Architecture affects a person’s mood, performance and even health. It creates patterns of behavior, can cause anxiety, aggression or, conversely, a sense of community.
Unconsciously we are drawn to the comfortable and interesting environment, but we cannot explain why this is so. Only feel how we are inspired by beautiful buildings or depressed by the same gray facades.
In today’s world, interest in the influence of architecture on human beings is growing, although the subject is still not well studied. Architects call on the help of psychologists to make people’s lives better. In this article we will tell how architecture can change the behavior and condition of people.
The longing of faceless cities
The environment in cities is mostly harmful. A lot of glass and concrete, fences at every step, asphalt, facades, faceless – the legacy of Soviet architecture and the result of austerity. Such monotonous and dull cityscapes with ill-conceived architecture can lead, according to experts, to psychological and social deviations.
The human eye is not indifferent to the image it looks at. The picture on the retina needs to change – we do this reflexively. When the eye stares for a long time at a stationary object, it strains and tires. If we have a building with a large, uniform facade in front of us, there is nothing for the eye to fixate on. Movement of the eye over an object does not save from overwork, which reduces the performance of man.
Monotonous urban buildings, rows of doors, windows, gray asphalt, together with noise, air pollution and street bustle create psycho-physiological tension, lead to depression and anxiety. That is why it is important to design buildings from a psychological point of view.
Architecture can influence people through the shape, size, and color of buildings.
The shape of buildings and boredom
If you walk past a long uniform building time seems to go by more slowly, you may feel bored, even slouch. Think of a typical box mall with a large parking lot next to it. Have you ever had the desire to go around it, examine it or stop? You’re more likely to want to walk into a light-filled storefront or drive away from a building like this.
This effect was discovered by Collin Ellard, a renowned American scientist specializing in cognitive neuropsychology and psychogeography, during a joint study with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
On Bowery Street in old Manhattan, Whole Foods Market built one of the largest supermarkets of expensive food. Many residents were against it because the building went against the neighborhood’s historic values and traditions. People here were used to walking between small restaurants, bars, passing through small, cozy parks. A giant long building with a sidewalk along it, dozens of cabs nearby didn’t fit this lifestyle.
Researchers invited visitors to the local museum to walk through the neighborhood and assess their emotional state. They helped them with questions, the answers the subjects gave immediately on their smartphones. Everyone had a bracelet that measured the electrical conductivity of the skin, which helped assess autonomic arousal: tension, readiness to act, to sharpen one’s attention or to react to a threat.
The sight of the supermarket made people uncomfortable. They were looking for something to discuss. They didn’t feel happy, they were just bored. But they quickly changed their mood when they walked through the old part of the neighborhood, here they talked more and were energetic.
Urban planner Ian Gale also observed people’s behavior near the unimpressive facades. People usually hurried past them. Studies have shown that the dull environment causes stress, impulsivity, encourages risky and even inadequate behavior.
According to Gale, diversity is not a fad, and just think about the bottom of the facade, the first three meters, which can change people’s mood.
One is also influenced by the size of the building. The ancient mechanisms of our psyche can make us feel anxiety or awe in front of a huge structure. Near a courthouse or temple there is a sense of something greater, something above us, something stronger than us – a power or inexplicable. One may feel terrified or, conversely, protected if the building has more benevolent features.
The appeal of curved lines in architecture
When the famous architect Philip Johnson saw architect Frank Henry’s Gugentheim Museum in Bilbao, he began to cry and added: “Architecture is not about words, it’s about tears.” He attributed his strong emotion to the magical curved lines of the museum. He wasn’t the only one reacting this way to this building, which has become one of the world’s most iconic structures.
University of Toronto neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian studied the effect of curved and broken lines on brain activity. To us, they seem soft, beautiful and inviting. Sharp angles in interiors and elements of buildings are perceived as a danger, affecting behavior. For example, can cause anxiety.
Shared spaces and a sense of unity
Elements of architecture, especially shared spaces, can influence interactions between strangers: making them more responsive or, conversely, distrustful and indifferent.
Researchers conducted an experiment in two student dormitories. They scattered postal envelopes with stamps and addresses. The buildings were designed differently. One was high-rise, where students rarely saw each other. The other was low-rise with a shared eating area and other common spaces. Students here met at least once a day. As a result, the low-rise dorm had the highest rates of letters sent to recipients – 100%; in the high-rise, only 60% of letters were picked up and sent to recipients.
Incorrect architecture and crime
In 1969, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University conducted an experiment. The researcher parked cars in the Bronx, a disadvantaged neighborhood in New York City, and in Palo Alto, a neighborhood of global corporations in California.
The cars had their license plates taken off and the hood opened, as if the driver had gone to get help.
The subject began to be watched. In the Bronx, the car was first defaced by vandals and then stolen. In Palo Alto, the car was untouched; someone even closed the hood when it started raining. In the second part of the experiment, the results were not so obvious. The researchers smashed the glass on each of the cars. That’s when vandalism happened in Palo Alto, too, and then the car was looted.
The researchers concluded – when people feel a sense of belonging to the place where they live, they take care of it. But no one wanted to “belong” to the space of an empty dysfunctional Bronx street, for people it was abandoned and unnecessary.
The experiment became the basis of political scientist James Wilson and criminologist George Kelling’s theory of broken windows. Unmaintained abandoned spaces with boarded-up windows, trash, and graffiti tell us that the environment is abandoned, not cared for, and that this environment provokes crime.
The Pruitt-Aigow complex in St. Louis in the United States, which was built in the 1950s, has a sad reputation for crime and social problems. There were 33 identical faceless buildings designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the World Trade Center in New York.
It was a design error that was cited as the reason for the decline of the complex. The open, empty spaces between the concrete buildings were pressing, making it feel anonymous and isolating. Such an environment turned out to be conducive to crime. In 1972, the mistake was corrected and the complex was demolished.
The psychology of color in architecture
Color in architecture is as important as the shape of buildings. Nowadays, architects also take into account the psychology of color to design. The relationship between human performance and color was studied by the French physician Ferret. The most successful for short work was red light, and with blue light productivity fell. For prolonged work was the best green light, violet reduced productivity many times over.
Each color has a different effect on mood and condition:
- orange and red excite the nervous system, can increase blood pressure and heart rate, and are often chosen for commercial buildings and entertainment centers;
- yellow activates the brain and elevates the mood;
- blue is calming and relaxing;
- gray is neutral and indifferent, so it can cause melancholy;
- black is a contradictory color, which can cause a feeling of threat and sadness, on the other hand is the color of strength and elegance.
- white is the color of lightness, but can be a symbol of loneliness and coldness;
- green helps to relieve fatigue from the eyes and has a beneficial effect on the nervous system.
Roger Ulrich, a scientist at Texas A&M University, noticed that hospital patients recovered faster and asked less for painkillers in rooms with windows overlooking green.
In New York, Berlin and Mumbai, scientists at the BMW Guggenheim Laboratory measured people’s reactions to various elements of the urban environment: green areas, intersections, faceless buildings and buildings with complex facades, using trackers.
The study showed that people feel more relaxed in green areas, while buildings with complex and interesting facades cause positive emotional excitement. Grey monolithic buildings are overwhelming and make us bored. People need visual complexity to feel good.