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Architecture and the Human Psyche

Anatomically correct model of the human body

Architecture and psychology are closer tied to each other than most people would think. This impact has always been the biggest draw to architecture and design for me. The influence that the built environment has on our mood, behavior, and overall well-being is substantial. With that in mind, it is very important for the creators of these environments to be mindful of their work and consider its psychological effects.

“Nobody can escape architecture and its effects.” - Günter Hertel

There are many different attributes to architecture that impact the user’s experience. Elements such as color, light, materials and volume all influence the way we experience a space.These elements all essentially feed into how comfortable and safe we feel in spaces. Conversely, when these elements are missing or their opposites are present, we feel uncomfortable, unsafe, anxious, and ultimately out of control of our environment.

“In order to feel comfortable in an environment, it does not only require a pleasant indoor climate. Light, plants, materials, construction methods, temperature, and air conditions also play a role for well-being and health. We have to bear in mind that humans have a holistic perception: Our senses influence our thinking, feelings and actions and therefore our entire body”

While these qualities of space listed above are typically associated with indoor environments, they also apply to how we experience spaces on a larger scale. Building to building and block to block. Architecture has the power to create a sense of place. It has the power to create a sense of responsibility and the power to influence behaviors and actions. The way we design space can consciously and subconsciously dictate the way the space is used.

"If spaces are created in a way that runs counter to our patterns, it can hamper our movements and actions and cause anger or frustration. Or, conversely, support the structures of everyday life and make us feel comfortable.”

The same way that thoughtful design can increase overall health and well-being; the lack of thoughtful design can create harm and dysfunction. One example of this is the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St Louis, Missouri. Due to the era and “lack of behavioral insight” at the time, this project has been criticized for discouraging a sense of community and any sense of place.

Featureless apartment blocks with too much space in between- discouraging community building

“33 featureless apartment blocks…quickly became notorious for their crime, squalour and social dysfunction. Critics argued that the wide open spaces between the blocks of modernist high-rises discouraged a sense of community, particularly as crime rates started to rise. They were eventually demolished in 1972.”

“We shape our buildings, thereafter our buildings shape us” - Winston Churchill

As architects, designers, and creatives, when we are thoughtful with our work it will show. We have the power to create environments that encourage health and happiness. In turn, this will enhance happiness, health, well-being, and so much more. It is our responsibility to think and ask questions about what type of space we want to create. Not only for their aesthetics and cutting-edge technology, but also for the emotions and behaviors we want to trigger.

Written by Aaron Golab


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