productivity. It has been proven that people who work in well-designed spaces take less sick leaves and are more motivated and focused on their work and in turn contribute more to their company. On the other hand, concrete landscapes and unimaginative buildings lead to higher stress levels in its occupants. Architecture is not just witnessed but is experienced and felt on a higher subconscious level. Hence, it is crucial for the architect to tap the string of emotional connection as well. In contrast, if space is designed in monochromatic colours, poorly placed openings, repetitive style, and an absence of details can lead to sensory deprivation. Lack of intellectual stimulation is not the only thing experienced in such spaces, but also it evokes the cold and unwelcoming environment deprived of the human touch. 

Lastly, the user-centric approach is necessary for the people with disabilities also. For eg, people with visual disabilities can pick up on tactile cues like the difference in the floor texture, change in the temperature, sound, etc. Guidelines do not provide specific textures but recommend the change of texture as it will help in providing sensory information to the people. Thus, senses and its psychological effects again come into play. Also, we as architects should always design using a user-centric approach as we are designing for the people and what imprint space has on its user is a determining factor in the success of the design.

Finally, I would like to conclude by providing one quote which sums it all up:

The role of the designer is that of a good thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guest.’

  • Charles Eames

Arundhati Chitnis is an architect and a writer based in Dubai. She believes in the architecture which can cater the needs of the users and hence apply user centric approach in her designs. Also, she believes every structure has a story to tell, we just have to give it a voice.